NOVEMBER 7: Edythe Eyde (1921-2015)

365daysoflesbians:

Edythe Eyde, better
known as her pen name Lisa Ben, was born on this day in 1921. She was a
literary editor, publisher, and musician who created the very first known
lesbian publication in America – Vice Versa – which was printed and distributed
in the 1940s.

“Edythe Eyde looking glamorous in an undated photo. Courtesy of ONE Archives at the USC Libraries.” Listen to Edythe’s interview with the Making Gay History podcast! 

Edythe was born on November 7,
1921 in San Francisco, California. She was an only child and grew up on an
apricot farm in the rural town of Frement Township, California. Her love of
music began as a young child when she entered violin lessons, which she would
take for 8 years. Although she would not become aware of the word lesbian until
well into her adulthood, Edythe had her first relationship with another girl
when she was in high school. Heartbroken after her girlfriend broke off the relationship,
Edythe attempted to open up to her mother, but her mother reacted poorly to the news that Edythe had been in love with another girl. The event
effectively ruined any personal connection Edythe had previously had with her
parents.

Edythe Eyde, c. 1950s. Lisa Ben Papers. ONE Archives at the USC Libraries (x).

After three years of saving up
money and two years of taking secretarial courses at her parents’ insistence,
Edythe finally left the nest and moved to Palo Alto. She would not stay in Palo
Alto for long and eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1945. Finally in a city
with an active gay and lesbian community, Edyth first learned the word lesbian and began identifying as so in 1946. She discovered that there were
several other lesbians living in her apartment complex and she had soon found
herself a close-knit group of friends. While working as a secretary at RKO Studios,
Edythe’s boss told her that it was important for her to look busy at all times.
In need of something to keep her fingers busy, Edythe began typing Vice Versa.

A friend photographs Edythe after visiting an ice cream struck in 1950 (x).

A fun passion project for Edythe,
she initially just distributed Vice Versa
around to her close friends, but she soon began mailing copies to her
long-distance friends and even passing them out to the patrons of the lesbian club, If Club. She personally wrote and published nine issues of Vice Versa from 1947
to 1948. She eventually lost her secretary job at RKO when the company went under and was forced to take on a new
job that left her with no free time to continue creating Vice Versa. When the lesbian
magazine The Ladder began in the 1950s, Edythe was a frequent contributor under
the name Lisa Ben, an anagram of the word lesbian. Copies of Vice Versa can
still be read today at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.

Edythe smiling with her guitar in 1964 (x).

Dubbed by the Daughters of Bilitis
as “the first gay folk singer,” Edythe enjoyed a successful music career in
lesbian circles throughout her life. Her music was also featured on
several documentary films. She was honored in 1972 by ONE Archives as one of
the “fathers of the homophile movement,” was featured in the 1984 documentary
Before Stonewall
, and was also inducted into the National Lesbian and Gay
Journalists Association’s hall of fame in 2010. Edyth passed away on December
22, 2015 at the age of 94.

-LC