SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Most faculty members at Slippery Rock University have at least a passing knowledge of the American political figure Bella Abzug; students, maybe not so much, but Alan Levy, SRU history professor says, "They should."
To help that cause, Levy, SRU's most prolific biographer, has published the second volume in his two-book set memorializing the life and times of the New York congresswoman who made her way onto the national political scene in the 1970s and '80s, and who he believes wanted to eventually run for the Democratic Party's nomination for president of the United States.
ABZUGHis latest volume, released late last month, "The Political Life of Bella Abzug, 1976-1998: Electoral Failures and the Vagaries of Identity Politics," follows "The Political Life of Bella Abzug, 1920-1976: Political Passions, Women's Rights and Congressional Battles," published last October.
Levy calls Abzug, best known for her work in Congress and for her leadership in the developing stages of the Women's Movement, "quite remarkable."
"Born into an immigrant family of Russian Jews in 1920, she rose out of lowly economic means, thriving in New York City's public schools. Through her parents and extended family, passion for religion, for learning, for music and for lively political discourse were inextricably part of her spirit," he writes in the introduction of the second volume.
The SRU professor has said he did not originally intend for the two volumes to run a total of 625 pages, but when he completed the extensive research on her life, he found the material so fascinating that he had to expand and extend his original concept.
Levy said he had difficulty finding a publisher willing to print one extensive volume, but finally contacted Rowman and Littlefield Publishers' Lexington Books, who agreed to publish the biography in two volumes.
Levy says Abzug, who served three terms in Congress representing New York's 19th District as a Democrat, "is one of the most compelling stories of a major political figure of the era and certainly worthy of understanding."
The work was undertaken after Levy discovered no complete biography of Abzug had ever been written.
"She certainly led a tumultuous life. Almost everyone who knew of her remembers her flamboyant hats." The hats became her trademark, a step not taken without forethought and planning. As a young lawyer, trying to establish herself in a profession dominated by men, Bella knew she had to maintain a professional appearance. She discovered that wearing large, fashionable hats and dress gloves helped her. The hats thus became a life-long habit, but, she added with a wry smile: "I've taken the gloves off!"
The latest book covers Abzug life from 1976 until her 1998 death at age 77.
The book explores one of the most important women in politics in mid- and late-20th century America. It covers details of her political life, including her narrow loss to Daniel Patrick Moynihan in a campaign for the New York Democratic Party's nomination for the U.S. Senate. She lost the race by only 1 percentage point.
"Had Abzug become a senator, there is little doubt she would have later run for president," Levy said.
Abzug is often linked to such feminist leaders as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan and supported may of the women's issues of the day. To many she is remembered as "Battling Bella," Levy said.
When not directly seeking votes in her own elections, Abzug was active in political and civic circles, helping organize campaigns for peace activities against the Vietnam War and then-President Lyndon Johnson. She worked in New York's mayoral campaigns, helping John
Lindsay win voter approval; and she worked for labor rights, feminist causes and political equality, Levy said.
"Through the events in her life, I tried to explore the tensions that surrounded the contrasts between political principles, which idealized a world in which gender posed no barriers to any human effort, and political views which sought to extol and develop notions of gender
and of ideas about its special meaning in human affairs and politics," Levy said.
Levy's first volume about Abuzg traces her early life through her Congressional days.
"Few people of the day did not have an opinion of her: They liked her, or they hated her, depending on their political outlook, but no one was neutral." Levy said. "She was undoubtedly one of the most powerful forces for positive political change in both the country and
For his research, Levy made use of newspaper and magazine sources and Abzug's personal papers housed at Columbia University.
Levy earned his doctorate and master's degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his bachelor's degree from Washington and Jefferson College.
The SRU professor, who primarily teaches American history, joined the SRU faculty in 1985. Like his book about Abzug, his previous works are biographies of well-known figures that had never been the subject of complete, in-depth biographical studies.
The author of 10 other historical works, Levy's compositions include:
"Joe McCarthy: Architect of the Yankee Dynasty"; "Musical Nationalism," a study of the American composers who came to prominence amidst the expatriate era of the 1920s; "Elite Education and the Private School," a discussion of the vagaries of private secondary education at
one of the nation's premier academies; "Radical Aesthetics and Music Criticism," a look at the relationship of leftist political ideologies to the realms of music and aesthetics; "Government and the Arts," a history of the debates over the subject of the federal government's support for the arts; "Edward MacDowell," a biography of the renowned American composer; "Rube Waddell: The Zany, Brilliant Life of a Strikeout Artist," that traces the life of the early 20th-century baseball player; "Tackling Jim Crow: Racial Segregation in Professional Football," a study of the origins, breakdowns, and legacies of racial segregation in professional football, and "Floyd Patterson, a Boxer and a Gentleman," a look at the athletic, personal, and political travails of a heavyweight champion.
His latest books, and the others, are available online at:Amazon
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