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Herstories:  Audio/Visual Collections of the LHA
LHA Daughters of Bilitis Video Project: Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon

Collection Description

Del Martin
Del Martin (Dorothy Erma Corn) was born on May 5, 1921 in San Francisco. After studying journalism, Martin met Phyllis Lyon on a reporting job in Seattle in 1950 and moved in together in San Francisco in February of 1953. In September 1955, a woman named Rose Bamberger approached Del and Phyllis to inquire about starting a club for lesbians—it would be the first of its kind in the U.S.—a social and political club for lesbians. The founders agreed to name it after “Song of Bilitis,” the collective title for Pierre Louys’s poems about lesbian sexuality. Martin was its first president in 1955, national president from 1957-1960, and editor of DOB’s publication, The Ladder, from 1960-1962. She and Lyon started the first DOB national convention in 1960. As Martin stated, the Daughters of Bilitis were "fighting the church, the couch, and the courts.” She and Lyon pushed for legislation reform at a time when homosexuals were criminalized. In 1964, they created the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). One of Martin’s most famous writings in The Ladder was “If That’s All There Is,” a 1970 piece against sexism in the gay rights movement. Members of the National Organization for Women since 1967, Martin and Lyon worked to combat homophobia within NOW in 1971 and 1973. Martin was elected to NOW’s board of directors as the first out lesbian. DOB folded in 1970, but two years later, Lyon and Martin published their famous Lesbian/Woman. They also started the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club in 1972, “the first gay political club in the United States.” Martin’s hard work over the years resulted in the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision that homosexuality was not an illness. She attacked domestic violence in Battered Wives in 1976 and catalyzed a movement and the creation of several organizations combatting domestic violence. She was also chair of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women from 1976-1979. She and Lyon were lifelong members of the American Civil Liberties Union. They were members of numerous other organizations including in 1989 Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 1987, Del received a Doctorate from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. A documentary about Martin and Lyon was released in 2003. After their 2004 marriage was declared null, they married again in May 2008. Del Martin died on August 27, 2008 in San Francisco.

Phyllis Lyon
Phyllis Lyon was born on November 10, 1924 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She earned a B.A. in journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. She was the secretary in the newly formed Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, and she edited The Ladder from 1956 to 1960. In 1957, Lyon famously did away with her pen name, Ann Ferguson, editing the magazine under her real name. Lyon worked at the Glide Foundation and the National Sex and Drug Forum (1968), where she did workshops and wrote and distributed lesbian-positive sex education materials. She helped found the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in 1976. She fought against the banning of gay and lesbian teachers in 1978. She engaged in numerous other activities with her partner, Del Martin.

Citations:

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Del_Martin_and_Phyllis_Lyon.

Gallo, M.M. (2006). Different Daughters—A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Movement. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers An Imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc.

Gordon, R. (2008, June 17). Couple of 55 years tie the knot—again. SFGate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com.

Gordon, R. (2008, August 28). Lesbian rights pioneer Del Martin dies at 87. SFGate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com.

Graff, E.J. (2012, April 25). The Queer List, Part 1: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons. The Queer List. Retrieved from http://prospect.org/article/queer-list-part-1-del-martin-and-phyllis-lyons.

Health Services Lyon Martin. Remembering Del Martin. Retrieved from http://lyon-martin.org/about-us/the-lyon-martin-story/remembering-del-martin/. Lgbt history month.

Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon. Retrieved from http://lgbthistorymonth.com/del-martin-phyllis-lyon?tab=biography. Lyon, P. (2009, May 26).

Same-Sex Marriage: An Oral History: ‘It never was much of an issue for us.’ Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com. May, M. (2010, February 11).

Same-sex-marriage trailblazer Phyllis Lyon. SFGate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com.

National Organization for Women. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Make History Again. Retrieved from http://www.now.org/issues/lgbi/021304lyon-martin.html.

Religious Archives Network. Profile: Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon. Retrieved from http://www.lgbtran.org/Profile.aspx?ID=124.