Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin papers

Finding aid created by GLBT Historical Society staff using RecordEXPRESS
GLBT Historical Society
989 Market Street, Lower Level
San Francisco, California 94103
(415) 777-5455

Descriptive Summary

Title: Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin papers
Dates: 1924-2011 (bulk 1954-2000)
Collection Number: 1993-13
Creator/Collector: Martin, Del Lyon, Phyllis
Extent: Processed: 83.4 Linear feet (203 boxes); Unprocessed: 33 linear feet (21 cartons and oversized art and artifacts)
Online items available
Repository: GLBT Historical Society
San Francisco, California 94103
Abstract: Papers of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin covering their extensive activism in the Homophile, Gay Liberation, Lesbian and Women's Movements. Materials include extensive documentation of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), and the books Lesbian/Woman and Battered Wives.
Language of Material: English


Collection is open for research with restrictions. The Daughters of Bilitis records will be restricted as follows: Names of correspondents (and organization members) will be withheld from researchers for the lifetime of the correspondent or, in absence of evidence, for twenty-five years after the date of the document. Researchers may read correspondence so long as names are effectively masked. Un-expurgated documents may only be viewed by the GLBTHS Archivist, or staff members specifically designated by the Archivist, Lyon, and Martin. Selections from the collection have been digitized in partnership with Gale/Cengage. Contact the GLBT Historical Society archivist for information about access to the digital collection.

Publication Rights

Copyright to unpublished manuscript materials has been transferred to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item]. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin papers. Collection Number: 1993-13. GLBT Historical Society

Acquisition Information

Materials were sold to the GLBT Historical Society by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in March 1993. Additional material donated by Kendra Mon, 2019-2021. Additions in March 2023 by Shayne E. Watson.

Biography/Administrative History

Biography: Phyllis Lyon: Phyllis Ann Lyon was born November 10, 1924, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and raised primarily in Northern California. She graduated from Sacramento Senior High School in 1943 and went on to the University of California, Berkeley, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in 1946. She later (1976) earned a Doctor of Education in Human Sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS). Lyon served as a police-beat reporter in Fresno and as a reporter at the Chico Enterprise-Record during the 1940s. In the 1950s she served on the editorial staff at two building trades magazines in Seattle (she is listed as Editorial Assistant in a 1951 edition of Construction News Bulletin). After returning to San Francisco in 1953 she worked at Glide Urban Center. She served as a professor at IASHS from 1976-1987. San Francisco Mayor George Moscone appointed her to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (HRC) in 1976, and she served as Chair in 1982-1983. She also was chair of the HRC's Lesbian/Gay Advisory Committee. Lyon has lectured and written extensively on human sexuality, censorship, and the Lesbian and Feminist Movements. She also co-founded the National Sex Forum and served as associate director and then co-director for 19 years. Biography: Del Martin: Del Martin was born Dorothy L. Taliaferro in San Francisco, California on May 5, 1921 to Jones and Mary Taliaferro. She was salutorian of the first graduating class of George Washington High School (San Francisco). Martin studied journalism at San Francisco State College (now California State University San Francisco). Her last name became Martin during her four year marriage to a man. She latter officially changed her name to Del. This marriage also resulted in a daughter (Kendra Mon ) and eventually two grandchildren, Lorraine and Kevin Mon. She was the first "out of the closet" lesbian elected to the National Board of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1973. Martin became a nationally known advocate for battered women, and was a co-founder of the Coalition for Justice for Battered Women (1975), La Casa de las Madres (a shelter for battered women) founded in 1976, and the California Coalition against Domestic Violence (1977). She is the author of Battered Wives (1976, updated 1981) and numerous other articles and book chapters on the subject. She lectured and taught at colleges and universities around the country. Martin was also a founding member of the Lesbian Mother's Union, the San Francisco Women's Centers, and the Bay Area Women's Coalition, and has served on many boards. She was appointed Chair of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women in 1976 and served on the committee until 1979. She also served on the Women's Advisory Council to the San Francisco Police Department, the California Commission on Crime Control and Violence Prevention, and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Biography: Lyon & Martin: Lyon and Martin met in Seattle, Washington in the early 1950s, while they were both working for building trades publications. They were platonic friends for two years before becoming romantically involved. They returned to San Francisco together in 1953 where they continue to reside. In 1955, they were part of a group of eight lesbians that founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The group was founded to counteract the loneliness and isolation they felt as lesbians, creating what was to become the first national combined lesbian organization and support network. Martin served as president from 1957-60 and Lyon was president in 1962. DOB began publishing the monthly magazine The Ladder in 1956. Lyon was the first editor (1956-1969) with Barbara Grier joining Martin and then taking over as editor. Together Lyon and Martin were among the founders of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) in 1964, and, in 1965, Citizen's Alert (a citizen/civil rights group dealing with police brutality complaints). They also were among the founding members of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club. They jointly authored the groundbreaking book Lesbian/Woman, and they both attended the International Women's Year Conference in Houston in 1977 where they helped get a lesbian rights plank into the national women's agenda. In the 1980s Martin and Lyon helped found and lead Bay Area Feminists Against Censorship. Besides their individual careers and recognitions, Lyon and Martin, have received numerous joint honors: in 1980, the Lyon-Martin Clinic in San Francisco was named after them, and they have served as Grand Marshals or special guests in Gay Pride marches across California and the country. They received the Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1990, and an Outstanding Public Service Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in 1996. Lyon and Martin are also partners in LyMar Associates, a San Francisco consulting firm started in 1972. In response to a 1984 questionnaire, distributed by the Advocate, asking what was their most important contribution to gay causes, Lyon and Martin both answered with variations on the statement: "being able to help make changes in the way Lesbians and Gay men view themselves & how the larger society views Lesbians and Gay men." To the question: "What is the most valuable thing you've gotten from your involvement with gay causes?" They replied, "self-acceptance, self-esteem, self confidence" and "a good sense of my own self-worth." In the self-identification section, they also both crossed out "gay woman" and wrote in "Lesbian."

