Madeline Davis, a distinguished gay rights advocate, writer, archivist, and librarian, held the distinction of being the first openly lesbian major-party delegate to a U.S. national convention.

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Davis pursued her education at the University of Buffalo, earning both a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in library studies.

In her twenties, Davis came to realize her lesbian identity, having previously been married to a man for three years in the 1960s before their separation.

During the late 1960s, Davis co-founded and later served as president of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, an early gay rights organization. She was also a co-founder of Fifth Freedom, the inaugural LGBT magazine in New York.

In 1971, Davis delivered a speech at the first gay rights march at the New York state capitol. Shortly thereafter, she penned the song "Stonewall Nation," which is now hailed as the premier gay liberation record and an anthem for the gay rights movement.

As a representative of New York’s 37th Congressional District in 1972, Davis made history by becoming the first openly lesbian individual to address the Democratic National Convention. She boldly proclaimed, “I am a woman and a lesbian, a minority of minorities. Now we are coming out of our closets and onto the convention floor.” That same year, Davis, alongside fellow activist Margaret Small, taught what she described as the inaugural college-level course on gay women, titled “Lesbianism 101,” at the University of Buffalo. Davis took the lead in organizing pride workshops in New York City, speaking at LGBT protests and rallies, and lecturing at universities nationwide on topics related to gay rights, feminism, and gender.

In the 1990s, Davis assumed the role of chief conservator and head of preservation for the Buffalo Public Library system. She was the founder and director of the Buffalo Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Archives, which are presently housed in the Buffalo State College Library. Additionally, Davis authored magazine and journal articles, short stories, and poems. In 1993, she co-authored “Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community” with Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy.

In 1995, Davis entered into marriage with activist Wendy Smiley, marking the inaugural same-sex wedding within the Buffalo Jewish community. The couple relocated to Amherst, New York, in 2006, where Davis continued her work as a librarian and archivist. In 2012, she assumed the role of vice president for community liaison of the Stonewall Democrats and was posthumously inducted into the Advocate magazine’s Hall of Fame.

Davis passed away at the age of 80 due to complications arising from a stroke, and her obituary was featured in The New York Times.

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