Daughters of Bilitis: First National Lesbian Organization:
In the 1950s there were few options for lesbians to meet each other outside of gay bars. The Daughters of Bilitis was founded in 1955 in San Francisco by eight women, including long-time activists Del Martin, Phyllis Lyon and Barbara Gittings to provide an alternative to the bar scene.
Daughters of Bilitis: Lesbian Activists:
The Stonewall Riots in 1969 are often thought of as the beginning of the gay rights movement, but even before 1969 gays and lesbians were gathering to start to demand their rights. Daughters of Bilitis was formed as a social group, but quickly became active in the early homosexual rights movement. They saw the need to educate both other lesbians and the general public, to advocate for legal reform and research.
The name Daughters of Bilitis comes from a poem by Pierre Louys called "Song of Bilitis," about a lesbian living on the Isle of Lesbos with Sappho.
In 1956 the Daughters of Bilitis begam publishing a monthly magazine called The Ladder. The Ladder contained poetry, fiction, news items, book reports and social commentary written by and for lesbians.
A National Organization:
By 1958 Daughters of Bilitis had chapters in Los Angeles and New York and several other cities. Different chapters had different focuses but included discussion groups, social events, activism, research projects and coordinating with homosexual male groups like The Mattachine Society.
The End of the Daughters:
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon formed Daughters of Bilitis as an organization seeking acceptance for lesbians from mainstream culture. In the 1970s, after Stonewall and the birth of the Women's Rights movement, more and more radical lesbians came into the organization and pushed for change. The debate over the two philosophies eventually split the fledgling organization and by 1970, although some local chapters still existed, the national Daughters of Bilitis all but disappeared.