Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Social Work (M.S.W.)

Degree Program

School of Social Work


Phyllis Lyon met the love of her life in 1953. Her name was Del Martin. When they fell in love, homosexuality was an illness that needed to be cured, a sin to be confessed and an illegal act that should be punished. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon are legendary in the lesbian community for originating the Daughters of Bilitis--an underground lesbian social club in San Francisco formed in the 1950s. They spent the next 55 years together confronting society and policy about the inequity of gays, lesbians, and women. In each of these social movements, however, they were the minority inside the minority because they were lesbians. Despite the availability of lesbian and gay history, relatively little has been written exclusively about lesbian history. The depth and evolution of Lyon and Martin’s relationship and a depth of the relationship with the cause they were fighting for is missing from the current research. The articles that have been written about lesbian history and about Martin and Lyon, in particular, all report the same facts and tell the same stories.

The attempt of this thesis is to frame the life of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon with the personal stories of their lives together and the challenges of their relationship. In addition, the social context, lesbian history and culture will be thoroughly researched to serve as the setting in which their story takes place. Personally and professionally, it is an attempt to understand the founding history of the Lesbian Rights Movement while learning about the NASW values of service, social justice, integrity, dignity and worth of a person and the importance of human relationships.