Domestic abuse pioneer Del Martin dies

Del Martin, whose 1977 book Battered Wives helped spark changes in attitudes and creation of shelter programs, has died at age 87.

Battered Wives was enormously influential with Nevada women’s movement leaders like Sue Wagner and Joni Kaiser. The pioneering study rests on the bookshelves of a generation of women’s leaders.

“I think that was the book that launched the movement,” said Kaiser, director of Reno’s Committee to Aid Abused Women. “I’m not even sure it was [her] first book, but it was definitely the book that everybody read in the ‘70s about domestic violence and shelters.”

Before the publication of the groundbreaking book (reportedly the first book ever published on domestic violence) and the movement it fostered, “wife beating"—as it was then known—often generated jokes instead of concern. It is still in print, now through Volcano Press.

Wagner as a state legislator sponsored legislation creating a funding mechanism for abuse victim shelter programs around Nevada, legislation that was shepherded to enactment by lobbyist Jan Evans.

Surprisingly, after her death, Del Martin’s role in domestic abuse issues received little attention. Her role in gay rights was the subject of most obituaries. She and her partner of 55 years, Phyllis Lyon, seen at right with Martin in the photo above, were married in a ceremony performed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom on June 16. Martin and Lyon founded the gay rights group Daughters of Bilitis in the 1950s, a time when homosexuals were commonly subject to arrest and brutal police treatment.