In his recent article Dr. Brian Dolan looks at the politics of protests during the 1918 influenza epidemic in San Francisco.
“On April 17, 2020, San Francisco Mayor London Breed did something that had not been done for 101 years. She issued an order that face masks be worn in public as a measure to help prevent the spread of infectious disease in the midst of a pandemic. This act promptly raised questions about how things were handled a century ago. The media soon picked up on the antics of an “Anti-Mask League” that was formed in San Francisco to protest this inconvenience, noting some historical parallels with current public complaints about government overreach. This essay dives deeper into the historical context of the anti-mask league to uncover more information about the identity and possible motivations of those who organized these protests. In particular it shines light on the fascinating presence of the leading woman in the campaign—lawyer, suffragette, and civil rights activist, Mrs. E.C. Harrington.” Read the full story in Perspectives in Medical Humanities (UC Medical Humanities Consortium, May 19, 2020)
This is a guest post by Aaron J. Jackson, M.A, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF History of Health Sciences.
From time to time, events in the
present so closely resemble events from the past that the aphorism “history
repeats itself” seems feasible. This can be demonstrated by comparing the
current crisis of the novel coronavirus with the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919.
The similarities are compelling. Like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the variety
of H1N1 influenza that swept across the world in 1918 and 1919 produced a
significant shock. It spread like wildfire, was frustratingly resistant to
contemporary therapeutics, exhibited novel characteristics, and forced
governments to resort to what some considered to be heavy-handed public health
interventions. Bay Area residents in 1918 were required to wear masks and
practice social distancing, just as they are required to do so today. Such
historical similarities are not, however, proof that history repeats itself.
But they do provide interesting opportunities for comparison between the past
and the present—opportunities that hold the potential to make the past more relatable
by building connections through common circumstances. And perhaps, through that
understanding, an opportunity for hope to shine in dark times.
This post is not an exhaustive
study comparing 1918 and 2020. Rather, it focuses on responses to crises and
specifically the ways that communities innovatively addressed shortages of
personal protective equipment (PPE). So, of course, it will be about war,
pandemics, socks, and sheet protectors. Naturally.
When the United States declared
war on the Imperial Government of Germany in April 1917, the nation was
woefully unprepared for the conflict. The war represented an unprecedented
crisis—one that required the federal government to assume new powers in order
to coordinate the resources of the entire nation. President Woodrow Wilson’s
administration worked with Congress to institute a draft to raise an army,
enacted strict economic control measures to conserve and direct resources
towards the production of war materiel, and passed laws that infringed on civil
liberties, all in the name of the war effort. To ensure public support for
these moves, the government mounted a massive propaganda campaign that appealed
to a specific version of American patriotism, appealing to citizens’ sense of
Mustering an army of sufficient size presented significant challenges. The men not only had to be inducted into military service—either by volunteering or being drafted—they required hundreds of training camps, transportation to those camps, equipment to train with, uniforms to wear. Once at the camps, they required food, shelter, and medical support. Military training was and remains a dangerous business, but the most significant medical problem at the cantonments was disease.
As tens of thousands of American
recruits assembled at Army camps across the United States, they unwittingly
brought diseases with them, which found ample opportunity to spread in cramped
camp conditions. Most of these infections fell into the category of “common
respiratory unknown disease”—an unofficial designation among military recruits
who learned to add C.R.U.D. to the lexicon of military acronyms they learned.
The crud largely consisted of the common cold and other respiratory infections,
but cases of measles, mumps, and chicken pox were also common. Most cases of
the crud cleared up without need for treatment, but the prevalence of these
infections and the fact that new waves of infections would spring up with every
new trainload of recruits had the effect of masking a more dangerous threat.
Army physicians first identified more than 100 soldiers who had developed a
rather severe flu-like illness in March 1918. Within a week, the number of flu
cases at Fort Riley was over 500 and climbing. The H1N1 virus that caused the
influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 had arrived, but the nation was focused on the
war. And as American troops began arriving in France and moving into the front
lines—many of them no doubt bringing the virus with them—medical personnel
tasked with supporting the war effort shifted their focus from induction
screening and camp illnesses to other health concerns.
