Reed Erickson and the Erickson Educational Foundation

Reed Erickson was born in El Paso, Texas, on October 13, 1917 and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After Erickson completed high school, the family moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they conducted a lead smelting business. In Baton Rouge, Erickson attended Louisiana State University and graduated from LSU's school of mechanical engineering, then went back to Philadelphia to work as an engineer until returning to Baton Rouge in the early 1950s to work in the family business and start a company making stadium bleachers.

In 1962, Erickson inherited the family business, and ran it successfully until selling it to Arrow Electronics at the end of the decade for several million dollars. In 1963, Erickson became a patient of Dr. Harry Benjamin and began the process of masculinizing and living as Reed Erickson. That same year, Erickson also married for the first time. Over the next 30 years, he married again twice and became the father to two children.

Erickson Educational Foundation

In 1964, Erickson launched the Erickson Educational Foundation (EEF), a philanthropic organization funded entirely by him. The Erickson Educational Foundation's stated goals were "to provide assistance and support in areas where human potential was limited by adverse physical, mental or social conditions, or where the scope of research was too new, controversial or imaginative to receive traditionally oriented support."

The EEF had three main foci. One of its earliest and longest running recipients of financial support was the early homophile organization ONE Inc. of Los Angeles, founded in 1952. Another major area of Erickson's interest was what have come to be called New Age Movements. However, the main centre of Erickson's attention was transsexualism. The present wide-spread recognition of transsexualism as a human condition can be partially attributed to the activities of the Erickson Educational Foundation.

The EEF funded many early research efforts, including the creation of the Harry Benjamin Foundation, and the opening of the first North American gender clinic at Johns Hopkins. It developed and maintained an extensive referral list of service providers throughout the US and in several other locales. The EEF sponsored public addresses, educational films, radio and television appearances, and newspaper articles bringing transsexualism to the attention of the public. In addition, the EEF also published informative quarterly newsletters, educational pamphlets, and books. Furthermore, the EEF was instrumental in organizing several of the earliest international conferences on transsexualism which later evolved into the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

Erickson lived a very colourful and successful life, eventually amassing a personal fortune estimated at over US$40 million. He lived for many years with his family and his pet leopard, Henry, in an opulent home in Mazatlan, Mexico, which he dubbed the Love Joy Palace. Later in life, he moved to southern California. Sadly, by the time of his death in 1992 at the age of 74, he had become addicted to illegal drugs and died in Mexico as a fugitive from US drug indictments. 

UVic's Transgender Archives holds Erickson's extensive archives of personal papers, business records, legal files, and art works totaling approximately 15 meters of material.

View materials from Erickson archives

Reed Erickson Finding Aids

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Reed Erickson Finding Aid

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