January 31, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Historic lesbian publication on display at Smithsonian
The Ladder, lesbian review, gay news, Washington Blade

The July 1964 cover of The Ladder. (Image from the Washington Blade archive)

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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