The Ladder was a monthly publication from 1956-1972 of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first Lesbian civil rights organization in the United States.
Calgary’s Dr. Carolyn Anderson in 2001 did her PhD social work thesis on The Voices of Older Lesbian Women: An Oral History (you can find it online at Library and Archives Canada: here).
Sue, one of the local lesbian voices featured in the thesis, recalls the publication:
“I did find out about the Ladder and subscribed to it. The Ladder was a lesbian newsletter that originated out of San Francisco and it came in a brown paper wrapper. When it came I devoured it and then hid it cause you know it was a lesbian magazine and you couldn’t just leave it lying out. I don’t know how I found about the Ladder but it became my lifeline. It meant that there were lesbians out there.”
In the 1950s and 1960s publications like The Ladder created the early foundations for gay liberation, through the development of a network of LGBTQ people who had previously been isolated.
The DOB was founded in San Francisco in 1955, by lovers Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, they initially started the organization as a social group to meet more lesbian couples. It grew quickly, became more political over time, and developed chapters in many cities. The Ladders’s very secret membership list had 3800 subscribers by 1970.
Every issue of The Ladder stated the DOB Mission Statement in its inside cover:
- Education of the variant…to enable her to understand herself and make her adjustment to society…this to be accomplished by establishing…a library…on the sex deviant theme; by sponsoring public discussions…to be conducted by leading members of the legal psychiatric, religious and other professions; by advocating a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society.
- Education of the public…leading to an eventual breakdown of erroneous taboos and prejudices…
- Participation in research projects by duly authorized and responsible psychologists, sociologists, and other such experts directed towards further knowledge of the homosexual.
- Investigation of the penal code as it pertain to the homosexual, proposal of changes,…and promotion of these changes through the due process of law in the state legislatures.
This past Sunday, The GLBT Historical Society of San Francisco marked the 60th anniversary of the DOB with a private reception. The guest of honour was 91-year-old Phyllis Lyon, the surviving cofounder of the organization. The Society’s Facebook page has posted some heartwarming photos of the celebration.