Madeline Davis

Madeline Davis (born 1940) is a noted gay rights activist. In 1970 she was a founding member of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, the first gay rights organization in Western New York. In 1972, Davis taught the first course on lesbianism in the United States titled "Lesbianism 101" at the University at Buffalo.[1] She was also a founding member of HAG Theater, the first all-lesbian theater company in the US.


Davis was a founder of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier in the first quarter of 1970. She eventually became President of the organization. In the 1970s, Davis organized "Legislative Night", at which local candidates for public office, for the first time in Buffalo political history, answered questions and sought endorsements. She was a regular lecturer on the subject of human sexuality to preceptors and medical students at the University at Buffalo (U.B.), and also organized workshops and study groups. Davis marched and spoke at the first gay rights rally at the New York State Capitol in 1971, and participated in the original effort to lobby that state's legislature on behalf of the gay rights movement.

In 1972, she became the first openly lesbian delegate elected to a major political convention when she was elected to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Miami, Florida.[2] At the DNC, Davis was the first lesbian to urge the party to include gay rights as part of the 1972 Democratic Party platform.[1] Davis became a member of the Democratic Committee, and worked within the party for the acceptance of gays and lesbians.

As part of the Political Action Committee of Mattachine, she confronted the Buffalo Vice Squad on the issue of entrapment and gay bar raids. She challenged the publication of the names of gays and lesbians arrested for misdemeanors by Buffalo Evening News, and of other denigrating news articles in a number of publications. She spoke up against hate speeches by local politicians, including the District Attorney for Niagara Falls.

In 1972, Davis, along with Margaret Small, taught the first course on lesbianism in the United States: Lesbianism 101 at U.B. She taught a renamed version of the course, "Woman + Woman", in 1978, with a focus on lesbian history.[1] The interview tapes from this course's final project were used as a foundation for the 1978 Buffalo Women's Oral History Project, seeking to document the lives of older lesbians. In 1981, the Buffalo Women's Oral History Project received a $500 grant from the Astraea Foundation.

In 1973, Davis organized a Pride workshop for friends and families of gays and lesbians, which later became the local PFLAG chapter and continues to chair yearly Pride workshops on GLBT history and culture.

From 1982 to 1984, Davis was a member of the board of the Western NY Association of Professionals Working in Human Sexuality, researching sex and gender issues for medical publication. She worked to gain acceptance of gay congregants in their religious institutions.

In 1988, she addressed the American Library Association's 95th Conference on AIDS in the Workplace. Davis has lectured on women's history and sex and gender issues at a number of universities.

In 1994, Davis co-authored Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. She has published numerous journal and magazine articles on sexuality and women's history, as well as short stories and poetry.

In 2001, Davis founded the Buffalo Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Archives, which is collecting and preserving the history of Buffalo's gay communities.[3] In 2007, the name of the Archives was changed to the Madeline Davis Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Archives of Western N.Y. Davis continues to work as a writer, archivist, historian, political activist, and director of the Archives.

In 2007, she co-founded a committee that met with Tonawanda Police to discuss the issue of arrests for solicitation in local public parks.

In 2009, Davis was the subject of the documentary film "Swimming with Lesbians" (directed by David B. Marshall) which outlined her work with the Archives as well as her personal life and that of her close friends. The documentary won the Mary Elizabeth Knight Award (Jury Award for Best Local Film) at the 2009 ImageOUT film festival in Rochester, N.Y. and both Marshall and Davis were present at the screening at the George Eastman House's Dryden Theatre.[4]

In 2012, Davis was named as an inductee of The Advocate magazine's Hall of Fame.[5] Davis is the inductee representing 1972. In that year she became the first openly gay delegate to a major party's national convention.[2]

Davis continues to be involved in politics, and is Vice President for Community Liaison for Stonewall Democrats.


Davis's musical career began in the 1950s, when she sang as a soloist with the University Chorale at U.B., and later with the City of Good Neighbors Chorale and the Temple Beth Zion Choir. From the mid-1950s, she performed as a folk singer in coffee houses in Buffalo, New York City, Seattle, San Francisco and Toronto. She was the lead singer for the jazz-rock band, The New Chicago Lunch, and subsequently formed The Madeline Davis Group. She began writing gay/lesbian- oriented music in the mid-1960s, and in 1971 wrote and recorded the first gay anthem in the U.S., "Stonewall Nation". In 1983, Davis produced a tape of original lesbian music titled "Daughter of All Women" which included "Stonewall Nation." [6] For over four decades, she organized and performed benefit concerts for the gay community in Buffalo. She has composed of 45 songs, most with gay and lesbian themes.

In 1994, Davis co-founded Black Triangle Women's Percussion Ensemble. She continues to perform on djembe, conga, and other Afro-Caribbean instruments with the percussion group, Drawing Down the Moon.


Davis has been involved in theater since 1957, when she played Lampito in a production of Lysistrata at U.B. In 1971 she wrote, directed and produced Liberella, a feminist comedy. She was a founding member of HAG Theatre, the first all lesbian theater company in the U.S.[2] In 1988, she became a member of Buffalo United Artists, a gay-oriented professional theater company, with a performance in Last Summer at Bluefish Cove. In 1993, she received an Artie Award nomination for her portrayal of Typhoid Mary in the one-woman drama, Cookin' With Typhoid Mary by Carolyn Gage, directed by Margaret Smith.

Personal life

Davis is a Reiki Master, with a specialty in animal healing. With her partner, Wendy Smiley, she has worked on breed rescue for Keeshonds since 1995. She is a founding member of Spiderwoman Coven, an all women's Wiccan spiritual circle, and has performed Wiccan rituals for local spiritual events. In 1995, Davis was married to Smiley at Temple Beth Zion in the first same-sex marriage performed in the Buffalo Jewish Community.

After undergoing gastric bypass surgery, Davis founded a GBS support group for the practice of gastrointestinal surgeon, Dr. Joseph Caruana. Over a period of 6½ years, she facilitated the group and expanded its mission to include the founding of 13 GBS support groups throughout Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Niagara counties. She continues to do individual counseling with gastric bypass patients.

She is also an avid quilter and gardener.


An archival collection originally compiled by Davis containing materials focusing on Buffalo and Western New York gay history called The Madeline Davis Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Archives of Western New York, is housed at Buffalo State College.[7]


  • Community Service Award – Buffalo Lesbian and Gay Community, 1993
  • David DeMarie Entertainer of the Year Award – 1988
  • Delegate Appreciation Award - Mattachine Society, 1972
  • Community Service Award – Empire State Pride Agenda, 1974
  • Certificate of Appreciation – Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, 1989
  • Proclamation of Madeline D. Davis day in NY State – by State Sen. Byron Brown, April 25, 2004
  • Founders Award – PFLAG, 1989
  • For Boots of Leather with co-author Elizabeth L. Kennedy Lambda Literary Award – Women's Studies – 1994, Jesse Bernard Award, American Sociological Assn. – 1994 Ruth Benedict Award, Urban Anthropology - 1994


  1. Iovannone, Jeffry J. (2018-06-14). "Madeline Davis: Lesbian Delegate". Queer History For the People. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  2. "Commencement 2016: Madeline D. Davis to Receive SUNY Honorary Doctorate | Commencement | SUNY Buffalo State". Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  3. "The Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York". Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  4. David B. Marshall (Director) (6 August 2009). "Swimming with Lesbians (2009)". iMDb. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  5. "Commencement 2016: Madeline D. Davis to Receive SUNY Honorary Doctorate". SUNY Buffalo State. 26 May 2016. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  6. ""Stonewall Nation," Daughter of All Women Album". Digital Commons at Buffalo State. The Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  7. "The Madeline Davis Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Digital Archives | State University of New York College at Buffalo - Buffalo State College Research | Digital Commons at Buffalo State". Retrieved 2016-02-26.


  • Reflections on Coming out, Ethos, 1982
  • Bonnie Bullough, Madeline Davis & Beverly Whipple "The Grafenberg Spot and Female Ejaculation", International Journal of Nursing, 1983.
  • Multiple Images: the Persona of the Lesbian in the Literature of the 1940s, Lesbian Feminist Research Group, Coralyn Fontaine, ed. 1988
  • Davis & Kennedy, '"Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in the Lesbian Community, Buffalo, NY, 1940–1960" in Hidden From History, Duberman, Vicinus, Chauncey, 1989. (Previously published in Feminist Studies journal, 1986)
  • "The Femme Tapes", "Old Femme" in The Persistent Desire: a Femme-Butch Reader, Joan Nestle, ed., 1992
  • Kennedy & Davis, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community, New York: Routledge. (1993)ISBN 0-415902-93-2
  • Kennedy & Davis, "They Was No-One to Mess With: the construction of the butch role in the lesbian community of the 1940s and 1950s" in The Persistent Desire, Joan Nestle, ed., 1992
  • "The Piercing" in The Second Coming, a Leatherdyke Reader Pat Califia & Robin Sweeney, eds., 1992
  • "Forever Femme" in Fem(me): Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls, Laura Harris and Elizabeth Crocker, 1997
  • "Seniors in the GLBT Community: Problems and Solutions" in conference Breaking Down Barriers, Niagara Falls, NY, 2004
  • "Where Have All the Gay Kids Gone? Gay Seniors in Buffalo", NY SAGE Newsletter, Feb. 2007.
  • Link to IMDB page for "Swimming with Lesbians" :
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