On this day in 1956, the lesbian magazine The Ladder began
publication. The Ladder was the very
first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the United States and it
didn’t cease publication until 1972.
The cover of The Ladder, Vol. 5, No. 2 as it was published and distributed in November of 1960 (x).
Created as an extension of the
lesbian organization The Daughter of Bilitis (DoB), the first issue of The
Ladder was edited and distributed by DoB co-founder Phyllis Lyon on October 3,
1965. Originally, all contributors to the magazine wrote and edited under
pseudonyms for their own safety, but Phyllis herself eventually dropped her pseudonym
of “Ann Ferguson” to encourage other lesbians to come out of hiding and join the movement. The early
issues of The Ladder averaged 20 pages, were hand stapled, and included poetry,
short stories, lesbian book recommendations, and the minutes from the latest DoB
meetings. 175 copies of the first issue were printed and the members of DoB
mailed them out around the country to every lesbian friend and acquaintance they
thought might be interested in the material.
An advertisement for The Ladder that was run by the Eastern Mattachine Magazine in November of 1965 (x).
A year later, word of mouth about
the magazine had spread so voraciously that there were over 400 names on the
mailing list. Before long, The Ladder would be available in newsstands in major
cities across America. After Phyllis Lyon and her partner Del Martin stepped
down as editors in 1970, famous LGBT rights activist Barbara Gittings took up
the mantel and gave the magazine a more political edge. After 1970, the official
title printed on the front cover of all issues was The Ladder: A Lesbian Review – a political move in and of itself. The
magazine began printing photos after a
woman from Indonesia sent in a photo of herself along with a caption explaining her love of the magazine and
how isolated she felt in 1964. The Ladder
published its last issue in September of 1972 after much controversy within the DoB organization and all issues were archived in a nine-volume compilation in 1975.