The First World War introduced a bevy of new ways to mangle and maim human bodies. From high-velocity rifle rounds and machine guns to high-explosive artillery shells, flamethrowers, hand grenades, aerial bombardment, and chemical weapons, the U.S. Army Medical Corps understood that the hospital system it established in France had to be prepared first and foremost for trauma care, which posed significant challenges. Not only did modern weapons cause extensive damage, the risks of sepsis and gangrene in an era before the discovery of antibiotics were high. Complicating this, European battlefields tended to stretch across agricultural land, teeming with bacteria after years of fertilization. Soldiers wounded on the front lines thus ran an extremely high risk of bacterial infection. To address this, the Medical Corps and its affiliates prioritized training Army health care workers in antiseptic wound care.
The experiences of the personnel of Base Hospital No. 30 are instructive in this regard. Base Hospital Thirty was the military hospital unit assembled from physicians, surgeons, and nurses associated with the University of California’s School of Medicine—the precursor to UCSF. Organized with the help of the American Red Cross Society shortly after Congress declared war, the unit spent more than a year training for the anticipated challenges of running a hospital for wounded soldiers in France. The unit’s nurses received orders to depart San Francisco on December 26, 1917 and reported to Army cantonment camps along the East Coast to help care for soldiers who had fallen ill with the crud, gaining invaluable experience in nursing soldiers and recognizing disease presentation. The unit’s surgeons practiced the ancient technique of wound debridement—removing foreign objects and cutting away dead and dying flesh to produce a clean wound—and attended clinical instruction that prepared them for the types of injuries they would face. And the unit’s corpsmen trained in the production and use of the Carrell-Dakin solution, a novel antiseptic more effective than carbolic acid and iodine but also a solution that required careful training and preparation. Thanks to training like this, the base hospital system was able to treat more than 300,000 sick and wounded soldiers with remarkably low mortality rates compared to previous wars.
Indeed, the medical apparatus and personnel organized to support the American Expeditionary Forces were well prepared for the anticipated hazards of the war. But in one of the remarkable parallels to the current coronavirus crisis, their job was perhaps made more difficult by the failure of American logistics in providing adequate personal protective equipment. But the shortage in 1918 was not one of N95 masks; rather, it was a matter of needing socks.
Today, the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration defines PPE as “equipment worn to minimize exposure
to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.”[i]
Under this definition, and in the context of soldiering, a good pair of socks
certainly applies. Trench warfare was a dirty business. It also tended to be
cold and wet—the perfect climate for a condition known today as “trench foot.”
Afflicted soldiers’ feet would go numb, swell, develop sore and infections, and
in extreme cases become gangrenous, possibly requiring amputation. Obviously,
this ran the risk of keeping soldiers from the front lines and thus undermining
the war effort. But ensuring a plentiful supply of clean dry socks somehow
slipped through the cracks of the Army’s logistical efforts to prepare for the
war. Fortunately, the American Red Cross and thousands of civilian volunteers
found ways to meet the challenge.
Beginning in 1917, the Red Cross put out calls for knitted garments, especially socks. The organization distributed officially-endorsed knitting patterns and free wool to anyone willing to “knit your bit.” The Priscilla War Work Book contains roughly a dozen such patterns ranging from socks to coats and winter hats.[ii] But the demand was greatest for socks. Across the country, knitters worked individually at home and collectively in social groups to try to keep up with the demand. Those who could not knit were urged to purchase or donate wool for the cause. Some organizations turned to mechanical solutions. The Seattle Red Cross utilized a knitting machine to produce long wool tubes that could be cut into 27-inch lengths, requiring only the toes to be stitched by hand.[iii] In this way, those behind the front lines were able to support the war effort by providing the PPE the soldiers needed to keep themselves in fighting shape.
Celebrating the end
of the First World War in San Francisco, November 11, 1918. Image from The San Francisco Chronicle files.
