Samois, a lesbian-feminist BDSM organization based in San Francisco that existed from 1978 to 1983, was the first lesbian BDSM group in the United States. Gayle Rubin and Pat Califia (who identified as a lesbian at the time), were two of its founders.
A women’s discussion group called Cardea, which was part of the Society of Janus, existed from 1977 to 1978 before discontinuing; a group of lesbian members of Cardea, including Gayle Rubin, Pat Califia (who identified as a lesbian at the time) and sixteen others, were inspired to start Samois on June 13, 1978, as an exclusively lesbian BDSM group.
Fran Nowve, also known as Terry Kolb, was a notable member of Samois.
The name Samois was taken from the BDSM-themed novel Story of O (written by Anne Desclos under her pen name Pauline Réage), in which the real town Samois-sur-Seine is mentioned as the location of the fictional mansion managed by the fictional Anne-Marie, a lesbian dominatrix.
The book Coming to Power: Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M, published in 1981, was edited by members of Samois.
Samois also hosted a Ms Leather Contest in 1981 in Oakland, which was won by Rachael Williams, thus making her the first black person to hold what would be equivalent to a national title in leather.
Samois ended in 1983 due to personal infighting. However, in 1984 The Outcasts, a social and educational organization for women interested in BDSM with other women, was founded in San Francisco in 1984; The Outcasts grew partly from earlier groups, Samois and the Society of Janus. In 1986, The Outcasts joined Society of Janus and other groups in the San Francisco Pride Parade’s first leather contingent. The Outcasts was disbanded in the mid-1990s; its successor organization The Exiles is still active. In 2012, The Exiles in San Francisco received the Small Club of the Year award as part of the Pantheon of Leather Awards.
In 2007 the National Leather Association – International began awards for excellence in SM/fetish/leather writing; one of the awards is the Samois Poetry Award (formerly the Samois Anthology Award).
In 2019 Samois was inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame.