The Smithsonian Institution’s American History Museum is currently displaying an original issue of the nation’s first lesbian magazine called The Ladder as part of the museum’s American Stories exhibit.
The Ladder, believed to be the first nationally distributed lesbian publication, was first published in 1956 by the Daughters of Bilitis, the nation’s first known lesbian organization. It was launched by pioneer lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin and later edited by Barbara Gittings, another LGBT rights pioneer.
Bob Witeck, a founding member of the Kameny Papers Project, which arranged for the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian to acquire D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s papers and political artifacts, such as gay rights picket signs. Witeck said the copy of The Ladder magazine now on display at the American History Museum came from the Kameny paper’s collection.
According to the Smithsonian, items from Kameny’s collection, including The Ladder, are being displayed as part of an exhibit that includes such historic items as a fragment of the Plymouth Rock and a section of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.