Celebrating National Nurses Week and Florence Nightingale, handwashing innovator

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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.

National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6th (National Nurses Day) and ends each year on May 12th (Florence Nightingale’s birthday). Today, we celebrate the history of nursing and nurses of all kinds, and the essential, life-saving work that they perform. We hope you enjoy this series of digital images from UCSF’s Archives & Special Collections, all digitized and available online through Calisphere. Archives & Special Collections also holds the fascinating Florence Nightingale Memorial Collection, created by Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & the Fish, which you can read more about here.

Happy Holidays (and 2019/20 Winter Closure)

The archives team is wishing you joy and peace during the holidays and throughout the New Year.

As 2019 comes to an end, we wanted to express our gratitude for the ongoing support of our colleagues, donors, interns, and collaborators.

The Archives & Special Collections will be closed from Saturday, December 21, 2019 through Wednesday, January 1st, 2020. We will reopen on Thursday, January 2nd.

Cabrol, Barthelemy. Ontleeding des menschelycken lichaems, 1633.
Find it at the UCSF Library: ucsfcat.library.ucsf.edu/record=b2286635~S0

If you submit a question through Ask an Archivist or make a reservation for the reading room during that time, please note that we will begin reviewing reference questions and reading room bookings when we re-open on Thursday, January 2, 2020.

Call for Proposals: Memory Lives On: Documenting the HIV/AIDS Epidemic


AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell making a peace sign, wearing University of California San Francisco School of Nursing t-shirt.

Memory Lives On: Documenting the HIV/AIDS Epidemic is an interdisciplinary symposium exploring and reflecting on topics related to archives and the practice of documenting the stories of HIV/AIDS. 


The task of documenting the history of HIV/AIDS and thinking about the present and future of the epidemic is daunting. The enormity and complexity of the stories and perspectives on the disease, which has affected so many millions of patients and families around the world, present significant challenges that demand continual reexamination. Questions of “what do we collect and from where” and “whose stories do we know best.”  The ways in which we handle documentary evidence and produce knowledge from that evidence has profound effects on a huge range of social, economic and health outcomes. In examining and reflecting on our knowledge of the history of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic and its future, we hope to improve our understanding of the true effects of the disease, and what it can teach us about future epidemics.

The program committee invites submissions for presentations addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic from the wide-ranging perspectives of historians, archivists and librarians, artists, journalists, activists and community groups, scientific researchers, health care providers, and people living with HIV. We invite proposals from individuals with diverse experience and expertise on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in scholarship, research and advocacy. Proposals will be considered in a variety of forms including paper presentations, panel discussions and posters.

The Symposium will take place in Byers Auditorium in Genentech Hall at the UCSF Mission Bay Campus in San Francisco, October 4th and 5th 2019.  The program will be an afternoon session and evening reception the first day, followed by a full day of presentations the second.

The Program Committee has identified the following themes to consider when developing your proposal, though we encourage creativity and experimentation in exploring themes, partnerships, and narrative ideas. 

  • Documenting the epidemic: Gaps, silences and unheard voices
  • Creating an interdisciplinary narrative of an epidemic
  • Silent no more: Community, caretaker and patient stories 
  • The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic 
  • Biomedical story: From mystery disease to cure 
  • From local to global: Learning from AIDS to address future epidemics

The Program Committee welcomes proposals for individual papers, panel discussion and posters. Individual papers with a similar focus will be assembled into a single session by the program committee. Usually 3-4 papers are included in a session.
To allow adequate time for questions and discussion,  panels should be limited to four participants in addition to a chair/facilitator.
Please include the following in your complete proposal

  • Session title if submitting a full panel proposal (of no more than 20 words)
  • Session abstract if submitting a full panel proposal (up to 500 words)
  • Short session abstract for the program if submitting a full panel proposal (up to 50 words)
  • Paper or poster or presentation titles (if any), and names of corresponding presenters
  •  Biographical paragraph for each presenter
  •  E-mail address for each participant
  •  Affiliation, city, state, and country for each participant
  •  Social media handles or web addresses for each participant (optional)
  •  Audiovisual needs
  • Special accommodation needs

The deadline for submissions is June 3. We will notify presenters if their proposal has been accepted by July 22. 


Memory Lives On Program Committee

Victoria Harden, Ph.D., Director (retired) of the Office of NIH History


Monica Green, Ph.D.,  Professor of History, Arizona State University

Richard  McKay, DPhil,  Director of Studies for HPS at Magdalene College

Barbara A. Koenig, Professor of Medical Anthropology & Bioethics in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Institute for Health & Aging and Head of UCSF Bioethics Program

Jay Levy, MD, Professor UCSF School of Medicine

Eric Jost, Digital Marketing Manager, SF AIDS Foundation

Jon Cohen, Staff writer for Science Magazine

Mark Harrington, Executive Director, Treatment Action Group

William Schupbach, Wellcome Library 

Jason Baumann, Susan and Douglas Dillon Assistant Director for Collection Development and Coordinator of Humanities and LGBT Collections

Polina Ilieva, Head of Archives & Special Collections, UCSF Library


Submit a proposal: http://tiny.ucsf.edu/A2nohy

For any inquiries contact David Krah david.krah@ucsf.edu 

More information about the UCSF AIDS History Project: https://www.library.ucsf.edu/archives/aids/