The knitting campaign continued
until the war ended with the declaration of the armistice on November 11, 1918.
By then, the nation was in the midst of the first wave of the influenza
pandemic. On October 9, 1918, San Francisco’s hospitals reported 169 influenza
cases. A week later, there were more than 2,000 and the city’s Board of Health
issued recommendations for social distancing.[iv]
With so many health care professionals supporting the war effort, the Bay
Area’s medical infrastructure was stretched to the limit and cities put out
calls for volunteers. Hospital space soon became a valuable commodity and many
facilities, including the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, were converted into
temporary hospitals, and public health officials began recommending the use of
face masks, which they later made mandatory.[v]
But it is important to remember that these were local efforts to respond to the
pandemic. The federal government, which had mustered the resources of the
entire nation to fight the war in Europe, was unwilling to do the same to
combat the pandemic at home, leaving it up to local authorities, medical
institutions, and volunteer organizations to make do as best they could.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves
in a similar situation today. As the novel coronavirus took on pandemic
proportions, stores of PPE for frontline healthcare workers reached critical
levels. Before the pandemic, China produced approximately half the world’s
supply of medical masks. As the infection spread in China, their exports
stopped, and the resulting shortage spurred competition between institutions
and governments to secure PPE, which only exacerbated the situation.
Thankfully, a multidisciplinary team at UCSF found a way to be a part of the
solution, echoing the efforts of American knitters from over a century ago.
Noting the need for face shields, experts at UCSF specializing in biochemistry, engineering, logistics, medical workplace safety, and 3D model design came together in March 2020 to develop something that could help address the PPE shortage. By April, the team completed designs for three different models of 3D-printable face shield frames that, when combined with rubber bands and transparent document protectors, serve as functional and reusable face shields. They then collected seventeen 3D printers from across the university and turned the UCSF Makers Lab in the Kalmanovitz Library into an ad hoc face shield factory that can produce more than 300 shields each day—enough to supply UCSF’s front-line health care workers and then some.[vi] Extra shields are distributed to Bay Area hospitals. Moreover, like the Red Cross with the distribution of the Priscilla War Work Book, the UCSF team is sharing their plans in an open source repository so that others can emulate their efforts.[vii] This allows those with access to 3D printers and a few dollars’ worth of office supplies to contribute to the ongoing PPE shortage by producing face shields that have been designed, tested, and vetted by experts at one of the nation’s leading medical institutions.
Certainly, there are remarkable
similarities to be drawn between the modern crisis and those in the past. Once
again, the government was unprepared for a crisis despite advanced warning.
Once again, people are working in the front lines to save others despite
inadequate supplies. And once again, like the First World War and the influenza
pandemic of 1918-1919, the coronavirus pandemic is a devastating event likely
to be measured in the tally of lives lost. In the face of such grim statistics,
it is easy to fall into cynicism and say that history is repeating.
In 1905, philosopher George
Santayana explored the notion of progress—the idea that things move toward
improvement—and stated that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned
to repeat it.”[viii]
This is likely the origin of the aphorism “history repeats itself.” But Santaya
was not making a hopeless argument; rather, he noted that if progress is to be achieved,
it will be because humans not only record the past, they engage with it, learn
from it, and seek to understand it. And how that is achieved depends on the
ability to draw relatable connections with the past that emphasize human
agency. In 1918, knitters took up their needles. Today, a team of scientists,
engineers, and others figured out how to make face shields using 3D printers
and office supplies. These may seem like small contributions in the grand
scheme of things, but they are important examples of positive human agency in
the face of crisis.
