UCSF Archives and Special Collections acquires and makes available the papers of Dr. Michael S. Gottlieb, pioneer HIV/AIDS researcher and clinician

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accesioning Archivist

June 5, 1981 is widely known as the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States because it was the day that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published, in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the appearance of a cluster of diseases that would later come to be known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Difficiency Syndrome). The report, titled “Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles,” was authored by five UCLA doctors: MS Gottlieb, MD, HM Schanker, MD, PT Fan, MD, A Saxon, MD, JD Weisman, DO, of the Division of Clinical Immunology-Allergy at the UCLA Medical Center. The article reports, “In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California.”[1] The primary author of this report, Doctor Michael S. Gottlieb – then 33 years old – made history as the person who discovered AIDS.  UCSF Archives & Special Collections is pleased to house Dr. Gottlieb’s archives, which are now processed and available for the first time. 

Photo of Dr. Michael Gottlieb by Elizabeth Nathane, originally published in the Los Angeles Blade

A record of his professional life and accomplishments, as well as the many honors and awards he received over the course of his career, the Michael S. Gottlieb papers contain published papers by Gottlieb and many others on AIDS-related topics. They also include information on various AIDS drug treatment studies (including AZT), professional and personal correspondence, and information about various talks and events attended by Gottlieb during the 1980s – a busy decade for him. They also document his prodigious philanthropic activities and AIDS advocacy.

Gottlieb figures prominently in this UCSF-generated timeline of the AIDS epidemic. The timeline, which begins with the 1981 MMWR report, notes that, in 1985, Rock Hudson – star of classic Hollywood films like Giant, All That Heaven Allows, and Written on the Wind – announced that he had AIDS and later died, becoming “the first major celebrity to succumb to the disease.”[1] Later that same year, the timeline reports, “The American Foundation for AIDS Research is founded with the help of movie star Elizabeth Taylor.” Gottlieb, who served as Rock Hudson’s physician from the time of his AIDS diagnosis to his death from the disease, was also one of the founding chairs of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, along with medical researcher Mathilde Krim and Taylor, who was a close friend of Hudson’s and his costar in Giant. The Foundation was established with a $250,000 gift from Hudson’s estate.  The Gottlieb papers also contain a fascinating trove of letters, which he dubbed “Crazy letters,” that he received after becoming publicly associated with Hudson in newspapers and the press. The letters indicate a fascination with the disease, which was still very new and widely misunderstood by the world at large.

If you’re interested in checking out the Michael S. Gottlieb papers, you can consult the finding aid or the library catalog record for the collection. The papers were a gift from Michael Gottlieb.


[1]Center for Disease Control. (1981, June 5). Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/june_5.htm

[2] Cisneros, Lisa. (2021, June 4). 40 Years of AIDS: A Timeline of the Epidemic. UCSF News. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2021/06/420686/40-years-aids-timeline-epidemic


GRAD 219 Course – The Black Experience in American Medicine – Week 3

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This is a guest post by Nebat Ali, PhD Candidate, UCSF Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Program

One of the final pieces we read as part of this course was an article by Boyd et al titled “On Racism: A New Standard For Publishing On Racial Health Inequities”. This article encompasses many of the concepts we discussed in class and exemplifies how racism continues to be maintained in our medical and scientific spaces. As the article states, racism is “America’s earliest tradition” and was used as the foundation for all aspects of American society.

As someone who grew up in the Bay Area, there seems to be the misconception that liberal parts of our country are somehow free of these frameworks. This is far from being true, and one can quickly come to this realization by taking a brief look into the history of our institutions.

Fifty years ago, Black employees at UCSF initiated the formation of the Black Caucus- the first affinity-based group established in the UC-system- in order to protest the racist policies and mistreatment they faced at UCSF. Members of the Black Caucus coined The Medical Center at Parnassus “The Plantation on the Hill” due to the discriminatory practices they faced in the workplace (reference linked below). As a united voice the Black Caucus demanded for the improvement of their working conditions and for their fair treatment. In addition, they also fought strongly to advocate for the recruitment and retention of Black students at UCSF. When I casually walk through the halls of my building or sit and have lunch in the cafeteria, I’m often reminded that only fifty years ago Black and Brown UCSF employees didn’t have the right to freely navigate through campus the way that I do. The strikes and protests organized by the Black Caucus were transformative, and while their impacts are still felt today there is still a long road ahead in order to dismantle the systems of oppression these institutions were built on. Within our own communities in San Francisco, we are witnessing and experiencing some of the most alarming disparities in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

