Spotlight on the records of the Black Coalition on AIDS (BCA)

The Black Coalition on AIDS (BCA) records are among the AIDS community-based organizations records (MSS 98-49) housed with the UCSF Archives and Special Collections. These records were assembled as part of the UCSF AIDS History Project, acquired with the goal of documenting the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the San Francisco community response to it.  

The Black Coalition on AIDS was established in 1986 to address the needs of the African American community in the early years of the AIDS epidemic and “to ensure Black people would receive appropriate services and be adequately represented in policy decisions.”  It is still active today and was renamed the Rafiki Coalition for Health and Wellness in 2015 to reflect its expanded health education and health support services.  

The Black Coalition on AIDS (BCA) records housed with us include meeting minutes, handwritten notes, programs from their first two annual awards dinners, newsletters, position papers, and proposals.  

The honorees featured in the annual awards dinner programs for the BCA Second Annual Awards Dinner in 1991, captured my interest. The event highlighted the achievements of African American activists from the Bay Area and since February is Black History Month, it seemed timely and fitting to share a bit of information about some of the celebrated individuals.  

Ken Jones received the Calu Lester Community Activist Award for his work as the Executive Director of STOP AIDS Project, Secretary of the AIDS Life Lobby, Vice Chair of the Lesbian and Gay Caucus to the State Democratic Party, and the founder of BIKE-A-THON for AIDS among many accomplishments. Jones was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He went on to work on police reform issues in response to the 1991 Rodney King beating and in 2011, he served on the citizen review board of the BART Police Department following the BART police killing of Oscar Grant. Jones passed away last year

Yvonne Littleton received the Individual Community Service Award for her community health outreach work for the Haight Ashbury HIV Prevention Outreach Project. In addition to her public health work and background, Littleton trained as an artist. She was one of the 7 muralists who painted the Maestrapeace Mural on the Women’s Building in the Mission District in 1994. She also worked as a commercial artist and a stage and lighting designer.  

The video artist, poet, activist, and educator, Marlon Riggs received the Sylvester Arts Action Award. I was first introduced to Riggs’s work while I was working at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Archives. In 1992, Riggs’s Affirmations won the 2nd Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art Video Award. His works can be found in the collections of the Museum of Art Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art and in recent years, several arts organizations have mounted exhibitions honoring him and his work: 

Last year, the Criterion Collection, which had in recent years come under some scrutiny for its dearth of African-American directors, released the box set of his works, The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs.  

Riggs died in 1994 at the age of 37 from AIDS. 

Archival records function as time capsules and allow you a glimpse into a specific moment in time and place. And how one document, an event program, can be an introduction to people and places, inviting you to move them beyond just the records. I love this about my job.  

#ColorOurCollections Coloring Book

Once again we contributed to the New York Academy of Medicine’s #ColorOurCollections. We’ve created a coloring book featuring images from our collection of Japanese woodblock prints. Please download the book, color, and tweet your creations @ucsf_archives using #ColorOurCollections.

Download the complete UCSF Archives 2022 Coloring Book here.

You can view other coloring books from participating institutions here. Happy coloring!

UCSF Archives & Special Collections awarded grant to archive data, documents, and social media of The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic

UCSF Archives & Special Collections (A&SC) has been awarded a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to compile and archive the data products, public websites, social media, and select internal documents of The COVID Tracking Project (CTP). The project was a citizen-science initiative housed by The Atlantic magazine which tracked COVID data from March 7, 2020 to March 7, 2021. It had a tremendous impact on public, media, scientific, and governmental understanding of and response to the pandemic. This $249,866 grant will help preserve the products and culture of a unique organization created in difficult times.

Products produced by the CTP include testing, outcomes, and hospitalization data that was used by thousands of news organizations and millions of individuals to understand the early phases of the pandemic. The project’s Racial Data Tracker and Long-term Care Tracker highlighted the different ways the pandemic was impacting people of color and residents of nursing homes and similar facilities. Funding from the grant will help ensure these critical datasets are preserved in Dryad and immediately available to researchers in public health.

As an organization that existed only online, archiving the project will require new approaches to storing data from tools like Slack, Github issues, and Google drive. Unlike digital files similar to a Microsoft Word document, data in these tools have multiple levels of interface and context that is not easily preserved. The grant will support developing tools for archiving these rapidly-adopted forms of communication, and making them open source for other archiving projects.

Every datapoint collected by the project was the result of multiple discussions, revisions, and public inquiry. Capturing the entire history of say, the total number of tests in California on November 22, 2020 requires reviewing Slack threads, Github issues, emails, spreadsheet revisions, and unique tools built by tracking project members. The grant will help build a “Data Explorer” that pulls all these disparate metadata into a single web interface for researchers to understand the many contexts around every datapoint collected by the project.

