Early Lesbian Magazines in the USA

the ladder

 

Lisa Ben was a “gay gal” living in California who became a pioneer for the LGBT movement. She wrote and published the first lesbian magazine in the United States, VICE VERSA — America’s Gayest Magazine, both to educate about and normalize homosexualty and to create gay media by a gay person. Using resources from her job at RKO Studios, she was able to make ten copies of one edition a month. Nine editions were distributed between 1947 and 1948 until Lisa Ben left her job.

Formation of the DOB: Daughters of Bilitis

The formation of this socio-political club starts with Del Martin, she was born in 1921 in San Francisco and studied journalism at San Francisco State College. Martin met Phyllis Lyon on a reporting job in Seattle in 1950 and soon moved in together. Del Martin was the first president of the Daughters of Bilitis, which formed in 1955. The DOB developed the Ladder, a magazine in which members recognized the need for educating both members and the general public about homosexuality. Thus, reached out to everyone from acquaintances and friends to professionals such as ministers, physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists”. They published short fiction, poetry, book reviews, essays, news clipping of interest to female homophiles, and letters to readers.

 

First Volume of the Ladder

One year after the formation of the Daughters of Bilitis, they published The Ladder.  Eight women had a vision of doing something about the problems encompassing Lesbians, “both within their group and with the public.”  At the time of the first issue there were three original members (including Del Martin) that compiled the then fifteen member group.  Del Martin was the first president of the Daughters of Bilitis and was national president from 1957-1960. They hoped their newsletter would be “a force of uniting women in working for the common goal of greater personal and social acceptance and understanding.”

 

dob

 

Response to the First Issue of The Ladder

The very first issue of the first nationally distributed lesbian magazine generated positive feedback which encouraged the women to continue publishing. Approximately 100 copies were distributed to friends and acquaintances. Members also reached out to professionals through the local phone book. As the magazine gained popularity, they began to receive support letters and donations. Among those who responded with a desire to provide to the cause was none other than Lisa Ben. She created this pseudonym specifically for the purpose of contributing to The Ladder, and it is the only name by which she wished to be publicly referred to. She wrote parodies, poetry, and articles for the magazine. She joined the Daughters of Bilitis and even recorded two of her parodies for the Daughters to distribute. With time, keeping up with fan mail became difficult and price rates went up. Within the first year, The Ladder accumulated 55 members and 400 subscribers. Ultimately, the mailing list grew to 4,000. Although we know how many people were subscribed to the magazine, readers were known for passing it around to friends and co-workers. This means the actual number of readers is much higher than documented. Despite being considered a “small read” The Ladder turned out to be quite influential.

 

Sources can be accessed here:
https://docs.google.com/a/umbc.edu/presentation/d/1vpNBPNQTql04_A0jbZGje2NnWLdN3e_YrBUNh-gelrc/edit?usp=sharing

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