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Preserve Our (And Your) History (2013)

Preserve Our (And Your) History (2013)

Note: Here’s a link to Our Transgender Heritage, an article on preserving transgender history. I wrote it in 1998.

If you visit, explore the site. Much of my work can be found there, and more is going up all the time.


©2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. Preserve Our (And Your) History. (2013, 25 March. TG Forum.


Twenty or so years ago I was on the phone with Ms. Bob Davis in San Francisco. We were talking about our collections of transgender historical material and wondering how much material was out there and what it might be worth. “In ten years we’ll know,” said Ms. Bob. “The Internet will sort it out.”

Back then there were no organized efforts to preserve transgender history. There were only a few concerned collectors. Ms. Bob was one and I was one, and  we were sharing what little we knew with one another.

Today there are as many as a dozen repositories for trans-related material in Europe and North America. Most began with a single collection, donated by an individual or an organization, and have grown as they acquire other collections. All are open to researchers and the general public, and all offer a fascinating look at transpeople as we once were.

What’s most interesting about these collections isn’t the esoteric stuff—old manuscripts and photos and ephemera—but the stories of everyday people, people like you and me.

A case in point is the papers of Felicity Chandell. Felicity was a crossdresser who once famously flew a gyro-copter full of mail from the roof of the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia to Camden, NJ. (The intro is long. Watch from about 2 min.)

Felicity-ChandellIn 1964 Felicity was arrested near her home in New York City for violating a masquerade law from the 1840s (“having his face painted, discolored, covered, or concealed, or being otherwise disguised in a manner calculated to prevent his being identified.” As a result of her conviction, she lost her job of 25 years at Eastern Airlines.

Never one to back down, Felicity appealed her two-day suspended sentence with assistance from transgender leaders Siobhan Fredericks and Virginia Prince, The New York Times, and a friend of the court brief by The American Civil Liberties Union. When the appeal was denied, Felicity took it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (which, predictably, denied certiorari [i.e., refused to hear the case]).

It’s an amazing history, and one which is happily now preserved in the National Archive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History at the LGBT Community Center of New York. When she died in 2008 at age 102, Felicity’s papers came to the Center.

Felicity’s is but one of tens of thousand of stories which need to be told. Your history, like hers, deserves to be preserved and, eventually, retold. Most of us, however, don’t think we’re anything special and never even consider donating our personal papers and collections of trans-related books, magazines, and clippings. And yet, we should, all of us.

No matter who you are, no matter what you have or haven’t done, you should consider making provisions in your will to bequeath your trans-related possessions to an archive in your region. You needn’t worry about being outed, for any of the archives will be happy to seal your papers for as many years as you wish.

It’s not difficult to donate—just contact one of the repositories below. Any will be happy to have your materials, and some might even be willing to pay shipping costs.

The transgender conference Fantasia Fair is soliciting donations of historical material and personal papers, which will be donated the archive at the University of Victoria. I’m the point person, so to make things easy, you can give or send materials to me. I’ll work with you to define your collection and determine which if any restrictions you would like to place upon access. Around the end of the year everything the Fair has collected will be shipped off to British Columbia. E-mail me at and let’s talk.


Felicity Chandell (1905-2008), Pilot. A Gender Variance Who’s Who.

Some North American Archives for Trans Materials


Rich Wandel, Archivist/Historian
National Archive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender History
GLBT Community Center of New York
208 West 13th Street
New York, NY 10011
Julie Harrada, Curator

Joseph A. Labadie Collection
Harlan Hatcher University Avenue
University of Michigan
913 S. University Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190

 ATTN: Jacob Hale, Ph.D.
18111 Nordhoff Street
California State University Northridge
Northridge, CA 91330
818-627-2285 (Center for Sex and Gender Research)
818-677-7202 (Jacob)

Kinsey Institute
Morrison 313
1165 E. Third St.
Bloomington, IN 47405

Transgender Center
604 Pacific St.
Houston, TX 77006

GLBT Historical Society
4127 18th St.
San Francisco, CA 94114
Aaron Devor, Ph.D., Academic Director

University of Victoria Transgender Archives
P.O. Box 1800 ST CSC
Victoria, BC, V8W-3H5