Finding the T in LGB history

New library archive showcases historical transgender moments

Lara Wilson (left) and Susan Henderson show off pieces of UVic’s new transgender archive.

New library archive showcases historical transgender moments

In 1913, an American was born who would later undergo surgical body modification, take female hormones, change her legal name to Virginia (Charles) Prince and live full-time as a woman. Prince has been called the first person to use the term transgender.

Yet other than traces of her adamant criticism of gender identity disorder, and records of her creation of Transvestia Magazine, what the world knows about Prince is she died in 2009 at age 96. Thanks to a newly developing transgender archive at the University of Victoria’s Library, however, people may learn much more than that — and just in time for Pride Week.

“We could see that part of our history was underrepresented in archives across the country, really, and saving that material is essential to our society,” says Lara Wilson, UVic archivist. “We do have a faculty here with an interest in these subjects, which really gives us an advantage in something as unique as this — we’re now one of the only libraries in North America with a transgender archive.”

Wilson and the library team have been collecting items since 2007, when transgendered woman Rikki Swin donated her Chicago collection to the campus. Through Swin, the university gained material of Prince and other historical markers. Since then, two more main collections have come forward, one from Reed Erickson and one from Stephanie Castle.

Now, UVic is dedicating the entire archival display reading room to the collection for the month of July in an effort to show pride and draw attention to the unique archive that many community members still know nothing about.

“It’s rare enough in North America to find a well-established LGB archive, but the T often goes missing in those collections,” says Wilson. “We believed the T was worthy of its own collection.”

The archive is comprised of literature, photos, posters and flyers, dress, memorabilia and even sound bites. While people are invited to stay and read entire historical novels as displayed in some of the exhibits, none of the material may be checked out. The university is also using the Pride Week launch to ask for other material to come forward — the archivists will consider all pieces of transgender artifact.

“I think libraries have this ability to legitimize elements of research, both in what it preserves and in what it teaches us,” says Susan Henderson, UVic Libraries communications officer. “That’s part of the mission statement of a library: not to be judgmental but to recognize the importance of reaching our communities. These collections belong to all of us. It’s very exciting.” M

To contact UVic’s library archives, visit library.uvic.ca/archives or call 250-721-8257.

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