San Francisco, 1955: The Daughters of Bilitis

In 1955, a group of lesbian women founded the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco. Though sometimes portrayed as the women’s auxiliary of the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis was actually an entirely separate lesbian organization that sometimes made common cause with the Mattachine Society and sometimes pursued its own course.

The two most prominent founding members of the Daughters of Bilitis were the couple of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Martin and Lyon would later become the first same-sex couple in San Francisco to be married when Mayor Gavin Newsome legalized same-sex marriage in the city; they were then 52 years into their relationship.

 

Lilli Vincenz on the Cover of the Ladder <br />

Cover of the Ladder featuring D.C.-area activist Lilli Vincenz. January, 1966.

Initially a social group, the Daughters of Bilitis rapidly expanded into the arenas of public education, participation in research projects, and other activities that could benefit lesbians and gay men. Like the Mattachine Society, the Daughters started their own magazine, the Ladder, in 1956. Beginning in 1964, the Ladder often featured the pictures of actual lesbian readers as cover models, sometimes identified by name, which was daring for the time period.