2021-04-27

MADELINE DAVIS was an American LGBTQ activist and historian who died on this date (b: 1940). 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. She also participated in the founding of the HAG Theatre Company, women theatre artists presenting a lesbian stage voice, in 1994.

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 in a major political convention when she was elected as a George McGovern delegate to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Miami, Florida. At the DNC, Davis was the first lesbian to urge the party to include gay rights as part of the 1972 Democratic Party platform. 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, along with Margaret Small, Davis 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. 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.

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.”  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.

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. 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.

She was also an avid quilter and gardener. 

After suffering a stroke in January 2021 and inadequate care in rehab, her wife Wendy Smiley brought her home where Madeline was happy to be.