Schappel Barsaloux and the American National Red Cross, The Priscilla War
Work Book: Including Directions for Knitted Garments and Comfort Kits from the
American Red Cross, and Knitted Garments for the Boy Scout. Boston, Mass.:
The Priscilla Publishing Company, 1917. Available at the HathiTrust Digital
By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accessioning Archivist
Although, in 2020, advice like “wash your hands” and “cover
your mouth when you cough” seem fairly obvious and common sense, there was a
time when this was not the case. That time was March 1855, when the situation
in British hospitals outside of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) during
the Crimean War had become so dire that Florence Nightingale and 40 other women
acting as trained volunteer nurses were finally allowed access to patients
(they had previously been denied access because of their gender). Hospitals
were overcrowded and extremely unsanitary conditions encouraged the spread of
infectious diseases like cholera, typhoid, typhus and dysentery, which Nightingale
recognized immediately. She implemented basic cleanliness measures, such as
baths for patients, clean facilities, and fresh linens, and advocated for an
approach that addressed the psychological and emotional, as well as the
physical, needs of patients. Her improvements brought a dramatic decline in the
mortality rate at these hospitals, which had previously been as high as 40%.
While Nightingale is well known as one of the world’s first nurses, she is less well known for her strikingly lovely data visualizations (including pie charts and a rose-shaped design called the “coxcomb”), which she used to highlight the number of deaths from diseases, in addition to deaths from wounds or injury, during the Crimean War. Nightingale, a mathematician and statistician, recognized the importance of eye-catching visuals in communicating the impact of her innovations.
Please join me in welcoming our new User Services and Accessioning Archivist, Erin Hurley. Below is her bio:
“My name is Erin Hurley, and I’m excited to join the UCSF Archives & Special Collections team. I have a BA in English and Art History from Oberlin College, and an MLIS in Archival Studies and Informatics from UCLA. I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but I have lived in California for 16 years, and in San Francisco for 13 of those years. I’ve worked as an archivist at places like the Getty Research Institute, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles, Stanford University, and the California Historical Society.
I live in the Sunset, and I love going to the beach, visiting the Botanical Garden, and exploring Golden Gate Park. I’m a huge music fan, and worked at Amoeba Music on Haight Street for five years, in addition to being active in college radio at Oberlin. I love to read, especially fiction, memoir, poetry, and biographies. I’m also a fan of ambitious cooking projects and dogs.”
We are delighted to announce a launch of an online exhibit, Shanti Projects: Histories of Shanti Project and the AIDS Crisis curated by University of Minnesota American Studies graduate student Brendan McHugh. It documents Shanti Project’s AIDS care work during the early decades of the AIDS crisis. Since 1974 Shanti has provided psychosocial peer support counseling to people with life-threatening illnesses and their loved ones in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. During the early years of the AIDS crisis, Shanti rose to the challenge by creating groundbreaking services for people living with AIDS/HIV. For much of the 1980s and 1990s Shanti was one of the largest AIDS organizations in the U.S. The plurality of the exhibit’s title reflects the vast array of people’s experiences at Shanti during that time period, as well as those who work with Shanti today. Visit the exhibit at https://shantiprojects.dash.umn.edu.
Shanti Projects is organized to reflect the process of becoming involved with Shanti as a volunteer. Alongside the main exhibit are three multimedia pages showcasing the work of photographers Judi Iranyi, Mariella Poli, and Jim Wigler and their portraits of people with AIDS/HIV who played important roles with Shanti. In the future, the final page Active Listening will provide audio clips from oral histories conducted for this project with accompanying transcripts to follow. Additional materials and sources have been provided by The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society, University of California, San Francisco, and generous interviewees personal materials.
There will also be a newsletter published monthly to announce updates on new material and events connected to the exhibit. Please sign up through the link on the exhibit website. For more information contact Brendan McHugh at email@example.com.
Robert E. Allen, Jr., MD, (1935-2018), was born in Blountstown, Florida and always aspired to become a doctor. In pursuit of his dreams, Allen received a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Florida A&M University, master’s degree in Genetics from Michigan State University, and a doctorate in Medicine from Meharry Medical College. He completed his residency in surgery at UC San Francisco, and a fellowship in surgery oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Allen also completed two additional postdoctoral fellowships in surgery at the National Institute of Health and peripheral vascular research at San Francisco General Hospital. As a SFGH fellow in trauma, he organized the ambulance paramedic program while training under F. William Blaisdell, MD.
