The hermaphrodite (her) locus has both maternal and zygotic functions required for normal female development in Drosophila. Maternal her function is needed for the viability of female offspring, while zygotic her function is needed for female sexual differentiation. Here we focus on understanding how her fits into the sex determination regulatory hierarchy. Maternal her function is needed early in the hierarchy: genetic interactions of her with the sisterless genes (sis-a and sis-b), with function-specific Sex-lethal (Sxl) alleles and with the constitutive allele SxlM#1 suggest that maternal her function is needed for Sxl initiation. When mothers are defective for her function, their daughters fail to activate a reporter gene for the Sxl early promoter and are deficient in Sxl protein expression. Dosage compensation is misregulated in the moribund daughters: some salivary gland cells show binding of the maleless (mle) dosage compensation regulatory protein to the X chromosome, a binding pattern normally seen only in males. Thus maternal her function is needed early in the hierarchy as a positive regulator of Sxl, and the maternal effects of her on female viability probably reflect Sxl's role in regulating dosage compensation. In contrast to her's maternal function, her's zygotic function in sex determination acts at the end of the hierarchy. This zygotic effect is not rescued by constitutive Sxl expression, nor by constitutive transformer (tra) expression. Moreover, the expression of doublesex (dsx) transcripts appears normal in her mutant females. We conclude that the maternal and zygotic functions of her are needed at two distinctly different levels of the sex determination regulatory hierarchy.