daughters of bilitis
the daughters of bilitis was an organization founded in 1955 in san francisco by del martin and phyllis lyon. originally the group was intended as a way for lesbians to meet one another and socialize in a climate that was highly adversarial to gay women. the name was an obscure reference to a fictional friend of the greek poet sappho and was chosen because it would not raise too much suspicion. martin later said that what she desired was “a place to dance” with other women, as this was illegal in public at the time. however, eventually the group evolved into a more political organization, with the goal of providing more information about lesbianism and breaking existing taboos and prejudices surrounding women who love women. the group produced the first national lesbian review magazine, called the ladder (pictured below).
the ladder ran for almost 20 years and was the primary method of communication for the daughters of bilitis, as well as a way to connect lesbians across the country to one another. most women who wrote for the ladder did so under pen names so as to avoid persecution and possible arrest.
the daughters of bilitis took a very assimilationist stance, and encouraged their members to try to “blend in” to heteronormative society. they discouraged members from wearing men’s clothing. as time went on, this stance alienated many younger lesbians, who had more radical goals and were more attracted to feminist organizations which were gaining prominence. the daughters of bilitis officially folded in 1972, after 14 years.