For women, whose traditional role has been in the home, social mobility meant that friendship assumed more importance as kinship ties were stretched or broken. Stories, such as the Old Testament account of Ruth and Naomi, two women related by marriage, illustrate the strength of female kinship. When friendship between women is discussed, it includes both lesbian and nonlesbian relationships. The love poems of the best-known woman writer of antiquity, Sappho (fl. c. 610–c. 580 B.C.E.), could be describing both heterosexual and lesbian relationships, but her community of women on the island of Lesbos has become the symbol of modern lesbianism.
Medieval monastic writings often portray women as a danger to men, the object of inferior emotions such as carnal desire. Suspicion was also cast upon groups of women living together in convents, especially as the nuns adopted Aethelred's notion of spiritual friendship, a companionship of souls, which sanctioned particular intimate friendships. The writings of women mystics and saints, such as Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), and Juana Inés de la Cruz, (1651–1695), expressed passionate love of the souls of their sisters.
For evidence of women's friendships, we have to rely not on the treatises written about male friendships, but on personal correspondence, diaries, novels, and poetry. Nineteenth-century romantic friendships between women were expressed in affectionate letters to each other. The suffragettes of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century interspersed their political communication with expressions of personal friendship.
Women's friendships with women, as well as with men, became civic bonds important for politics in the twentieth century. The second wave of feminism in the 1960s, with its slogan of "the personal is political," produced a women's network of consciousness-raising groups. Women relied on the friendship of other women for support. Janice Raymond's term "Gyn/affection" aims to describe female friendships involving not only fondness and affection, but also the sense of empowerment that female friendships can create.