Scope and Content of Collection

This collection documents the joint and individual work lives of life-partners Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, from the Homophile movement of the 1950s to the end of the twentieth century. The collection is strongest in materials connected to Lyon and Martin's involvement with several major organizations, and for material from the 1960s and 1970s. There is only a scattering of personal information or materials from the 1990s. The collection includes: correspondence, manuscripts and manuscript drafts, organizational papers including minutes, constitutions, flyers, and financial documents. The collection contains significant amounts of material relating to the administration and activities of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). There also is a large quantity of material relating to Lyon and Martin's various involvements with the National Organization for Women (NOW), various San Francisco city commissions, and a wide variety of other important organizations ranging from early homophile groups (1950s) and the gay liberation groups of the 1970s, through the pornography and censorship debates and other concerns of the 1980s and 1990s. This collection contains detailed materials relating to Lyon and Martin's groundbreaking book Lesbian/Woman, and Martin's book Battered Wives. Also included are drafts and notes for numerous other articles, chapters and speeches by Lyon and/or Martin on topics ranging from domestic violence and lesbian mothers to the history of the lesbian movement. Lyon and Martin's extensive research and clipping files further document the range of topics and issues that caught their attention over the years. The collection mainly documents Lyon's and Martin's writing and activism, though there is a small personal papers series that includes materials ranging from Lyon's High School and College Yearbooks, horse-related scrapbooks to materials concerning spiritualist activities, some family correspondence and papers. In 2019-2021, Kendra Mon donated additional material from the Lyon/Martin estate. Material is unprocessed and includes 21 cartons of photographs, audiovisual recordings, correspondence, subject files, art and artifacts, and other material. In 2023, Shayne E. Watson donated additional artifacts from the Lyon/Martin House, including a mailbox; address house numbers for 651 Duncan Street; a concrete and bronze sun dial; and a No on Prop 8 yard sign.

Indexing Terms

Homophile movement
Long-term relationships
Marriage equality

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