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


Welcome to Summer Interns May Yuan and Lianne de Leon!

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to our two newest summer interns, May Yuan and Lianne de Leon!

May and Lianne are both participating in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Career Pathway Summer Fellowship Program. This six-week program provides opportunities for high school students to gain work experience in a variety of industries and to expand their learning and skills outside of the classroom. Lianne and May will be working (remotely) with the UCSF Industry Documents Library (IDL), and we are grateful to SFUSD and its partners for sponsoring these internships.

May and Lianne will be working on several collection description projects with IDL this summer, including correcting and enhancing document metadata, and creating descriptions for audio-visual materials. They have provided their introductions below.

My name is May Yuan and I’m a junior at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School. During my free time, I enjoy reading, learning and trying new things, and helping others academically. I’m super excited to work here at the UCSF IDL to help provide valuable information to the public as well as learn more about the various documents, lawsuits, etc. myself; I also hope to enhance my productivity and organization skills during my time working here as these skills are crucial to college and everyday life in general. The career paths I’m interested in are bioengineering (bioinformatics/biostatistics), law, and finance.

IDL Summer Intern May Yuan

Hi, my name is Lianne R. de Leon. I am a part of the Class of 2023 at Phillip and Sala Burton High School. In the past, I have worked on VEX EDR Robotics competition in 2018-2019. In my spare time I enjoy trying new foods and yoga. I aspire to become a computer hardware engineer and to travel across the entirety of Asia. I look forward to meeting and working with you all.

IDL Summer Intern Lianne de Leon

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

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This is a guest post by Jackie Roger, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF Program in Bioinformatics (BI)

During our class on 5/21, we learned about the term “biopolitics”. After our discussion in class, I wanted to learn more about it and ended up doing some additional reading. Biopolitics, conceptualized by Michel Foucault, is the intersection of life and politics. In practice, it is the governance and control of human life. Many of the topics that we have covered in class can be contextualized within biopolitics.

On 5/17 we talked about forced sterilizations in California prisons. This was a mechanism for controlling who could and could not procreate, and was deeply rooted in white supremacist ideologies. On 5/24 we discussed the hysteria in the 1980s about the “crack baby epidemic” that never ended up happening and had no reasonable scientific basis. There was widespread panic about the possibility of babies born with physical and cognitive disabilities, but little concern about the lack of resources and support for women with substance use disorders. In both of these examples, the focus was on the child-bearing potential of women, and not on the personhood of women. Both forced sterilizations and public hysteria were used to police who should be having children.

On 5/19 we reviewed the Tuskegee syphilis study, and on 5/26 we drew parallels between the racial disparities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the ongoing COVID pandemic. In all three of these examples, the medical system prioritized white lives over black lives. There was significant investment in caring for white patients, while black patients were often neglected or mistreated.