“We’re extremely proud to support a digital preservation project capturing a remarkable record of online collaboration that also provides a unique blueprint for future archiving initiatives,” says Joshua Greenberg, director of the Sloan Foundation’s technology program. “The team is doing more than just creating a rich and valuable repository of a historic moment—it is generating novel and much-needed methods of storing information from modern technology platforms, an approach that will become invaluable as online collaborations increasingly become the norm.”

This 12-month project is being launched in January 2022 and will be overseen by an advisory board composed of former project staff and advisors with backgrounds in data science, medicine, history, and epidemiology. A&SC would like to thank Amanda L. French, Ph.D., former Community Lead at the COVID Tracking Project and other supporters for their help with this proposal. Kevin Miller will serve as an archive lead for this grant project

About the Sloan Foundation

Logo of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation is a not-for-profit, mission-driven grantmaking institution dedicated to improving the welfare of all through the advancement of scientific knowledge. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in four broad areas: direct support of research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and economics; initiatives to increase the quality, equity, diversity, and inclusiveness of scientific institutions and the science workforce; projects to develop or leverage technology to empower research; and efforts to enhance and deepen public engagement with science and scientists.

About UCSF Archives & Special Collections

The mission of the UCSF Archives and Special Collections is to identify, collect, organize, interpret, and maintain rare and unique material to support research and teaching of the health sciences and medical humanities and to preserve institutional memory. Please contact Polina Ilieva, Associate University Librarian for Collections with questions about this award.

Newly Processed Tobacco Control Archive Collections

UCSF Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce that three collections have been processed and added to the Tobacco Control Archives. The newly processed collections are the Seth L. Haber Materials, American Heart Association Records, and the Tobacco Control Ephemera Collection.

UCSF has been collecting materials on tobacco control efforts since the 1990s. We have collected papers and organizational records of government agencies and activist groups, as well as papers of individuals active in tobacco control.

Seth L. Haber Material

Seth L. Haber, MD, FCAP, was the founding chief of pathology at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara, California, for 35 years, until his retirement in 1998. He was an elected member of the Permanente Medical Group Board of Directors for nine years,
registrar, sommelier, and president of the South Bay Pathology Society. This collection includes publications by Seth Haber, anti-tobacco pamphlets, and correspondence.

Anti-Tobacco Pamphlets. Seth L. Haber material, MSS 97-19, box 1, folder 1.

American Heart Association Records

The American Heart Association (AHA) is a nonprofit organization in the United States that funds cardiovascular medical research. The American Heart Association records documents the activism that took place in San Francisco and the Bay Area in restricting smoking in restaurants and lounges. The collection includes flyers, tobacco advertisements, videos (VHS), surveys, and correspondence. Some documents from this collection are from the CLASH organization addressing how big tobacco companies targeted the gay and lesbian community through their ads.

Tobacco Control Ephemera Collection

This collection is assembled from a number of different donations of ephemeral materials. Materials include pamphlets, posters, cigarette ads, and reports. Some of the cigarette ads in this collection are Kent and Chesterfield ads showcasing their milder cigarettes for women.

You can view the collection finding aids and other Tobacco Control Archive finding aids on the Online Archive of California. If you are interested in viewing digital collections from the Tobacco Control Archives or any of our other digital collections please visit the UC San Francisco page on Calisphere.

The Women Behind the Japanese Woodblock Print Collection

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By Erin Hurley, User Services & Accessioning Archivist

One of UCSF Archives & Special Collections’ most famous and beloved collections is the Japanese Woodblock Print collection – a collection of over 400 colorful and informative woodblock prints on health-related themes, such as women’s health and contagious diseases like cholera, measles, and smallpox. According to the Library website dedicated to the prints, they “offer a visual account of Japanese medical knowledge in the late Edo and Meiji periods. The majority of the prints date to the mid-late nineteenth century, when Japan was opening to the West after almost two hundred and fifty years of self-imposed isolation.”[1] The collection has been used, most recently, in a documentary about woodblock prints to be aired on NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting network, and has been a subject of enduring interest to researchers. I’ve heard colleagues wonder aloud about how UCSF came to own this unique collection, so I did some research. Naturally, an enterprising curator and librarian – Atsumi Minami, MLS – is to thank for the collection’s arrival at UCSF.

Walters, Tom F., “Atsumi Minami with items from UCSF Library East Asian Collection,” 1968. UCSF History Collection.

While I was not able to find the exact dates of her employment at UCSF Library, I do know that Minami began working at UCSF Library in 1959, and soon took charge of a small collection of 70 titles of materials related to East Asian medicine started in 1963 by John B. de C.M. Saunders (a shortening of his full name, John Bertrand de Cusance Morant Saunders), then Provost and University Librarian.[1] Minami could read Japanese script, so she became responsible for the collection and was soon given free rein to begin collecting additional materials. In order to do this, Minami “traveled to Japan and China and purchased items from various smaller, private collections, acquiring the woodblock prints as well as hundreds of rare Chinese and Japanese medical texts, manuscripts, and painted scrolls.”[2] Her collecting efforts spanned over 30 years, and produced a collection with over 10,000 titles. It would appear that Minami was still working at UCSF when this informative article was written for a 1986 issue of UCSF Magazine.[3] At the time that article was published, the East Asian medicine collection was also the only active collection of its kind in the U.S., making it even more notable.  

Another woman who was influential in shaping the East Asian collection was Ilza Veith, a German medical historian and former UCSF professor in both the Department of the History and Philosophy of Health Sciences and the Department of Psychiatry. Veith, who in 1947 was awarded the first ever U.S. Ph.D.in the History of Medicine from Johns Hopkins University, was also awarded later, in 1975, the most advanced medical degree conferred in Japan, the Igaku hakase, from Juntendo University Medical School in Tokyo.  Veith was extremely knowledgeable about both Chinese and Japanese medicine, and, in her time at Hopkins, translated Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen, or The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – the oldest known document in Chinese medicine. Though the text has somewhat mythical origins that make its author and date a little difficult to determine, it probably dates from around 300 BC. Veith also helped shaped UCSF’s East Asian medicine collection by donating a number of her Japanese medical books. 

“Ilza Veith,” 1968. UCSF History Collection.

I would encourage anyone interested in the collection to browse the prints on our website, and to read more about their history via a finding aid on the Online Archive of California. Archives & Special Collections also houses the Ilza Veith papers. While we don’t yet have an Atsumi Minami collection, we welcome donations and would appreciate any information that the present-day UCSF community has about this amazing woman.


[1] “Glory of the Special Collections,” UCSF Magazine, V. 9, Issue #342, 1986: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31378005349033&view=1up&seq=341&q1=”Atsumi Minami”

[2] “About the Collection,” UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection, 2007, https://japanesewoodblockprints.library.ucsf.edu/about.html. Accessed April 6, 2021.

[3] “Glory of the Special Collections,” UCSF Magazine, V. 9, Issue #342, 1986: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31378005349033&view=1up&seq=341&q1=”Atsumi Minami”


[1] “About the Collection,” UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection, 2007, https://japanesewoodblockprints.library.ucsf.edu/about.html. Accessed April 6, 2021.

Celebrating Black faculty at UCSF, past and present

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By Erin Hurley, User Services and Accessioning Archivist

We are currently more than halfway through Black History Month, a month that takes on special significance this year, following a summer of protests asserting, yet again, that Black Lives Matter. Archives & Special Collections would be remiss if we failed to mention the groundbreaking Black faculty at UCSF, both past and present, who have made significant contributions to the fields of medicine and psychology (as well as many others), and, who, in their work, have found ways to illuminate new facets of racism previously unconsidered and who, on their paths to success, have also sought to support and lift up others.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove is a social psychiatrist who served as Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) from 1983 until 1990. Her work sits at the intersection of mental health and public health, and she focuses, in her own description, on the “sources and consequences of inequality, with a focus on the American city,” including segregation, gentrification, and the impact of these forces on the mental and physical health of Black families. [1] She is the author of numerous books, including The Black Family: Mental Health Perspectives and Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It.[2] Most recently, she has co-edited a volume titled From Enforcers to Guardians: A Public Health Primer on Ending Police Violence. In 2018, she gave a TED talk which gives an overview of her work and her personal history and outlines her hopes for achieving equality.

Mindy Thompson Fullilove

Eritrean surgeon Haile T. Debas has, many times over, served as an example of what Black leadership can look like, and has shown how it can benefit others in a variety of ways. Debas, who came to UCSF in 1987 to serve as the Chair of the Department of Surgery, specializes in gastrointestinal physiology. During his time as Chair, UCSF “became one of the country’s leading centers for transplant surgery, the training of young surgeons, and basic and clinical research in surgery.”[3] He then went on to serve as the Dean of the School of Medicine for 10 years, from 1993-2003. In 1997, he was appointed as the 7th Chancellor of UCSF, a position that he agreed to hold for one year while also serving as Dean of the School of Medicine.

Haile T. Debas, photo courtesy of UCSF University Relations

Debas, in his long and distinguished career, has demonstrated a commitment to serving underserved areas, from his work in the Yukon Territories, where he practiced surgery early in his career, to a long-held dream of establishing a medical school in Eritrea. It was this commitment that led him to establish, in 2009, the UC Global Health Institute, which sought to leverage the expertise and resources of all ten UC campuses to address global health issues, which he says are “so big that single disciplines can’t tackle them.”[4] He also served as Executive Director of UCSF Global Health Sciences (GHS), established in 2003, which focuses on issues like diseases of poverty, chronic illnesses, and the global threat posed by certain infectious diseases, like COVID-19.

His work in global health has informed his support for women’s empowerment movements, and he notes, “In global health, women’s empowerment is the critical element—nothing will be accomplished to a successful end without women’s support.”[5] Debas also established the UCSF Department of Surgery’s Haile T. Debas Diversity Fellowship for Fourth Year Medical Students, which offers fourth year medical students a sub-internship in the Department of Surgery, as well as a $2,500 stipend.[6]  Debas appears often in Archives & Special Collections materials, as a part of the Office of the Dean’s records, as well as in the Global Health Sciences records and the Oral History collection.


[1] “Faculty – Mindy Fullilove,” The New School Milano, accessed February 18, 2021,  https://www.newschool.edu/milano/faculty/mindy-fullilove/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Haile Debas, MD,” UCSF Department of Surgery, accessed February 18, 2021, https://surgery.ucsf.edu/faculty/general-surgery/haile-debas,-md.aspx.

[4] Rachel Cox, “10 years, 10 campuses, one trailblazing career: Haile Debas reflects on UCGHI,” November 5, 2019, https://ucghi.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/10-years-10-campuses-one-trailblazing-career-haile-debas-reflects-ucghi.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Alexi Callen, “UCSF Department of Surgery Accepting Applications for 2020 Haile T. Debas Diversity Fellowship for Fourth Year Medical Students,” April 21, 2020, https://surgery.ucsf.edu/news-events/ucsf-news.aspx?id=84895/UCSF Department of Surgery Accepting Applications for 2020 Haile T. Debas Diversity Fellowship for Fourth Year Medical Students.

Newly Processed Collection: J. Michael Bishop Papers

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UCSF Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce that 93 cartons have been processed and added to the J. Michael Bishop papers. The collection was first processed in 2016 with a total of 19 cartons, it grew to 142 linear feet. The new material includes lectures, correspondence, memorabilia, and committee files. The collection’s finding aid is available publicly on the Online Archive of California.

J. Michael Bishop portrait at desk. J. Michael Bishop papers, MSS 2007-21, carton 19, folder 52

Bishop is the recipient of numerous awards in addition to the Nobel Prize, including the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Biomedical Research and the American Cancer Society National Medal of Honor. In 1989, Bishop and his colleague, Harold E. Varmus, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that growth regulating genes in normal cells can malfunction and initiate the abnormal growth processes of cancer.In 2003, he was awarded the National Medal of Science. On July 1, 1998, J. Michael Bishop became eighth chancellor of UCSF, and presided over what would become the largest academic biomedical expansion in the nation-the creation of the UCSF Mission Bay campus.

Nobel Attire cartoon. J. Michael Bishop papers, MSS 2007-21, carton 6, folder 31

The collection is arranged into twelve series which include: Series I. Writings and publication files; Series II. Teaching files; Series III. Laboratory research notebooks and binders; Series IV. Working files; Series V. Scrapbook and artifact; Series VI. Exhibit files; Series VII. Committee files; Series VIII. Correspondence; IX. Postdoctoral files; X. Meetings and Travel files; XI. Lectures and Remarks; XII. Photographs, Slides, and Audio/Visual Material.

You can view the collection’s finding aid and many other UCSF collections’ finding aids on the Online Archive of California

Crisis, Community, and Connections: 1918 and 2020

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This is a guest post by Aaron J. Jackson, M.A, Ph.D. Candidate, UCSF History of Health Sciences.

From time to time, events in the present so closely resemble events from the past that the aphorism “history repeats itself” seems feasible. This can be demonstrated by comparing the current crisis of the novel coronavirus with the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. The similarities are compelling. Like the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the variety of H1N1 influenza that swept across the world in 1918 and 1919 produced a significant shock. It spread like wildfire, was frustratingly resistant to contemporary therapeutics, exhibited novel characteristics, and forced governments to resort to what some considered to be heavy-handed public health interventions. Bay Area residents in 1918 were required to wear masks and practice social distancing, just as they are required to do so today. Such historical similarities are not, however, proof that history repeats itself. But they do provide interesting opportunities for comparison between the past and the present—opportunities that hold the potential to make the past more relatable by building connections through common circumstances. And perhaps, through that understanding, an opportunity for hope to shine in dark times.

This post is not an exhaustive study comparing 1918 and 2020. Rather, it focuses on responses to crises and specifically the ways that communities innovatively addressed shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). So, of course, it will be about war, pandemics, socks, and sheet protectors. Naturally.

When the United States declared war on the Imperial Government of Germany in April 1917, the nation was woefully unprepared for the conflict. The war represented an unprecedented crisis—one that required the federal government to assume new powers in order to coordinate the resources of the entire nation. President Woodrow Wilson’s administration worked with Congress to institute a draft to raise an army, enacted strict economic control measures to conserve and direct resources towards the production of war materiel, and passed laws that infringed on civil liberties, all in the name of the war effort. To ensure public support for these moves, the government mounted a massive propaganda campaign that appealed to a specific version of American patriotism, appealing to citizens’ sense of duty.

Mustering an army of sufficient size presented significant challenges. The men not only had to be inducted into military service—either by volunteering or being drafted—they required hundreds of training camps, transportation to those camps, equipment to train with, uniforms to wear. Once at the camps, they required food, shelter, and medical support. Military training was and remains a dangerous business, but the most significant medical problem at the cantonments was disease.

Base Hospital No. 30 “Officers and Enlisted Personnel” from the Woolsey (John Homer) Papers, MSS 70-5, UCSF Archives and Special Collections
Base Hospital No. 30 “Officers and Enlisted Personnel” from the Woolsey (John Homer) Papers, MSS 70-5, UCSF Archives and Special Collections

As tens of thousands of American recruits assembled at Army camps across the United States, they unwittingly brought diseases with them, which found ample opportunity to spread in cramped camp conditions. Most of these infections fell into the category of “common respiratory unknown disease”—an unofficial designation among military recruits who learned to add C.R.U.D. to the lexicon of military acronyms they learned. The crud largely consisted of the common cold and other respiratory infections, but cases of measles, mumps, and chicken pox were also common. Most cases of the crud cleared up without need for treatment, but the prevalence of these infections and the fact that new waves of infections would spring up with every new trainload of recruits had the effect of masking a more dangerous threat. Army physicians first identified more than 100 soldiers who had developed a rather severe flu-like illness in March 1918. Within a week, the number of flu cases at Fort Riley was over 500 and climbing. The H1N1 virus that caused the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 had arrived, but the nation was focused on the war. And as American troops began arriving in France and moving into the front lines—many of them no doubt bringing the virus with them—medical personnel tasked with supporting the war effort shifted their focus from induction screening and camp illnesses to other health concerns.

The First World War introduced a bevy of new ways to mangle and maim human bodies. From high-velocity rifle rounds and machine guns to high-explosive artillery shells, flamethrowers, hand grenades, aerial bombardment, and chemical weapons, the U.S. Army Medical Corps understood that the hospital system it established in France had to be prepared first and foremost for trauma care, which posed significant challenges. Not only did modern weapons cause extensive damage, the risks of sepsis and gangrene in an era before the discovery of antibiotics were high. Complicating this, European battlefields tended to stretch across agricultural land, teeming with bacteria after years of fertilization. Soldiers wounded on the front lines thus ran an extremely high risk of bacterial infection. To address this, the Medical Corps and its affiliates prioritized training Army health care workers in antiseptic wound care.

"U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 30, World War I (University of California School of Medicine Unit)," from The Thirtieth, AR 207-16, UCSF Archives and Special Collections
“U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 30, World War I (University of California School of Medicine Unit),” from The Thirtieth, AR 207-16, UCSF Archives and Special Collections

The experiences of the personnel of Base Hospital No. 30 are instructive in this regard. Base Hospital Thirty was the military hospital unit assembled from physicians, surgeons, and nurses associated with the University of California’s School of Medicine—the precursor to UCSF. Organized with the help of the American Red Cross Society shortly after Congress declared war, the unit spent more than a year training for the anticipated challenges of running a hospital for wounded soldiers in France. The unit’s nurses received orders to depart San Francisco on December 26, 1917 and reported to Army cantonment camps along the East Coast to help care for soldiers who had fallen ill with the crud, gaining invaluable experience in nursing soldiers and recognizing disease presentation. The unit’s surgeons practiced the ancient technique of wound debridement—removing foreign objects and cutting away dead and dying flesh to produce a clean wound—and attended clinical instruction that prepared them for the types of injuries they would face. And the unit’s corpsmen trained in the production and use of the Carrell-Dakin solution, a novel antiseptic more effective than carbolic acid and iodine but also a solution that required careful training and preparation. Thanks to training like this, the base hospital system was able to treat more than 300,000 sick and wounded soldiers with remarkably low mortality rates compared to previous wars.

Indeed, the medical apparatus and personnel organized to support the American Expeditionary Forces were well prepared for the anticipated hazards of the war. But in one of the remarkable parallels to the current coronavirus crisis, their job was perhaps made more difficult by the failure of American logistics in providing adequate personal protective equipment. But the shortage in 1918 was not one of N95 masks; rather, it was a matter of needing socks.

