April 11, 2016
ONE Archives at the USC Libraries is pleased to announce that the papers of lesbian trailblazer Lisa Ben (1921-2016) are now housed at ONE and available for public research.
Born in 1921, Lisa Ben is perhaps best known as the creator and writer of Vice Versa, the first lesbian magazine in the United States. Years before the first issues of ONE Magazine, Mattachine Review, or The Ladder were printed, a young woman named Edythe Eyde was working as a secretary for an RKO Studio executive who was often away from the office. As a way to look busy when the work was slow, she decided to write a magazine as “a gesture of love—of women loving women, and the whole idea of it. It was an enthusiasm that boiled over into these pages.” Vice Versa, a modest publication passed from friend to friend, became a labor of love for Eyde from 1947-1948. By the late 1950s, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and wrote articles for The Ladder where she adopted the pen name Lisa Ben (an anagram of “lesbian”).
Though she never thought of herself as an activist, Lisa Ben stayed connected with gay and lesbian organizations for decades while indulging in her other loves of science fiction, folk music, and cat adoption. The collection includes Ben’s photographs, short stories, correspondence, and musical instruments; as well as sound recordings and sheet music for her folk songs, including “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write My Butch a Letter” and “The Vice Squad Keeps Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine.” The collection illuminates Lisa Ben’s unapologetic enthusiasm and her lifelong pursuit of connecting with others through words and music.
The collection was acquired through a series of donations from 2014-2015, and builds upon ONE Archives’ impressive collections of pre-Stonewall LGBTQ life in America.