Preserving History of HIV/AIDS Epidemic

The UCSF Archives & Special Collections was the pioneering repository that collected materials documenting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The UCSF AIDS History Project (AHP) began in 1987 as a joint effort of historians, archivists, AIDS activists, health care providers and others to secure historically significant resources of the response to the AIDS crisis in the city of San Francisco.

Starting in 1991 the Archives received several grants from National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to fund the survey, acquisition, arrangement, and description of carefully selected records from numerous AIDS-related agencies and organizations in San Francisco.

San Franciscans, especially LGBT community, quickly began responding to the mysterious health care crisis as soon as its scope and mortality rate became evident. Working long hours on a voluntary basis, activists began to create community-based organizations (CBOs) to deal with needs of the growing number of sick and dying, respond to the fear and grief of friends and loved ones, and serve as centers for compiling and disseminating information. Over time a very effective collaboration of city and state agencies, hospitals, health care providers, political activists, and CBOs evolved and became tagged as “the San Francisco model” of AIDS care. An extensive array of services developed to help people from various communities affected by HIV. One of the primary objectives of the AHP was to capture this complex evolution and to also provide instruction in records management practices to the CBOs. With the help of NHPRC, the Archives continued acquiring and processing new collections.

The last NHPRC grant in 2004-2006 funded the AIDS Epidemic Historical Records Project, a collaboration of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society (GLBTHS) and UCSF Archives & Special Collections, and permitted to complete the processing of 18 existing collections. In addition, UCSF acquired records from the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, and the UCSF AIDS Health Project. GLBTHS acquired records of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Shanti Project.

AHP continues to grow and earlier this year Prof. Nancy Stoller donated materials that were added to her papers containing research files for the book Lessons from the Damned: Queers, Whores and Junkies Respond to AIDS. AHP collections remain the most heavily used among our manuscript holdings. Read more about the AHP and view the list of collections on the Archives website.

Cover of Newsweek magazine, August 8, 1983.

Cover of Newsweek magazine, August 8, 1983. Bobbi Campbell (on the left) identified as a person “who has the disease” and his boyfriend appeared on the cover of Newsweek for an article about AIDS’ impact on gay men (although the magazine described his partner Bobby Hilliard as his ‘friend’). Bobbi Campbell Diary, MSS 96-33, folder 1. UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, Archives and Special Collections, University of California, San Francisco.

AHP includes a handwritten diary kept by Bobbi Campbell, registered nurse, “AIDS Poster Boy,” and activist. Born January 29, 1951, he was “thirty-one and a half” when he started this journal. He became the 16th person in San Francisco to be diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma. Campbell was one of the first, and most public People with AIDS (PWA’s), speaking at numerous conferences and other events. He died of AIDS complications on August 15, 1984. The diary runs from July 1983 through February 1984 and is a very frank description of his life and activities during these seven months. Numerous snapshots are also included in the collection. The diary is open for research in the UCSF Archives reading room.

Snapshot of Bobbi Campbell at the Clinical Nursing Conference on AIDS at NIH, October 7, 1983. Bobbi Campbell Diary, MSS 96-33, folder 3, envelope 4. UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, Archives and Special Collections, University of California, San Francisco.

Snapshot of Bobbi Campbell at the Clinical Nursing Conference on AIDS at NIH, October 7, 1983. Bobbi Campbell Diary, MSS 96-33, folder 3, envelope 4. UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management, Archives and Special Collections, University of California, San Francisco.

This is an excerpt from Sunday, October 9th, 1983 entry:
…We had to get up early in the morning to go to Bethesda for the Nat’l Institute of Health’s Nursing Clinical Conference on AIDS. I had threatened to disrupt the conference and denounce NIH if PWA’s [People with AIDS] were not included, so Artie [Artie Felsen] & I got to do a “poster session” off in a separate room. We had two posters (they were a drag to carry on the plane). One had photos of PWAs and one had literature that we had developed. Interestingly, the nurses protected themselves professionally from feelings by glancing at the photos and flocking to the printed word. Many people didn’t look twice, much less speak, to the real people. Dressing for the part, I was in white pants, white shoes, and a clinical lab coat….

2 thoughts on “Preserving History of HIV/AIDS Epidemic

  1. I would like to add that Willie Walker was one of the archivists who helped develop the UCSF AIDS History Project. He was in the Library many times and used the processing room on the first floor as an office to work on the project. I am sure there are people here who still remember him. He died in 2004. He was also the co-founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society which started in his dining room!

  2. The UCSF AIDS History Project also has a folder with materials I donated a few years ago. They are interviews with caregivers and information provided by witnesses that I used in writing the story of Warren J., a writer, performer, and book illustrator who was admitted to the new 5B Ward in December 1983 and died there in April 1984. His case inspired a play, “Warren” written by Rebecca Ranson. Those interested in the history of San Francisco’s approach to AIDS should read chapter 12 of my book Mending Bodies, Saving Souls: A History of Hospitals (Oxford, 1999) titled “Caring for the Incurable: AIDS at San Francisco General Hospital.”

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