San Francisco has a long tradition of lesbian activism. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin had founded the Daughters of Bilitis in the mid 1950s as a politically focused social club (in contrast to the gay-friendly bars that have existed in the Bay Area since the 1920s). But overall, lesbians in the 1950s faced considerable harassment, ranging from police raids to public exposure during an era dominated by the cold war and red scare hysteria. As a result, this generation survived through secrecy and avoiding confrontation.
The freedoms of the sexual revolution combined with the social transformation of the civil rights and anti-war movements during the 1960s radicalized a new generation of Americans. What is now recognized as the "second wave" of feminists (the first being the generation who won the right to vote for women in 1920) split off from the anti-war movement after experiencing oppression and abuse from supposedly radical men. This generation of women had learned how to speak up, write and publicize scathing critiques of every aspect of American culture, and develop creative strategies for political confrontation. Where a previous generation felt bold to file a lawsuit, this generation would take over Wall Street's trading pit, or strike against Ladies Home Journal, demanding - and winning - a chance to publish writers with a completely different viewpoint of women and gender roles. (That, in fact, was how Ms. magazine was created.)
By the 1970s, lesbian-feminists created a number of nonprofit organizations and collectives. A committee of eight, including San Francisco State University professor Sally Gearhart raised money for the San Francisco's Women's Building. Carol Seajay co-founded Old Wives' Tales Bookstore that carried only books written by women. The San Francisco Feminist Federal Credit Union on Valencia Street granted business loans. Meetings held at the Artemis Café (a woman's-only space founded by Sara Lewinstein) helped launch La Casa de las Madres (a battered women's shelter) and G.L.O.E. (Gay and Lesbian Outreach to Elders).
In Oakland, women built and ran Olivia Records. A network of women musicians developed, including Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Holly Near, Linda Tillery, Vicky Randall, Casselberry-Dupree, Alive, and Sweet Honey in the Rock, often performing in women-only venues and music festivals across the country. Impresario Robin Tyler produced such events in Yosemite and Santa Cruz.
Today, movies, television and talk shows regularly include gay and lesbian characters and their issues. It is hard to remember a time when even mentioning the word "lesbian" was forbidden and the accusation, true or false, could cost a woman her job and social standing.
- Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America by Lillian Faderman
- The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America by Ruth Rosen
- The Path of the Women's' Rights Movement
- Information, Please women's rights timeline
- GurlPage/Herstory (scroll to the bottom past the adds for excellent content)
- Students evaluate and take and defend positions on what the fundamental values and principals of civil society are (i.e., the autonomous sphere of voluntary personal, social, and economic relations that are not part of government), their interdependence, and the meaning and importance of those values and principals for a free society. (12.3.2)