Dr. Allen began his career at UCSF as a Surgical Oncologist,
specializing in Melanoma Surgery. He soon became the first Black Clinical
Professor of Surgery at UC San Francisco, serving as a faculty member for over
Allen was a cofounder of the Northern California Melanoma
Center with Dr. Lynn E. Spitler and other surgeons. Here, he participated in
consultation panels and surgeries on the Center’s patients until his
He has authored many articles for medical periodicals, wrote
chapters in medical publications, and spoke a medical conventions throughout
the United States and Europe. In addition, he was a member of various honor
societies, including the UCSF Naffziger Surgical Society.
To learn more about Dr. Allen’s work, check out these articles:
Vicki Alexander, MD, has dedicated her life to improving the social determinants of public health.
Alexander attended the UC San Francisco, where she completed her medical degree and residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1974. She went on to Columbia University, where she obtained her master’s degree in Public Health.
Dr. Alexander began as an Ob-Gyn Clinical Instructor at San Francisco General Hospital. She soon became the director of SFGH’s Perinatal Health Project, which served high-risk mothers and infants in the community. Alexander then relocated to New York, working as a clinical instructor and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Harlem Hospital. Eventually, she returned to the west coast and became the Maternal Child Health Director and Health Officer for the City of Berkeley until she retired in 2006.
Alexander has participated in many organizations to improve the living conditions for women and children, including: Rainbow Coalition, Center for Constitutional Rights, Reproductive Rights National Network, Planned Parenthood, City Material and Child Health.
In 1978, she established the Coalition to Fight Infant Mortality in Oakland, which helped women with medical care and social issues.
In 2000, Alexander began the Black Infant Health program in Berkeley, which grew from her coalition at Highland Hospital. This was the foundational step to the creation of the Alameda County Coalition to decrease infant mortality.
Alexander is also the current founder and board president of Healthy Black Families (HBF), Inc., which dovetails with the Black Infant Health program. It was founded as a non-profit organization in July 2013 to support the health, growth, development, and future of Black individuals and families.
For her devotion towards health and social justice, Dr. Vicki has won many awards, including: Women of the Year Award (2011); Martin Luther King, Lifetime Achievement Award (2014); National Jefferson Award for Community Service (2015); Alameda County African American Black History Month Award (2017); Madame CJ Walker Award for Black Women (2017); and 15th Assembly District Woman of the Year Award (2017).
To learn more about Dr. Vicki, check out these articles available in our digital collection on HathiTrust and Synapse Archive:
Please meet our new archives assistant, Jazmin Dew who will be helping with diverse archival
projects in the next few months. Below is Jazmin’s bio:
“My name is Jazmin Dew and I am thrilled to join the archives team as a temporary Archives Assistant. As a brief introduction, I have graduated from CSU, Sacramento with a Bachelor’s degree in Food and Nutrition. Currently, I am attending Clarion University’s Information and Library Science online graduate program. I also have a broad range of experience working in various types of libraries, such as Vacaville Public Library as a Coordinator and Concord High School’s library as an Instructional Media Assistant. During my time at the UCSF Archives & Special Collections, I am excited to gain more practical experience as well as an in-depth look into the archives and special collections field. I look forward to working with you all over the next few months.”
UCSF Archives & Special
Collections was awarded a $14,986 local assistance grant by the California
State Library for the “Documenting the LGBTQ Health Equity Movement in
California’s LGBTQ History
is a grant program that funds projects that support physical and/or digital
preservation and digitization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer
(LGBTQ) materials relating to California history and culture. This California
State Library program will award a total of $500,000 in one-time grants for
projects from large archival institutions with a global reach, as well as
smaller, localized collections. The program aims to preserve materials that
demonstrate the significant role of LGBTQ Californians and the LGBTQ movement
in this state, as well as providing a more comprehensive and inclusive view of
The UCSF project will support
preservation through processing and partial digitization of two collections
documenting the LGBTQ health equity movement in California:
• San Francisco AIDS Foundation Magnet Program Records
• UCSF LGBT Resource Center Records
The San Francisco AIDS
Foundation (SFAF) Magnet Program is a health and wellness program located in
the SFAF’s Strut Center in the heart of the Castro District of San Francisco.
