Lyon-Martin House, San Francisco, California

photo by: Y.A. Studios

Where Women Made History

Lyon-Martin House

  • Location: San Francisco, California

Nestled on a hilly street in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, the small house at 651 Duncan Street gives no hint of its outsized role in influencing more than 50 years of LGBTQ history.

From the moment they purchased the property in 1955, partners, advocates, and authors Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin energized the San Francisco LGBTQ community by offering their home as a safe space for lesbian women not only to socialize, but also to come together to champion their rights.

Over many decades, the couple organized San Franciscans to validate and decriminalize lesbian identity, shape anti-violence and anti-discrimination policies, and promote marriage equality. And, soon after Lyon and Martin moved in, women congregated in the home to form the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil rights organization in the United States (though the initial idea for the organization occurred at the nearby home of another couple, Rose Bamberger and her partner Rosemary Sliepan).

Lyon and Martin continued to shatter barriers well into their 80s, achieving international recognition in 2004 as the first same-sex couple married in San Francisco.

The couple married a second time in 2008 immediately following the California Supreme Court decision—in which they were plaintiffs—establishing that it is unconstitutional for the state to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.

Historical Photo of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin

photo by: Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Papers (1993-13), GLBT Historical Society

Sadly, both Lyon and Martin are no longer with us, but their footprint on LGBTQ history is indelible and their message of love and equality continues to resonate today. However, for years, the long-vacant home where the couple lived for nearly seven decades and where so much of their work catalyzed, was facing an uncertain preservation future.

Representing LGBTQ History

Thanks to the leadership of the Friends of Lyon-Martin House, San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, and the GLBT Historical Society, among many others, the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission took a critical step in February 2021 by approving designation of the Lyon-Martin House as a local landmark.

In May that same year, the full Board of Supervisors approved the ordinance, and with the signature of Mayor London Breed, the Lyon-Martin House became the first landmark of lesbian activism in San Francisco.

Today, sites of women's history and LGBTQ history are woefully underrepresented in official designations such as the National Register of Historic Places and city local landmark programs across the country.

Even in a city like San Francisco with a rich LGBTQ history, only five of the city's hundreds of local landmarks are listed for their representation of LGBTQ achievements. Cementing Lyon and Martin’s legacy in the place where they forged it, this designation is a monumental step in recognizing lesbian activism and celebrating a story that changed history.

The issue of representation—or the clear lack thereof—inspired the National Trust to launch the campaign for Where Women Made History, a national call to action to unearth, elevate, and applaud the stories of women that exist in all historic places.

Every place has a woman's story to tell. Through Where Women Made History, we are identifying, honoring, and elevating places across the country where women have changed their communities and the world.

Learn More

Through this multi-year initiative, the National Trust is preserving diverse places of women’s history across the country, reshaping the historical narrative to include women’s accomplishments both past and present, and supporting the next generation of women in preservation.

Preservation Efforts

The National Trust supports the efforts of the Friends of the Lyon-Martin House, a nonprofit group organized in 2020 to advocate for the preservation of the home of trailblazing lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. As a sponsored project of the GLBT Historical Society, the Friends are dedicated to documenting and preserving the Lyon-Martin House for the purpose of educating San Francisco’s LGBTQ community and the public about the significance of Lyon and Martin’s lives and work.

For example, in 2021 the Friends of Lyon-Martin House commissioned CyArk to create a detailed interactive record of the home for posterity and to convey the remarkable life and legacy of Lyon and Martin. CyArk completed 3D documentation of the interior and exterior of the property for a virtual guided tour of the site, as well as recorded interviews with queer scholars and family and friends of the couple for a micro-documentary.

We look forward to a future where the Lyon-Martin House is a source of inspiration for advocates and activists for generations to come.

Every place has a woman's story to tell. Through Where Women Made History, we are identifying, honoring, and elevating places across the country where women have changed their communities and the world.

Learn More