The Daughters of Bilitis (pronounced Bill-E-tis) were the first lesbian rights group in the United States, founded in San Francisco in 1955. The DOB began publishing The Ladder in 1956 becoming the first nationally distributed lesbian periodical in the United States. While Lisa Ben published Vice Versa in 1947-8, it was never distributed nationally. The Daughters of Bilitis founders were not aware of the other homophile organizations already in existence when they formed. They began as a private social club, an alternative to the frequently raided bar scene, but quickly grew into a national lesbian rights organization, with local chapters all over the country. The Daughters of Bilitis faced enormous odds, and they were subject to not just the surveillance of local police, but also the CIA and FBI.
Founded by Working Women of Color
It was a Filipina woman, Rosalie "Rose" Bamberger (1921-1990), who had the initial idea to form a private lesbian social club. The four founding couples first met at Rose and Rosemary's house on September 21, 1955. The founding meeting included Rose and her partner Rosemary Sliepen, as well as couples Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Marcia Foster and her partner June, and Noni Frey and her partner Mary. Rose and Rosemary were working class and both employed in brush-manufacturing factories. While they left the DOB in January 1956, both Rose and Rosemary were still on the mailing list of Del and Phyllis into the 1970s. Census records and city directories show that Rosalie and Rosemary continued to live together until Rosalie's death in 1990. Rosemary passed away in 2010.
The Founding Board of Daughters of Bilitis Included: President: Del Martin. Vice President: Noni Frey, Secretary: Phyllis Lyon. Treasurer: Rosemary Sliepen. Trustee: Marcia Foster. Rose Bamberger and Mary (surname lost, but identified as Chicana) were the legal committee. Ultimately, the working class women were not comfortable going public when DOB began. The working class women left DOB and went on to form two secret groups for lesbians, Quatrefoil and Hale Aikane. The founding of these groups has been attributed to Nancy Frey, although a few references indicate Rose and Rosemary may also have been involved.
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The Daughters of Bilitis began publishing The Ladder in 1956. This was the first nationally distributed lesbian magazine in the United States. The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are provided when available.
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While the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) originally formed in San Francisco, local chapters formed across the country and even internationally. Often, these chapters would host their own events and programming, and publish their own periodical content.
DOB U.S. Regional Organizations (Not a comprehensive list)
The Daughters of Bilitis began publishing The Ladder in 1956. This was the first nationally distributed lesbian magazine in the United States. There is a full run of The Ladder on reference in the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress. The Library also provides access to the Ladder on-site through subscription databases.
The Ladder has been partially digitized online, and you can find issues of the Ladder at: