New arrivals at UCSF Archives & Special Collections

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accessioning Archivist

This coming Monday, September 28, 2020, is the day UNESCO has designated as International Access to Information Day. Their website notes that, this year, the day is focused on “the right to information in times of crisis and on the advantages of having constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information to save lives, build trust and help the formulation of sustainable policies through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.” In a time of national and global crisis, this year’s theme may resonate particularly with Americans, whether it brings to mind the availability of voting information or attempts at voter suppression, or of the deliberate obfuscation of scientific data and fact by the highest levels of government.   

To this end, I’d like to celebrate libraries and archives, and their explicit mission to make information accessible. UCSF Library and its Archives & Special Collections, though closed to the public since the City of San Francisco’s “shelter in place” mandate on March 16th, continues to find creative ways to help students, faculty, staff, and outside researchers access the vast stores of information that the library and archives hold, and to find ways to facilitate access across great distances.

As the User Services and Accessioning Archivist, my job is to both make collections accessible through the accessioning process, and to help users navigate the various portals through which Archives and Special Collections shares its information. This may be through finding aids on the Online Archive of California, catalog records in the UCSF Library catalog, or through brief inventories attached to finding aids that tell a user what kinds of materials they can find in a given archival collection and to help them determine whether that particular collection may be of use to them.

Though the majority of my work is still remote, I have accessioned some exciting new collections on-site over the past couple of months, which will soon be available in the above-mentioned locations. Among these is an accrual to UCSF’s Black Caucus collection, focused on the Office of UCSF Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity.  The collection was donated to A&SC in 2019, by Karen Newhouse, who served as Director of this office from 1970-2010, and includes materials documenting the work of various UCSF organizations committed to advancing diversity on campus, including Council of Minority Organizations (COMO), the Latin American Campus Association (LACA), and the pioneering Black Caucus organization, which was founded in May of 1968 – one month after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the finding aid to the initial deposit notes, the organization is open to all Black women and men on campus, and “was instrumental in the establishment of an Affirmative Action Office, minority training programs and focused attention on the need for increased minority student enrollment at the UCSF campus.”

UCSF Black Caucus Flyer on a National Survey on Minority Admissions, January 1973, Black Caucus Records, MSS 85-38, UCSF Archives & Special Collections

Another exciting addition to the UCSF Archives includes the papers of Benjamin Libet – a neurophysiologist and professor of physiology at UCSF for nearly 50 years. Very recently donated to the Archives by his daughter Moreen, Libet’s papers consist of his personal files of research into the human brain, as well as extensive documentation of his experiments attempting to locate the origin of “free will.” The “Libet Experiment,” as it has come to be called, was conducted in the 1980s, and tried to determine whether conscious decisions first originate in the body or in the brain by asking subjects to perform simple movements while measuring their brain activity. This study seemed to indicate that the brain registers the decision to make a movement before a person is consciously aware of the decision to move, suggesting that decisions may originate in the body, and, as some have suggested, possibly disproving the idea of “free will.” This assertion of physical determinism has been much debated, and Libet’s experiments continue to be of great interest. His papers include some of the experimental devices that were constructed to help measure these brain activities, as well as handwritten notes, graphs and diagrams, and the data produced over the course these experiments. The collection is still in the process of being accessioned and inventoried, but will be available soon via OAC and the Library catalog.

If you’d like to learn more about any of these collections, or have questions about A&SC’s extensive digital collections, please feel free to get in touch.

UCSF Archives Receives Grant to Preserve LGBTQ History Collections

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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” project.

Preserving 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 California’s history.

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

San Francisco AIDS Foundation Magnet Program card

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.

UCSF Visibility Project flyer, 2006 Chancellor's Award for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Leadership
UCSF Visibility Project flyer, 2006 Chancellor’s Award for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Leadership

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 domestic partners.

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.

New Accessions Spotlight (or My Cluttered Desk)

It’s been a busy start to spring here at UCSF A&SC: new events and exhibits coming up, lots of researchers, and of course many new collections. As is prone to happen during times like these, there is a pile of new materials sitting on my desk, just waiting for me to enter into our database and (eventually) our library catalog. Here are a few that I am particularly excited about:

Clark Sturges papers (MSS 2017-09)

Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, we recently were given the papers of Clark Sturges that relate to his profile of Dr. David E. Smith. Smith founded the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in 1967 in response to the medical needs of many of the young people who came to San Francisco during the Summer of Love. Sturges completed the book in 1993, and the papers are composed mainly of taped interviews, research notes, and correspondence.

Steven Deeks papers (MSS 2017-10)

Another recent acquisition is the papers of Dr. Steven Deeks. The Deeks papers are primarily concerned with his involvement in the controversial baboon bone marrow transplant to an AIDS patient in 1995. While the transplant was not successful, it illustrates the sense of desperation of people with AIDS at that time–and also the highly innovative approaches that UCSF and SFGH doctors and researchers were taking at that time to combat the disease.

Mark Jacobson papers (MSS 2017-12)

Finally, another collection that recently found its way to my desk is the papers of Dr. Mark Jacobson. The Jacobson papers are a hodgepodge of different materials, including calendars, index cards with patient symptoms and medication, a multitude of electronic records (including his PalmPilot), and this Triomune 30 box, which he picked up on a trip overseas. Dr. Jacobson also gave us a substantial number of books for our burgeoning AIDS History collection, and recently wrote a novel based upon his experiences that mentions the patient index cards in its foreword.

Archives Talk: What Will It Take To End AIDS?

cover_toendaidsDate: Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Time: 12:30 pm – 1:45 pm
Presenters: Pulitzer Center supported journalists Jon Cohen, Amy Maxmen, and Misha Friedman
Location: Parnassus campus, N-217, 513 Parnassus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94143

REGISTRATION REQUIRED: calendars.library.ucsf.edu/event/3017095

This event is organized and hosted jointly by UCSF Archives and Special Collections and the Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

Join UCSF Archives & Special Collections for an afternoon talk with Pulitzer Center supported journalists Jon Cohen, Amy Maxmen and Misha Friedman as they discuss their reporting on HIV/AIDS around the globe featured in the ebook, To End AIDS (this book is available free on iTunes, Amazon, and Atavist). Once on the brink of ending AIDS, we have entered a period in which the virus is offering a stern warning to the human host: the consequences of complacency are great.

Jon Cohen tailors his decades of expertise to explain a nuanced issue in the movement to end AIDS: supply chain management of antiretroviral therapies, from pharmaceutical companies through patient adherence. Amy Maxmen reports from South Africa, where scientists are aiming to break a cycle of infections by providing HIV drugs for young women before they even contract the virus. Misha Friedman’s work epitomizes in-depth reporting: he has spent years documenting the crisis in Eastern Europe and recently returned to South Africa to interview and photograph HIV-infected subjects he first photographed three years ago.

Each journalist illuminates previously under-covered areas of HIV/AIDS reporting and aims to help us think critically.  Please join us in a panel discussion to explore just what it will take to end AIDS.

jon-cohenA reporter for Science since 1990, Jon Cohen has covered the HIV/AIDS epidemic for the magazine in more than three dozen countries. He also has written for the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian, Slate, and many other publications. His books include Shots in the Dark (W.W. Norton, 2001), Coming to Term (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), Almost Chimpanzee (Holt/Times Books, 2010), and Tomorrow Is a Long Time (Daylight Books, 2015). Cohen’s books and articles have won numerous awards and have been selected for The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2008, 2011).

amy-maxmenAmy Maxmen is a science journalist who covers the entanglements of evolution, medicine, policy and of people behind research. Her stories appear in a variety of outlets, including Wired, National Geographic, Nature, Newsweek, and the New York Times. Her feature on the origin of humanity is anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015. In 2016, she won a Science in Society Journalism Award from the National Association of Science Writers and the Bricker Award for Science Writing in Medicine. Prior to writing, she earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

misha-friedmanMisha Friedman is a documentary photographer with a background in international relations and economics. His analytical approach to storytelling involves trying to look beyond the facts, searching for causes, and asking complex and difficult questions. Misha regularly collaborates with international media and non-profit organizations, including the New Yorker, Time Magazine, Spiegel, GQ, Le Monde, Bloomberg Businessweek, Sports Illustrated, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and others. His widely-exhibited work has received numerous industry awards.

Remembering Helen Gofman

This is a guest post by Kristin Daniel, UCSF Archives & Special Collections Intern.

The UCSF Archives is pleased to announce the official addition of the Helen Fahl Gofman papers. This collection, spanning several decades between the 1950s and the 1980s, details a woman who was a much loved teacher, mentor, doctor, and leader. Dr. Gofman’s affiliation with UCSF pediatrics began in 1945 when she graduated from the School of Medicine and also completed her internship and residency on campus. Gofman received faculty status in 1953 and worked in various programs until her retirement in 1983. Gofman is best remembered as a founding member, and then director, of the UCSF Child Study Unit (CSU).

Helen Gofman playing the viola, circa 1950. MSS 2014-17, Gofman papers.

Helen Gofman playing the bass, circa 1950. MSS 2014-17, Gofman papers.

Helen Gofman was, by all accounts, a passionate and cheerful woman. She was dedicated to the care of the “total patient”—not just the physical or mental condition of the child, but also how that condition impacted their social, emotional, developmental, and behavioral well-being. Considered a national leader in the field of behavioral pediatrics, Gofman was involved with UCSF’s Child Study Unit (now known as the Division of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics) since its inception in 1948.

Helen Gofman and child, circa 1980. Photograph collection, portraits, Gofman.

Helen Gofman and child, circa 1980. Photograph collection, portraits, Gofman.

Dr. Gofman and the rest of the CSU staff of doctors, nurses, social workers, speech pathologists and special education experts sought to help children whose conditions might have otherwise been misdiagnosed or gone untreated (including cases of dyslexia or ADHD) by other healthcare professionals. The goal of the CSU was not only to help these children and their families, but also to develop a new generation of pediatric health professionals; the CSU trained clinicians to value their patients and focus on finding personalized treatments that take into account all aspects of the child’s life, not just their condition.

Helen Gofman at her retirement party, 1984. MSS 2014-17, Gofman papers.

Helen Gofman at her retirement party, 1984. MSS 2014-17, Gofman papers.

The Helen Gofman papers (MSS 2014-17) include research subject files, restricted patient files, and personal correspondence. Also included are some of Dr. Gofman’s published works, such as The Family is the Patient: An Approach to Behavioral Pediatrics for the Clinician, which is considered a classic work in the field. Multimedia artifacts (such as lecture slides, teaching toys, and film reels) are also included. The Archives is proud to house this material and make it available to researchers.

Recent donation: 1929 School of Pharmacy class photograph

We recently received a great image of the School of Pharmacy (then called the California College of Pharmacy) class of 1929. It was donated by Carol J. Matteson, daughter of alumna May Elizabeth Jennings. Jennings is pictured in the third row from the top; click on the image to enlarge.

California College of Pharmacy class of 1929

California College of Pharmacy class of 1929

We are so thankful for the wonderful UCSF alumni community and its continued support. Donations like this help build the archives and preserve the history of UCSF.

To learn more about the School of Pharmacy in the 1920s, check out material in our digital collections:

Accessions & Additions – Summer Edition

We’re always busy accepting new collections and pushing through our backlog to make as many collections available for research as possible. This list of new records includes materials relating to tobacco control, UCSF, infectious disease, pediatrics, nursing education, HIV/AIDS Toland Hall murals, book collecting, medical education, and more. Click on the titles below to learn more the contents, subjects, and size of these collections.

Contact us if you have any questions or would like to learn more. And please don’t hesitate to make an appointment to come in and use the collections!

Our catalog updates over the past six months:

The following collections have inventories or finding aids on the Online Archive of California:

Who was Dr.Arthur Guedel?

This is a guest post by Dr. Selma Calmes

Arthur Guedel, MD (1883-1956), was an early anesthesiologist who made many important contributions to the development of anesthesiology.  His papers are now available at UCSF Archives & Special Collections.  Who was Dr. Guedel and why is he important?

Guedel’s early life was difficult.  He was born in Cambridge City, Indiana, and had to leave school at age 13 to help support his family.  A work accident led to the loss of the first three fingers of his right hand—and he was right-handed.  Guedel dreamed of practicing medicine even though he had no high school diploma and no financial resources.  American medical schools had few admission requirements then, and his family physician helped him get into the University of Indiana Medical School.  He graduated in 1908.
Guedel administered his first anesthetics while an intern at Indianapolis City Hospital.  This was a common duty for interns of the time because there were then few physicians interested in anesthesia.  Guedel started a general practice in Indianapolis in 1909 and earned additional income by giving anesthesia in hospitals and dental offices.  He was an exceptional observer, analyzing carefully what might be going on with his anesthetized patients and thinking of possible solutions to the problems.

GUEDEL CHT1

First version of Guedel’s signs of anesthesia

One example of his contributions is his work on the signs of anesthesia.  The various devices that tell us how an anesthetized patients are doing today, such as EKGs, blood pressure devices and pulse oximeters, weren’t available when Guedel began to do anesthesia.   Four stages of anesthesia were accepted:
Stage I: Induction, the start of administration until loss of consciousness
Stage II: Struggling, breath-holding, delirium, from loss of consciousness to onset of surgical anesthesia
Stage III: Surgical anesthesia, characterized by deep, regular, automatic breathing
Stage IV: Bulbar paralysis, irregular breathing, pupils no longer respond to light

Guedel’s contributions were to expand these observations and to look for other physical signs.  He better defined Stage III, the level at which surgery could be done, by further dividing it into four planes and by adding eye signs. This improved patient safety by making clear when the patient was too “deep” and might possibly die from overdose of anesthesia.

GUEDEL PORTRAIT-200

Dr. Arthur Guedel during World War I

The setting for these developments was Guedel’s service with the US Army in WW I in France.  The Army had no anesthesiologists when the US entered the war, and casualties were overwhelming.  After working 72 hours straight along with three other physicians and one dentist, and needing to run as many as 40 operating room tables at a time, Guedel decided additional staff had to be trained.  He developed a school that taught physicians, nurses and orderlies to give anesthesia.  But, how could he help his trainees do safe anesthesia once they left the school?  He prepared a little chart of his version of the signs and stages of ether anesthesia, the most common agent in use at the time and one with a wide margin of safety.  This chart was a visual version of the concepts he had been developing before his Army service.  Armed with their charts, the trainees went out to nearby hospitals to work on their own.  Guedel acquired a motorcycle so he could make weekly rounds of the six hospitals for which he was responsible.  He would roar from hospital to hospital through the deep mud that characterized WW I battlefields, checking on his trainees.  He was known as “the motorcycle anesthetist” of WW I.
After his return to the US in 1919, he presented his chart at meetings.  In 1920, he wrote an article on his signs for the first anesthesia journal. Additional articles appeared in 1935 and 1936 and also in Guedel’s notable book, Inhalation Anesthesia: A Fundamental Guide, published in 1937.

Zakheim-mural-Bell-color w ID

Dr. Guedel (under the operating room table) and his anesthesia machine in the Zakheim mural. Chauncey Leake is standing above him

In 1929, Dr. Guedel moved from Indianapolis to Los Angeles.  He continued his careful observations and worked to solve important problems.  He collaborated with others, most importantly Dr. Ralph Waters of Madison-Wisconsin (considered the father of academic anesthesiology) and pharmacologist Dr. Chauncey Leake, then UCSF’s chairman of pharmacology.  Guedel would travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco for various research projects at UCSF. He even appears in the Bernard Zakheim murals at UCSF!   The papers now available in the UCSF Archives document many other contributions made by this important anesthesiologist.

Selma Harrison Calmes, MD is a retired anesthesiologist interested in history. A 1965 graduate of Baylor College of Medicine, she trained in anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania. She came to UCLA in 1976 as their first pediatric anesthesiologist. In 1988, she became chair of anesthesiology at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. She retired from clinical work in 2007 and now is the Anesthesiology Consultant to the Los Angeles County Coroner.
In 1980, she took a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Fellowship in Medical History at the University of Cincinnati under noted medical historian Dr. Sol Benison. She writes on various aspects of anesthesia history, especially in California, and on the many women who were early leaders in anesthesiology, especially Dr. Virginia Apgar. She co-founded the Anesthesia History Association with Dr. Rod Calverley in 1982 and served as the first editor of their publication, now the Journal of Anesthesia History. She is on the Board of Trustees of the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ Wood Library-Museum and is president of the Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center Board of Trustees. She appeared in the National Library of Medicine’s 2003-2005 exhibit on women in medicine, “Changing the Face of Medicine” and is listed in their biographic dictionary.

Arthur E. Guedel Anesthesia Collection transferred to UCSF archives

The UCSF archives would like to announce the acquisition of the Arthur E. Guedel Anesthesia Collection. The agreement to transfer these unique materials of high research value that will complement existing archival holding was signed by the Arthur E. Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center Board of Trustees and the UCSF Library last March. This extensive collection contains more than 40 linear feet of personal papers, rare books on the history and development of anesthesia, journals and artifacts, including anesthesia equipment and unique collection of artifacts from Richard Gill’s journey into Ecuador to collect curare, as well as audio-visual materials.

Drs. Merlin Larson and Selma Calmes

Drs. Merlin Larson and Selma Calmes signing the agreement to transfer the Arthur E. Guedel Anesthesia Collection to the UCSF Archives & Special Collections, March 2015

The Arthur E. Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center was founded in 1963 by a small group of anesthesiologists who were interested in preserving the history of their specialty. The center is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Arthur E. Guedel, a pioneer of modern anesthesiology on the West Coast. For many years it was housed in the Health Sciences Library at California Pacific Medical Center and we are grateful to our colleagues there, in particular Anne Shew, director of the Health Sciences Library for an outstanding stewardship of these materials. The personal papers have detailed finding aids and after they are moved to the UCSF library later this summer, they will be made accessible to the visitors in the archives reading room. The reminder of the collection will be transferred to archives after removing duplicate material within a year. The Guedel collection materials will be incorporated into UCSF library catalog and archival collections finding aids describing the contents of personal papers will be added to the Online Archive of California. At the conclusion of the transfer, a Guedel collection digital portal describing history and materials in the collection will be built by the archives and linked to the UCSF Department of Anesthesia website.
Dr. Selma Calmes, retired Clinical Professor of Anesthesiology at UCLA and president of the Guedel Board of Trustees, noted in her 2004 article that Dr. Chauncey Leake, Professor of Pharmacology at UCSF was a person with strong ties to anesthesia and was instrumental in naming and organizing the center: “He suggested dedicating it to the memory of the only pioneer of modern anesthesia on the West Coast, Dr. Arthur Guedel of Los Angeles. Leake had been good friends with Guedel, who often visited UCSF to do research.” (1) The UCSF archives is the home of the Leake papers (as well as collection of rare books on anesthesia) and the addition of the Guedel collection will reunite these resources. It includes the papers and correspondence of several pioneers in the field on anesthesia, in particular, Richard C. Gill, Drs. Ralph Waters, Abram Elting Bennett, William Neff, and Arthur E. Guedel.

We would like to express our gratitude to the Guedel Board and in particular Drs. John Severinghaus, Merlin Larson, and Selma Calmes. Tomorrow we will be publishing a guest post written by Dr. Calmes and in the next year are planning to share updates about the transfer of the collection to UCSF, as well as showcase its treasures.
1.    Calmes, Selma. “The History of the Arthur E. Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center.” California Society of Anesthesiologists Bulletin. 2004 July-September; 53 (3): 71-72.

Country Joe McDonald’s Florence Nightingale collection will be preserved in UCSF Archives

Country Joe McDonald, singer, songwriter, and social advocate, co-founder of the Country Joe & the Fish rock band remembered for his performance in Woodstock, recently donated his Florence Nightingale collection to the UCSF archives. This International Nurses Day, May 12th, we asked Joe several questions about his unusual archive that contains 7 oversize boxes of printed materials, ephemera, and books as well as a website “Country Joe McDonald’s Tribute to Florence Nightingale.”

Country Joe McDonald performs a tribute to Florence Nightingale at UCSF in the fall of 2013 (photo by Elisabeth Fall)

Country Joe McDonald performs a tribute to Florence Nightingale at UCSF in the fall of 2013 (photo by Elisabeth Fall)

1. What got you interested in the life of Florence Nightingale?

I heard Lynda Van Devanter, an Army Vietnam War nurse speak in 1981 at a symposium on the problems of Vietnam veterans. She challenged other veterans, saying we ignored the needs and service of women in the military. I took it to heart and promised her I would write a song for her. But I knew nothing of nursing except the name Florence Nightingale. I looked in the encyclopedia and it said Florence Nightingale had gone to nurse English soldiers at the request of the English government during the Crimean War in 1854. That she was an upper class woman and she suffered a nervous disorder for the rest of her life. Vietnam veterans were suffering from PTSD as a result of their experiences. I found this similarity  very interesting and wanted to know more. I went to a well known used book store in Oakland and found two books on her life. One was Sir Edward Cook’s book. The other, Cecil Woodham-Smith’s book. I read them both. And that was the beginning of my journey.

2.       For how long have you been documenting her story?

It was 1981 when I first heard Lynda speak, so it is over thirty years.

A glass "magic lantern" slide of the painting by Jerry Barrett, “The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale Receiving the Wounded at Scutari” (National Portrait Gallery, London). A photo of a black-and-white engraving has been hand-colored. Read more about this painting on the Country Joe McDonald website.

A glass “magic lantern” slide (reversed) of the painting by Jerry Barrett, “the Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale Receiving the Wounded at Scutari” (National Portrait Gallery, London). A photo of a black-and-white engraving has been hand-colored. Read more about this painting on the Country Joe McDonald’s website.

3.       How do you select materials to add to your collection?

At first it was not a collection. But I needed to learn about England and the Victorian Era in order to understand what I was reading.  So one thing led to another. Then I decided to visit the places important to her life. Wherever I went I would pick up stuff about the place I visited and her. She was such a huge social phenomena, such a famous person after the war, that lots of stuff was created about her and using her name. Since she was a recluse lots of it was just made up to satisfy the desire of the public to have a bit of her. She was famous on the level of Kim Kardashian or Princess Kate. I found this very interesting. So there was stuff that was intelligent and accurate and stuff that was pure fantasy and frivolous.
I tried to get it all. I trolled Amazon and Internet book sites grabbing whatever I found that was not too expensive. Since I had a web person who was building my professional home page for me I decided to create a home page for her.  Using the facts and stuff I found out about her. We started with a time line of her life. It just grew and grew. It seemed to me to be endlessly interesting. I was amazed at the diversity of her life and nursing. I found it very hard to stop adding things.

4.   What is your favorite item in this collection?

It is difficult to pick one item. But I will mention a copy I made of many of the pages of her third edition of Notes On Hospitals. I got an original through interlibrary loan from a library in Pasadena. Such a thing could never happen today. There are three editions of Notes On Hospitals. I have a facsimile of the original which is part of the collection. But the one always mentioned in writings about her is the third edition.

Much to my amazement the copy I got from inter library loan had a signature of Adelaide Nutting the famous nurse historian on the cover page. I felt like an archaeologist making a discovery. I guess the copy the library had once belonged to Adelaide Nutting. I probably could have just kept the copy and no one would have cared much. Such is the treatment Florence Nightingale is often given. She even predicted this. When the Edison Company recorded her voice she said that “some day when I am no longer a memory, just a name.” And today that is seems the case. Everyone knows her name but very little about her except the common folklore. I could not in good conscience keep the original. So I made copies of many of the pages. Even that would not be allowed today. And those pages are part of the collection.  Looking at those pages one sees what a theoretician, innovator and statistician she was.

