Transgendering U.S. History

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Summer 2015

The University of Minnesota Libraries’ Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies is one of just a handful of GLBT archives in the country, housing more than 100,000 books, magazines, reference books, and other items. A new oral history project is about to significantly expand the collection’s materials related to the transgender community.

Funded by a $256,000 grant from the Chicago-based Tawani Foundation, the Transgender Oral History Project is a collaboration between the Tretter Collection and the U’s Program in Human Sexuality, one of the world’s largest clinical, teaching, and research programs dealing with human sexuality. Over the next three years, up to 400 hours of oral histories will be gathered from as many as 300 transgender men and women of all ages in the Upper Midwest.

Tretter Collection curator Lisa Vecoli says the project is the largest and most ambitious of its kind ever undertaken in the United States. The oral histories will, she says, reflect changing attitudes about gender.

“We want to hear from people who were around when the University was doing sex reassignment surgeries in 1967, as well as young people who more and more seem to be rejecting the concept of gender as binary and thinking of themselves as somewhere between male and female,” she explains. “I can’t imagine how we’ll be talking about gender in another 50 years, but I want to document as much as we can now.”

The Tretter Collection is named for its founder, Jean-Nickolaus Tretter. He began collecting books, photographs, and historical documents in the early 1970s after leaving the Navy, where he was a decorated linguist during the Vietnam War. His collection was housed in his tiny St. Paul apartment until he donated it to the University in 2000. —M.M.

Learn more about the Tretter Collection in a video interview with Lisa Vecoli at


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