From left to right: “American Red Cross: Our boys need sox; knit your bit,” Hoover Institution Digital Collections; “You can help: American Red Cross,” Charles B. Burdick War Poster Collection, San Jose State University, Special Collections and Archives; Cover of the Priscilla War Work Book, Library of Congress, digitized by the Internet Archive.
From left to right: “American Red Cross: Our boys need sox; knit your bit,” Hoover Institution Digital Collections; “You can help: American Red Cross,” Charles B. Burdick War Poster Collection, San Jose State University, Special Collections and Archives; Cover of the Priscilla War Work Book, Library of Congress, digitized by the Internet Archive

Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines PPE as “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.”[i] Under this definition, and in the context of soldiering, a good pair of socks certainly applies. Trench warfare was a dirty business. It also tended to be cold and wet—the perfect climate for a condition known today as “trench foot.” Afflicted soldiers’ feet would go numb, swell, develop sore and infections, and in extreme cases become gangrenous, possibly requiring amputation. Obviously, this ran the risk of keeping soldiers from the front lines and thus undermining the war effort. But ensuring a plentiful supply of clean dry socks somehow slipped through the cracks of the Army’s logistical efforts to prepare for the war. Fortunately, the American Red Cross and thousands of civilian volunteers found ways to meet the challenge.

Beginning in 1917, the Red Cross put out calls for knitted garments, especially socks. The organization distributed officially-endorsed knitting patterns and free wool to anyone willing to “knit your bit.” The Priscilla War Work Book contains roughly a dozen such patterns ranging from socks to coats and winter hats.[ii] But the demand was greatest for socks. Across the country, knitters worked individually at home and collectively in social groups to try to keep up with the demand. Those who could not knit were urged to purchase or donate wool for the cause. Some organizations turned to mechanical solutions. The Seattle Red Cross utilized a knitting machine to produce long wool tubes that could be cut into 27-inch lengths, requiring only the toes to be stitched by hand.[iii] In this way, those behind the front lines were able to support the war effort by providing the PPE the soldiers needed to keep themselves in fighting shape.

Celebrating the end of the First World War in San Francisco, November 11, 1918. Image from The San Francisco Chronicle files.
Celebrating the end of the First World War in San Francisco, November 11, 1918. Image from The San Francisco Chronicle files.

Celebrating the end of the First World War in San Francisco, November 11, 1918. Image from The San Francisco Chronicle files.

The knitting campaign continued until the war ended with the declaration of the armistice on November 11, 1918. By then, the nation was in the midst of the first wave of the influenza pandemic. On October 9, 1918, San Francisco’s hospitals reported 169 influenza cases. A week later, there were more than 2,000 and the city’s Board of Health issued recommendations for social distancing.[iv] With so many health care professionals supporting the war effort, the Bay Area’s medical infrastructure was stretched to the limit and cities put out calls for volunteers. Hospital space soon became a valuable commodity and many facilities, including the Oakland Municipal Auditorium, were converted into temporary hospitals, and public health officials began recommending the use of face masks, which they later made mandatory.[v] But it is important to remember that these were local efforts to respond to the pandemic. The federal government, which had mustered the resources of the entire nation to fight the war in Europe, was unwilling to do the same to combat the pandemic at home, leaving it up to local authorities, medical institutions, and volunteer organizations to make do as best they could.

Celebrating the end of the First World War in San Francisco, November 11, 1918. Image from The San Francisco Chronicle files.
“Oakland Municipal Auditorium is used as a temporary hospital,” 1918, Oakland Public Library

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a similar situation today. As the novel coronavirus took on pandemic proportions, stores of PPE for frontline healthcare workers reached critical levels. Before the pandemic, China produced approximately half the world’s supply of medical masks. As the infection spread in China, their exports stopped, and the resulting shortage spurred competition between institutions and governments to secure PPE, which only exacerbated the situation. Thankfully, a multidisciplinary team at UCSF found a way to be a part of the solution, echoing the efforts of American knitters from over a century ago.

Left to right:  UCSF shield frames,; A completely assembled UCSF face shield;  Dr. Alexis Dang wears an assembled face shield over a N-95 respirator. For additional information please read the UCSF Library Makers Lab story.
From left to right: UCSF shield frames,; A completely assembled UCSF face shield; Dr. Alexis Dang wears an assembled face shield over a N-95 respirator. For additional information please read the UCSF Library Makers Lab story. UCSF Library Makers Lab Left to right: UCSF shield frames,; A completely assembled UCSF face shield; Dr. Alexis Dang wears an assembled face shield over a N-95 respirator. For additional information please read the UCSF Library Makers Lab story

Noting the need for face shields, experts at UCSF specializing in biochemistry, engineering, logistics, medical workplace safety, and 3D model design came together in March 2020 to develop something that could help address the PPE shortage. By April, the team completed designs for three different models of 3D-printable face shield frames that, when combined with rubber bands and transparent document protectors, serve as functional and reusable face shields. They then collected seventeen 3D printers from across the university and turned the UCSF Makers Lab in the Kalmanovitz Library into an ad hoc face shield factory that can produce more than 300 shields each day—enough to supply UCSF’s front-line health care workers and then some.[vi] Extra shields are distributed to Bay Area hospitals. Moreover, like the Red Cross with the distribution of the Priscilla War Work Book, the UCSF team is sharing their plans in an open source repository so that others can emulate their efforts.[vii] This allows those with access to 3D printers and a few dollars’ worth of office supplies to contribute to the ongoing PPE shortage by producing face shields that have been designed, tested, and vetted by experts at one of the nation’s leading medical institutions.

