Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)





Committee Chair

Rebecca Tuuri

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Andrew I. Ross

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Heather M. Stur

Committee Member 3 Department



Living in both the “deviant” and “normal” worlds, the leadership of The Daughters of Bilitis generally adhered to a respectable and assimilationist public persona as evidenced through political activities and the publication of their periodical The Ladder. Due to this juxtaposition, the largely middle-class, white membership exhibited socially conservative views in order to make long-term social change, leading to an inherent contradiction between maintaining their middle-class identity and public respectability. Seen from the organization’s founding in 1955 until its collapse in 1970, these contradictions and the focus on respectability politics adds to the existing scholarship on the DOB.

The fifteen-year long span of the San Francisco chaptersaw evolution from their initial conservativism, but the women who helmed the DOB did not understand the complexities of their membership and relied upon middle-class respectability. This respectability included policies of personal and public education, reversal of negative stereotyping, and private socialization. The disparities that arose within the organization resulted in an ideological and political schism between maintaining respectability and agitation for more open political action, including picketing and demonstrations. The Daughters left a legacy for lesbian activism, despite their downfall, and later organizations would move past respectability and, largely as a result of the changing social climate, concentrate less on the public perception of lesbians and more on social equality for homosexuals.