They offer community events, sexual health services, substance use counseling,
PrEP, HIV and STI testing, learning events and rotating art displays from queer
artists. In spring 2001, a Community
Advisory Board comprised of community members, social workers, and activists
began meeting regularly to discuss how to proceed with the development of a new
Gay Men’s Health Center. The new center chose
to address gay men’s health in innovative ways instead of simply replicating
existing programs in a new location. Since 2003, Magnet’s overarching vision
has been to promote the physical, mental, and social well-being of gay men.
Magnet activities are guided by the following core values of the agency:
self-determination, access, sexual expression, diversity, and leadership.
Magnet provides individual STI/HIV services and community programs including
book readings, art exhibits, town hall forums, and other social events. In 2007
Magnet merged with the SFAF to increase the services available to men
throughout the Bay Area. Magnet also serves transgender, gender non-conforming,
gender non-binary, and gender-queer people.
This collection includes
founding documents, surveys of clients, assessments of services, marketing
materials, advocacy campaigns, photographs, community art pieces, and posters
documenting the establishment and activities of the Magnet program.
The LGBT Resource Center
serves as the hub for all queer life at UCSF, including the campus and medical
center. It works toward creating and maintaining a safe, inclusive, and
equitable environment for LGBTQIA+ students, staff, faculty, post-docs,
residents, fellows, alumni, and patients. It aims to sustain visibility and a
sense of community throughout the many campus sites. This community takes an
intersectional approach and is committed to building workplace equity,
promoting student and staff leadership, and providing high-quality,
culturally-congruent care to UCSF patients. Founded in 1998, it was the first
LGBT resource center in a health science institution.
This collection includes the center’s
founding documents, traces the earlier LGBT community activities in the 1970s
through the 1980s, and contains materials chronicling the history and evolution
of the center. It also includes records of diverse events organized by the
center: Coming Out Monologues, Trans Day of Remembrance & Resilience, and
Trans Day of Visibility, as well as correspondence and announcements related to
OUTlist, Mentoring Program, and Annual LGBTQIA+ Health Forum. These materials also
document UC-wide advocacy work for providing equal benefits for same-sex
The UCSF Archives & Special
Collections have been working on preserving materials documenting the LGBTQ
health equity movement in California. These two recently acquired collections
will enable researchers to investigate these communities’ efforts to address health-related
issues and advocate for health equity.
The Magnet collections allow researchers to
investigate how the “San Francisco model” of AIDS care continued to evolve in
the twenty-first century by providing free and equitable health care, education,
and community space. Both collections contribute to an understanding of the
medical, social, and political processes that merged to develop effective means
of treating those with AIDS and other illnesses.
Diverse audiences will benefit
from having access to this project’s archival collections, including scholars
in disciplines such as medicine, nursing, jurisprudence, journalism, history
and sociology, college students, and members of the general public pursuing
individual areas of interest.
The collections included in
this project are currently only accessible at the UCSF Archives reading room.
The digitization of these collections will grant access to these valuable
primary sources and other hard-to-find materials to scholars, students, and
others worldwide. This project will significantly expand the historical record
of the LGBTQ health equity movement in California and make a new corpus of
materials related to the movement’s progress discoverable to a broad audience.
Over the past three decades, UCSF Archives & Special Collections has played a vital role in documenting the AIDS epidemic.
We are seeking your help to maintain and grow the AIDS History Project (AHP) archive as a critical, one-of-a-kind public record of the institutions and individuals involved in containing and treating the HIV both locally, and worldwide.
Your generosity advances vital work to collect, preserve, and provide universal access to stories of the AIDS epidemic.
35 years have passed since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and many of the original researchers, health care providers, and community activists who were on the front lines of defense against HIV have now begun to retire from public service. There is an urgent need to collect, preserve, and provide open access to their collections.