I have a vivid memory of a discussion that took place in a microbiology course I was taking early in the pandemic that revolved around genetic predispositions to severe COVID-19 infections. It was even more troubling to see subsequent studies that additionally failed to assert the contributions of racism in the prevention, detection, and treatment of COVID-19 infection. As we discussed through some of our previous readings, studies like these result in both the erasure of systemic racism’s impact on health as well as the large numbers of Black scholars who specialize in this area of research. Some of the recommendations provided by the Boyd et al article will be critical in improving the practices in scientific research that ultimately contribute to this. In the case of the pandemic, I always find myself wondering how beneficial NIH funds could have been if they were redirected to provide care to highly impacted Black and Brown communities instead of being used to do poor research and/or research that is only tangentially related to the virus. In order to begin repairing the damage that’s been done, it will additionally be important to consider how federal funds are allocated to agencies like the NIH and CDC. Improper allocation of funds to these agencies can sequester money away from developing sustainable care programs in underserved communities and subsequently direct them to research practices that only reinforce racism in science and medicine.

Highlighting the work of Freeman Bradley, of UCSF’s Research Development Department and the Black Caucus

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By Shannon Foley, Archives & Special Collections Intern

Brought to Light wants to bring attention to remarkable former UCSF faculty member Freeman Bradley. His significant contributions to the medical community and the Black community at UCSF deserve to be recognized. Bradley grew up in Alabama, and after high school, he continued his education at Howard University in Washington D.C., where he received his bachelor’s degree in Biology. After his graduation, Bradley moved to Maryland and started working at the National Institute of Health, where he remained for four years before starting his career at UCSF. His position was with the Cardiovascular Research Institute, where he conducted research about respiratory changes associated with various anesthesias.

During his time at UCSF, Freeman Bradley worked as a technician to Dr. John Severinghaus and and Bradley’s contributions were fundamental to Severinghaus’s groundbreaking work. From 1957 to 1958, Dr. Severinghaus and Mr. Bradley combined technology created by Richard Stow and Leland Clark to create the first blood gas analysis system. Shortly after the first system was created, they were commercialized and proved revolutionary in health care. In Dr. Severinghaus’s written account of his research and the evolution of the invention of the blood gas analysis system, he emphasizes how his and Mr. Bradley’s invention changed medicine. By the 1960s they blood gas analysis systems were widely available, and and these tests provided essential information about a patient’s illness.. These systems are still used today, and in 1985 Dr. Severinghaus donated the first apparatus he and Mr. Bradley worked on at the Smithsonian Museum. In 1977 after his research with Dr. Severinghaus, Mr. Bradley was appointed Director of Development and Research. In this position, he helped progress the technology and development of medical tools. One of the other advancements he made at his time at UCSF was in the transportation technology of newborn babies or neonates. His contributions to medical advancements do not go unnoticed. 

Image taken from SYNAPSE – THE UCSF STUDENT NEWSPAPER, VOLUME 27, NUMBER 19, 24 FEBRUARY 1983, https://synapse.library.ucsf.edu/?a=d&d=ucsf19830224-01.1.3.

Freeman Bradley was not only an incredible asset to advancing medical research, but he also was an active member in UCSF’s Black Caucus. The Black Caucus is a club at UCSF whose mission statement is “The Black Caucus is a forum open to all Black-identified individuals and allies on this campus. Here they may openly express themselves regarding matters of race as they affect life on the campus and in the community. The Black Caucus serves as an instrument for the formation of a Black consensus on those racial matters that affect every person on this campus. This consensus will then be presented to the Administration for appropriate action.” One of the founding members and President of the Black Caucus, David Johnson, worked to create this community where Black members of UCSF could have their needs and concerns met. During Freeman Bradley’s time at UCSF and as an active member of the Black Caucus and used his calm temperament to make sure issues could be addressed and changes made. Mr. Bradley is quoted saying that even though he was criticized for staying diplomatic, he knew that it was the way to be more successful in the long run. In a 1983 interview of Mr. Bradley printed by Synapse, he shared his concerns with the lack of Black role models for youths in the sciences. He believes that minorities would be more likely to become a part of the medical field with more role models. Freeman Bradley is the perfect example of a role model to the youth and can be seen as an inspiration to all.

Works Cited:

“David Johnson, Freeman Bradley – Black Caucus Leaders.” Synapse, Volume 27, Number 19, 24 February 1983, synapse.library.ucsf.edu/?a=d&d=ucsf19830224-01.1.3, accessed April 21, 2021.

Severinghaus, John W. “The Invention and Development of Blood Gas Analysis Apparatus.” Anesthesiology, vol. 97, no. 1, 2002, pp. 253–256., doi:10.1097/00000542-200207000-00031, accessed April 21, 2021.