Lesbian Herstory Archives AudioVisual Collections

LHA Daughters of Bilitis Video Project: Shirley Willer, 1987


LHA Daughters of Bilitis Video Project: Shirley Willer, 1987


Shirley Willer was born on September 26, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois. Willer, a nurse, traveled to New York in the early 1960s and joined the Daughters of Bilitis in 1962. Marion Glass was also affiliated with the Daughters of Bilitis and began to correspond with Willer. The two became lovers and colleagues. Willer became president of the New York chapter in 1963, when Barbara Gittings stepped down to become editor of The Ladder. Shirley Willer’s contact named “Pennsylvania”, contributed $100,000 to the Daughters of Bilitis over the years. Willer spent 1965 supporting many Lesbian rights protests and in 1966 Willer became the National President of the Daughters of Bilitis. Willer and Glass established new Daughters of Bilitis groups in Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Dallas. Willer’s position reflected an increased emphasis on women’s rights among Daughters of Bilitis leaders. Problems in the Daughters of Bilitis led to Willer’s proposal to eliminate the board and the national office, replacing both with a representative body of chapter leader. Each chapter would be autonomous, controlled and financed locally. Each chapter would also decide whether and how to support The Ladder, which would be the only remaining national project of the new federation. This plan’s vote was deferred from 1968 to 1970. In response to this, Willer quit the movement entirely in 1968. Rita Laporte took over Willer’s position. She passed away on New Year’s Eve in 1999.

**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.

Martin, D. and Lyon, P. Shirley Willer (1922-1999) online.

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