Your support will allow us to:
Catalog and digitize recently acquired collections, including, papers of Drs. Jay Levy and Steven G. Deeks, SF AIDS Foundation records
Record a new set of oral histories with clinicians, researchers, pharmaceutical and biotech scientists, health care workers, activists, community members, patients, and their family members
Expand the AIDS History Project statewide scope, solicit and acquire material fro regional community health centers
Organize exhibits and public events to share materials and stories preserved in the archives
Since 1963, the UCSF Archives & Special Collections holdings
have included the historic Danz collection of ocular pathology specimens. The
set, one of 13 believed to have been made, was originally intended as a
teaching tool for use in medical schools. These blown orbs, some still retaining
a long delicate stem, were made in Germany, in the 1880’s, by master
glassblower, Amandus Muller. Each glass eyeball depicts, in minute detail, the
various diseases and defects that can afflict the eye and is a unique
masterpiece of the art of glass making.
In June 2018 the collection was examined by Tracy Power and Lesley Bone to determine the nature and scope of condition problems that these objects. Past treatments and current breakages were evaluated, the deterioration of the glass was examined, and current storage conditions were assessed.
While the majority of the glass eyeballs were in stable
condition, there were ironically a couple that were themselves suffering from
glass disease. This presents with a sticky surface; as a component of the glass
leaches out of the surface due to an instability in the glass mix. These
surfaces readily attract dust.
Of the previously repaired items, some were in stable
condition, but most were in poor condition due to deterioration of the repair
materials used and inferior skills of the person or people doing the repairs. One
particularly peculiar repair was filled with bright red dental wax.
The eyeballs were stored in their original compartmented box, with light damaged (faded), velvet-covered cavities for each specimen, and a hinged lid with a glass cover. The box was still serviceable, but the cavities for the eyeballs had wads of old cotton wool, which was not suitable for the collection since the blown balls retained the thin tubular glass extensions that had been snapped from the rod when the ball was blown. These tended to snag on the cotton.
A treatment plan was agreed upon which would include
upgrading the storage container, cleaning all of the glass eyeballs, and
repairing the broken glass orbs.
The eyeballs were removed
sequentially for cleaning, and at that time the cavities in the display box
were cleaned and new, improved supports were made. The old cotton wool was replaced with new
storage materials that will not be as likely to snag the glass tips. Small pillows were made of polyester batting
in Holytex fabric. The glass pane in the
box was cleaned with detergent and water.
Several discolored areas of paper on the box were toned with conservation
stable watercolors and some lifting edges of paper were glued down.
Cleaning of the glass eyeballs
Each glass eyeball was
carefully cleaned. A detergent designed
specifically for cleaning glass was used for this process. Handling the eyeballs safely was a major
concern and we ended up using foam tubes to make little doughnuts for the glass
balls to sit in. The foam was held in
place with toothpicks, so their creation and adjustment was relatively quick.
During the cleaning we identified some additional cracks in the glass eyeballs
that hadn’t been obvious until they were wet up. This step was very satisfying as the eyeballs
went from dull and cloudy to glistening after cleaning.
Repairing of Glass Eyeballs
Before the eyeballs could be repaired,
those with unsightly or failing old repairs had to be undone. The method varied depending on the types of
repair materials previously used.
Several of the repairs had been done with red wax. The wax remained soft and sticky making it
messy and it did not closely resemble glass.
The wax material was removed by gently warming it. Some of the other old adhesives had failed after
becoming brittle. The brittle material
could be brushed from the surfaces, with special care taken to not scratch the
glass. Other old repair materials were
removed with solvents.
the individual eyeballs was the most challenging part of the process, as they
are thin and delicate. Added to that,
the high-grade epoxy that was designed for glass conservation can take several
days to fully set. While this can be advantageous,
as it allows adjustment of pieces, it also means the fine shards have to be
held in place for long periods of time while the resin sets. An advantage of
this epoxy is that it is very thin and can be fed by capillary action into
cracks. That property was useful for
many of the eyeballs. Also this adhesive has the added advantage of being far
superior to commercially available epoxy resins in terms of long-term stability
and greater light-stability, therefore it does not yellow like commercially
Once the eyeballs were repaired, a few had areas where the fragments of the glass were still missing. Glass eyeballs that were incomplete were filled with tinted thermoplastic resin mixtures and details such as veins, were inpainted (inpainting is the process of restoring lost or deteriorated surface decoration or details on an artwork) with commercially ground pigments in acrylic resin.