5.       You wrote several songs about nurses, where can we listen to them?

I have had several ideas about how to tell the story of her life. I thought of a documentary called “On The Trail Of Miss Nightingale” where a host visited and talked about all the locations important to her life. Then, because I am a songwriter a few songs about her and nursing just came to me. Then I got the idea to write an opera about her life and wrote some more songs. Then I got the idea of a spoken word and song one man show about her life and nursing complete with projected slides. Then I tried to write a film treatment. A couple of the songs made it onto CD’s. I made a CD of four nurse songs called “Thank The Nurse” and still have a few of those around. I am currently working  on a new album and it will include several new songs about her and her sister. Over the years I have performed and talked about Florence Nightingale only a dozen times. I am amazed at the lack of song and film and about Florence Nightingale and nursing. Even though she is probably the most written about woman in history. She is never named as one of the famous and important women in the 20th century.

I think her image is tangled up in the convoluted thoughts and disinformation about women in general and nurses in particular. In today’s world there seems to be a lack of interest in history and an emphasis on the present and making a living. Perhaps that makes good common sense in today’s market place. But I still believe that her story is exciting, important and should be told.

6.       Why did you decide to build a website telling the story of Florence Nightingale, what else does it include?

It started as a simple idea. I wanted to show how interesting her life was and how important a person she was. We started with a timeline containing important events in her life from before her birth to her death. Each time I learned or discovered something new we added it. It is the only such site in the world. That just happened one thing at a time over a period of almost twenty years.  It is impossible for me to say what it includes. I will just say it includes everything I think is important to her life. You will not find some of that information any place else. I hope that UCSF Nursing School will continue to add to the site now that it is archived by the university.

 7.       Do you know how many visitors it attracts?

It is hard to interpret visitors to a site. But I will guess several hundred a month. Many of them are school children doing studies on famous women. I would be interested to know who uses the site. It was built for my own entertainment so I never had in mind visitors really.

Cover of the book from Country Joe McDonald's Florence Nightingale collection, "People at Work: The Nurse," 1963.

Cover of the book from the Country Joe McDonald’s Florence Nightingale collection, “People at Work: The Nurse,” 1963.

8.      Now that your collection and website are preserved at the UCSF Archives will you continue adding materials and updating the site?

I doubt that I will add much more to the site. But you never know. It would be wonderful if UCSF students doing nurse history would add to the site. There is now a new generation growing up with the internet and computers and they certainly could expand the site.

9.       For many years you have being performing a show based on the story of Florence Nightingale and other war nurses, where can our readers view it?

There really is no where to view it. I thought over the years that there should be some film or video made so that it could perhaps be used as an educational tool but that never happened. I do not perform much any more. I did do a short performance of spoken word and song in a Berkeley book store a few months ago around the subject of War Nursing. That was the first time I did that. I used material from the Crimean War, World War I and the Vietnam War with a subject theme of “burn out.”

10.  Do you have any nurses in your family?

My wife is a Labor and Delivery nurse and RN midwife. My brother retired after 37 years as a nurse and then nurse practitioner. My daughter just graduated and received her RN license. My niece is a nurse at UCSF Hospital and her husband is an RN.  As an aside, my mother’s name was Florence. It is said that most of the women of the 19th and 20th century named Florence were named after her. She was named Florence after the Italian city of her birth, Florence .

11. What do you want to wish the nurses around the world on this International Nurses Day that is celebrated on the birthday of Florence Nightingale?

I hope that nurses are able to appreciate the great sacrifices that those early pioneers made creating the wonderful profession of nursing. I hope that they are able to be proud of the work they do. I want them to know that we appreciate what they do daily often saving lives and allowing us all to lead happy and healthy lives. And I hope that they are able to take the day off and treat themselves to some well earned R&R.