Certainly, there are remarkable similarities to be drawn between the modern crisis and those in the past. Once again, the government was unprepared for a crisis despite advanced warning. Once again, people are working in the front lines to save others despite inadequate supplies. And once again, like the First World War and the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, the coronavirus pandemic is a devastating event likely to be measured in the tally of lives lost. In the face of such grim statistics, it is easy to fall into cynicism and say that history is repeating.

In 1905, philosopher George Santayana explored the notion of progress—the idea that things move toward improvement—and stated that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[viii] This is likely the origin of the aphorism “history repeats itself.” But Santaya was not making a hopeless argument; rather, he noted that if progress is to be achieved, it will be because humans not only record the past, they engage with it, learn from it, and seek to understand it. And how that is achieved depends on the ability to draw relatable connections with the past that emphasize human agency. In 1918, knitters took up their needles. Today, a team of scientists, engineers, and others figured out how to make face shields using 3D printers and office supplies. These may seem like small contributions in the grand scheme of things, but they are important examples of positive human agency in the face of crisis.


[i] Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Personal Protective Equipment.” http://osha.gov/SLTC/personalprotectiveequipment/

[ii] Elsa Schappel Barsaloux and the American National Red Cross, The Priscilla War Work Book: Including Directions for Knitted Garments and Comfort Kits from the American Red Cross, and Knitted Garments for the Boy Scout. Boston, Mass.: The Priscilla Publishing Company, 1917. Available at the HathiTrust Digital Library. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/loc.ark:/13960/t2988wd21

[iii] Paula Becker, “Knitting for Victory – World War I,” Historylink.org, 2004. https://www.historylink.org/File/4721

[iv] “Thirty-Seven New Cases Found in S.F.,” San Francisco Chronicle 10 Oct. 1918, 3; “Hassler Urges Churches and Theaters to Close,” San Francisco Chronicle 17 Oct. 1918, 5.

[v] “Wear a Mask and Save Your Life!” San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Oct. 1918.

[vi] Robin Marks, “Lifesaving Face Shields for Health Care Workers are Newest 3D-Printing Project at UCSF,” University of California, San Francisco. April 7, 2020. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/04/417101/lifesaving-face-shields-health-care-workers-are-newest-3d-printing-project-ucsf

[vii] Jenny Tai, “UCSF 3D Printed Face Shield Project,” UCSF Library, April 1, 2020. https://library.ucsf.edu/news/ucsf-3d-printed-face-shield-project

[viii] George Santayana, The Life of Reason. 1: Reason in Common Sense, Reprint (New York: Dover Publications, 1982), p. 284. Available at the Gutenberg Project. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15000/15000-h/15000-h.htm

Dr. Robert E. Allen, Jr., First Black Clinical Professor of Surgery at UCSF

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Robert E. Allen, Jr., MD, (1935-2018), was born in Blountstown, Florida and always aspired to become a doctor. In pursuit of his dreams, Allen received a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Florida A&M University, master’s degree in Genetics from Michigan State University, and a doctorate in Medicine from Meharry Medical College. He completed his residency in surgery at UC San Francisco, and a fellowship in surgery oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Allen also completed two additional postdoctoral fellowships in surgery at the National Institute of Health and peripheral vascular research at San Francisco General Hospital. As a SFGH fellow in trauma, he organized the ambulance paramedic program while training under F. William Blaisdell, MD.

Robert Allen Jr. in hospital, David Powers collection, 1990-1991
Robert Allen Jr., David Powers collection, 1990-1991

Dr. Allen began his career at UCSF as a Surgical Oncologist, specializing in Melanoma Surgery. He soon became the first Black Clinical Professor of Surgery at UC San Francisco, serving as a faculty member for over four decades.

Allen was a cofounder of the Northern California Melanoma Center with Dr. Lynn E. Spitler and other surgeons. Here, he participated in consultation panels and surgeries on the Center’s patients until his retirement.

He has authored many articles for medical periodicals, wrote chapters in medical publications, and spoke a medical conventions throughout the United States and Europe. In addition, he was a member of various honor societies, including the UCSF Naffziger Surgical Society.

