The Daughters of Bilitis, also called the DOB or the Daughters, was the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States. The organization, formed in San Francisco in 1955, was conceived as a social alternative to lesbian bars, which were subject to raids and police harassment.
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon had been together as lovers for three years when they complained to a gay male couple that they did not know any other lesbians. The gay couple introduced Martin and Lyon to another lesbian couple, one of whom suggested they create a social club. In October 1955, eight women — four couples — met to provide each other with a social outlet. One of their priorities was to have a place to dance, as dancing with the same sex in a public place was illegal. Although unsure of how exactly to proceed with the group, they began to meet regularly, realized they should be organized, and quickly elected Martin as president.
As the DOB gained members, their focus shifted to providing support to women who were afraid to come out. The DOB educated them about their rights, and about gay history.
The name of the club was chosen in its second meeting. Bilitis is the name given to a fictional lesbian contemporary of Sappho, by the French poet Pierre Louÿs in his 1894 work The Songs of Bilitis, in which Bilitis lived on the Isle of Lesbos alongside Sappho. The name was chosen for its obscurity. “Daughters” was meant to evoke association with other American social associations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution. Early DOB members felt they had to follow two contradictory approaches: trying to recruit interested potential members and being secretive. Martin and Lyon justified the name, writing later, “If anyone asked us, we could always say we belong to a poetry club.” They also designed a pin to wear to be able to identify with others, chose club colors and voted on a motto “Qui vive”, French for “on alert”. The organization filed a charter for non-profit corporation status in 1957, writing a description so vague, Phyllis Lyon remembered, “it could have been a charter for a cat-raising club.”
The Daughters of Bilitis endured for 14 years, becoming an educational resource for lesbians, gay men, researchers and mental health professionals. It folded in 1970, although some local chapters still continue.