The glass eyeballs were incredible to work on. They were beautifully made, if often difficult to look at. Only one of the eyeballs examined was failing due to unstable glass, or a poor match between the cream under layer and the colored surface glass. The glass blower had incredible mastery in working with glass in addition to skill in depicting the defects and conditions. We hope that after this conservation project the glass eyeballs continue to illustrate medical conditions and inspire awe for years to come.
This is a guest post by exhibit curator Sabrina Oliveros
When HIV/AIDS first seized the nation’s attention in the early 1980s, it was a disease with no name, known cause, treatment, or cure. Beginning as a medical mystery, it turned into one of the most divisive social and political issues of the 20th century.
October 1, 2019, UCSF Archives & Special Collections is opening the exhibit
They Were Really Us: The UCSF Community’s Early Response to AIDS.
Featuring materials from the Archives’ extensive AIDS History Project Collections, the show highlights ways individual
professionals affiliated with UCSF acted to address HIV/AIDS following its
outbreak. Their responses included working in and with the larger San Francisco
community – and continue to impact HIV/AIDS care and research today.
exhibit title comes from a statement by Dr. Paul Volberding, who co-founded the
country’s first dedicated AIDS Clinic in 1983; he now serves as the Director of
patients were exactly our age… all those other ways that we tend to separate
ourselves meant very little when you realize that the patients had gone to the
same schools, they listened to the same music, they went to the same
restaurants. So they were really us… which added to the commitment that I think
all of us had.”
The first proofs of that
commitment are traced through displays on the main lobby (third floor) of the
Here, papers, slides,
photographs, and artifacts help outline early milestones in HIV/AIDS research
and care. These include the foundation of the Kaposi’s Sarcoma Clinic at UCSF, which
sought to understand the mysterious “cancer” that turned out to be AIDS; the
discovery of the HIV virus in 1983 by Dr. Jay Levy; the establishment of the
outpatient and inpatient AIDS clinics at San Francisco General Hospital; and
the development of the holistic San Francisco Model of AIDS Care.
Pioneering and compassionate,
this model treated people with AIDS not simply as patients requiring medical
attention, but as complex individuals also in need of psychological, social,
economic, and political support.
Excerpts from the diary of Bobbi
Campbell – a UCSF nursing student
who championed the People With AIDS Self-Empowerment Movement – help tell some
of these individual stories. So do a selection of newsletters and other
materials that lend voices to persons with AIDS.
loaned section of the AIDS Memorial Quilt caps off the displays.
outbreak of HIV/AIDS devastated the city of San Francisco; it also mobilized the
community. Exhibits on the first floor of the library showcase the work done by
community organizations that, beyond the medical front, fought HIV/AIDS.
of posters – mostly from UCSF’s longest-running partners, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Shanti Project – represent outreach and educational
campaigns necessary to combat the disease. Materials from Mobilization Against AIDS and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power
(ACT-UP) speak to the political battle that AIDS became.
the fifth floor of the library, displays touch on two more milestones following
first, UCSF’s sponsoring of the 6th International Conference on
AIDS, is one of the many
examples of how physicians and researchers have expanded their work on a global
scale. Revisiting this 1990 conference is timely, as the 23rd
International Conference on AIDS
will take place in Oakland and San Francisco in July next year – the first time
the conference will be in the Bay Area in nearly three decades.
second milestone, the founding of the AIDS Research Institute in 1996, puts a
focus on the UCSF’s continuing efforts to find a cure, and end HIV/AIDS once
and for all.