To learn more about Dr. Allen’s work, check out these articles:

https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.31378005703296?urlappend=%3Bseq=416

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Allen+RE+Jr

*Authored by Jazmin Dew*

More than Meets the Eye: Restoring the Danz Collection

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Guest post by Tracy Power Objects Conservation and Lesley Bone

Funding for this project was generously provided by the Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology at UCSF.

Since 1963, the UCSF Archives & Special Collections holdings have included the historic Danz collection of ocular pathology specimens. The set, one of 13 believed to have been made, was originally intended as a teaching tool for use in medical schools. These blown orbs, some still retaining a long delicate stem, were made in Germany, in the 1880’s, by master glassblower, Amandus Muller. Each glass eyeball depicts, in minute detail, the various diseases and defects that can afflict the eye and is a unique masterpiece of the art of glass making. 

In June 2018 the collection was examined by Tracy Power and Lesley Bone to determine the nature and scope of condition problems that these objects.  Past treatments and current breakages were evaluated, the deterioration of the glass was examined, and current storage conditions were assessed.

While the majority of the glass eyeballs were in stable condition, there were ironically a couple that were themselves suffering from glass disease. This presents with a sticky surface; as a component of the glass leaches out of the surface due to an instability in the glass mix. These surfaces readily attract dust.

Of the previously repaired items, some were in stable condition, but most were in poor condition due to deterioration of the repair materials used and inferior skills of the person or people doing the repairs. One particularly peculiar repair was filled with bright red dental wax.

 The eyeballs were stored in their original compartmented box, with light damaged (faded), velvet-covered cavities for each specimen, and a hinged lid with a glass cover.  The box was still serviceable, but the cavities for the eyeballs had wads of old cotton wool, which was not suitable for the collection since the blown balls retained the thin tubular glass extensions that had been snapped from the rod when the ball was blown. These tended to snag on the cotton.

A treatment plan was agreed upon which would include upgrading the storage container, cleaning all of the glass eyeballs, and repairing the broken glass orbs.

Improved Housing

The eyeballs were removed sequentially for cleaning, and at that time the cavities in the display box were cleaned and new, improved supports were made.  The old cotton wool was replaced with new storage materials that will not be as likely to snag the glass tips.  Small pillows were made of polyester batting in Holytex fabric.  The glass pane in the box was cleaned with detergent and water.  Several discolored areas of paper on the box were toned with conservation stable watercolors and some lifting edges of paper were glued down.

Danz collection of ocular pathology specimens
Old cotton wool was removed and replaced by individually made pillows of archival materials.

Cleaning of the glass eyeballs

Each glass eyeball was carefully cleaned.  A detergent designed specifically for cleaning glass was used for this process.  Handling the eyeballs safely was a major concern and we ended up using foam tubes to make little doughnuts for the glass balls to sit in.  The foam was held in place with toothpicks, so their creation and adjustment was relatively quick. During the cleaning we identified some additional cracks in the glass eyeballs that hadn’t been obvious until they were wet up.  This step was very satisfying as the eyeballs went from dull and cloudy to glistening after cleaning.

Cleaning of the glass eyeballs
Cleaning the glass and the compartments in the box.

Repairing of Glass Eyeballs

Before the eyeballs could be repaired, those with unsightly or failing old repairs had to be undone.  The method varied depending on the types of repair materials previously used.  Several of the repairs had been done with red wax.  The wax remained soft and sticky making it messy and it did not closely resemble glass.  The wax material was removed by gently warming it.  Some of the other old adhesives had failed after becoming brittle.  The brittle material could be brushed from the surfaces, with special care taken to not scratch the glass.  Other old repair materials were removed with solvents.

Repairing the individual eyeballs was the most challenging part of the process, as they are thin and delicate.  Added to that, the high-grade epoxy that was designed for glass conservation can take several days to fully set.  While this can be advantageous, as it allows adjustment of pieces, it also means the fine shards have to be held in place for long periods of time while the resin sets. An advantage of this epoxy is that it is very thin and can be fed by capillary action into cracks.  That property was useful for many of the eyeballs. Also this adhesive has the added advantage of being far superior to commercially available epoxy resins in terms of long-term stability and greater light-stability, therefore it does not yellow like commercially available epoxies. 

Once the eyeballs were repaired, a few had areas where the fragments of the glass were still missing. Glass eyeballs that were incomplete were filled with tinted thermoplastic resin mixtures and details such as veins, were inpainted (inpainting is the process of restoring lost or deteriorated surface decoration or details on an artwork) with commercially ground pigments in acrylic resin.

The glass eyeballs were incredible to work on.   They were beautifully made, if often difficult to look at.  Only one of the eyeballs examined was failing due to unstable glass, or a poor match between the cream under layer and the colored surface glass.  The glass blower had incredible mastery in working with glass in addition to skill in depicting the defects and conditions.  We hope that after this conservation project the glass eyeballs continue to illustrate medical conditions and inspire awe for years to come.