Wednesday, August 14, 2013

From the June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives: Daughters of Bilitis Records

The June L. Mazer Lesbian Archives at UCLA are exciting because they allow researchers to investigate important historical institutions and events in the lesbian community from multiple angles.  The Daughters of Bilitis records collection gives the researcher a unique opportunity to understand how one of the earliest LGBTQ organizations developed during a time of profound oppression and invisibility for LGBTQ people.

In 1955, a group of eight lesbians founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The group, founded to counteract the loneliness and isolation they felt as lesbians, became the first national combined lesbian organization and support network. DOB began publishing its monthly magazine, The Ladder, in 1956.

The  Daughters of Bilitis records include documents related to the running of the organization's national and local chapters. The collection contains files related to the production of The Ladder, and the organization’s national conferences in various cities.  It also contains personal and professional correspondence to and from various members of DOB (including, prominently, founders Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin), as well as documents from several other homophile organizations. 

The DOB Collection includes many treasures.  Its administrative papers give a clear and detailed understanding of how one of the earliest lesbian organizations was run, beginning in the 1950s.  At the same time, correspondence among the organization’s members offers portraits of the personal and professional lives and relationships of lesbians during this time period, including those of “ordinary” women whose stories might not be found in history books.

–Ben Raphael Sher

Ben Sher is a doctoral student in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and a graduate student researcher at CSW.

The finding aid for this collection is available for viewing at the Online Archive of California ( Digitized materials from the collection and the finding aid will be available for viewing on the UCLA Library’s Digital Collections website. This research is part of an ongoing CSW research project, “Making Invisible Histories Visible: Preserving the Legacy of Lesbian Feminist Activism and Writing in Los Angeles,” with Principal Investigators Kathleen McHugh, CSW DIrector and Professor in the Departments of English and Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA and Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA. Funded in part by an NEH grant, the project is a three-year project to arrange, describe, digitize, and make physically and electronically accessible two major clusters of June Mazer Lesbian Archive collections related to West Coast lesbian/feminist activism and writing since the 1930s.

For more information on this project, visit For more information on the activities of the Mazer, visit

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