History Mystery

©2011 by Dallas Denny

Photo ©2011 by Jean Lewis: Rikki Swin in 2001


History Mystery Solved

A missing transgender archive containing a considerable portion of the community’s historical documents has surfaced after having vanished for seven years.

At the recent meeting of The World Professional Association for Transgender Health held in Atlanta in September, sociologist Aaron Devor gave a presentation in which he announced the acquisition of the collection of the Rikki Swin Institute’s extensive holdings by the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

Dr. Devor said an official announcement of the new holdings will be made after the first of the year.

In 2000 the newly-formed U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit Rikki Swin Institute purchased personal papers of Virginia Prince, Betty Ann Lind, Ariadne Kane, and Merissa Sherrill Lynn. Virginia Prince (1913-2009) was an activist who started a number of organizations  for crossdressers and published the landmark magazine Transvestia, which launched in 196o. Betty Ann Lind 1931-1998) was publisher of the magazine Our Sorority and director of Fantasia. Fair. Ariadne Kane (1944-) founded and was executive director of The Outreach Society and was director of Fantasia Fair for many years. Merissa Sherrill Lynn (ca 1936-) was a founder of Boston’s Tiffany Club, Founding Director of the International Foundation for Gender Education, and the first editor of Transgender Tapestry Journal. The Swin Institute also purchased the historical and archival material of  IFGE.

Using funds donated by Ms. Swin, the Institute purchased a building in downtown Chicago and feted the attendees at the 2001 IFGE conference in that city. Attendees were told the collections were in the building and a librarian had been hired, but neither the stacks nor the librarian were visible to those at Swin’s reception.

The books were indeed in the building; Ms. Swin subsequently hired community activist Alison Laing to work with the collection. Professors Ken Dollarhide and Susan Stryker and no doubt others were allowed to see the materials, which were reportedly uncatalogued and unorganized.

In 2002 the Rikki Swin Institute and Ms. Swin disappeared from the view of the community.

Rumors flew. The most-repeated story was Ms. Swin had fled the country after 9/11 and had moved to British Columbia. It became clear several years later that the collection was in Vancouver and Ms. Swin was in negotiation with the University of Victoria to transfer custody of the materials, but there was no official notice until a page went up on the University of Victoria Library website on 19 July, 2010; the text indicated transfer of the collection had occurred in 2007.

University of Victoria, Rikki Swin


It’s been official—if obscure, since 2010. Now the acquisition has been made public. The collections are safe at the University of Victoria, where they will soon be catalogued and made available to researchers and historians.