Collection on AIDS and Public Health, 1985-1999

Extent: 2 boxes, 1 oversize drawer
The Museum of the City of New York Collection on AIDS and Public Health contains materials relating to AIDS/HIV education, outreach, awareness, and activism in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s.

Historical Note
The public first became aware of the AIDS health crisis in 1981, when the New York Times published an article, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals”, about an increase in cases of a rare and rapidly fatal form of cancer affecting gay men in California and New York. Little information or support was available to individuals with the disease, known first as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), or to those in at-risk communities. The uncertainty, and misinformation, led to a chaotic and grief-filled period during the 1980s. In 1982 a group of six concerned gay men— including Larry Kramer, the eventual author of “The Normal Heart,” a play focusing on the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s—formed Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in New York City with the purpose of raising money for research. The organization grew to become the world’s leading provider of HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy. By 1994 AIDS had caused nearly 50,000 deaths in New York City alone. Improvements in treatment, drugs called protease inhibitors, came the following year, which in combination with outreach and safe sex education led to a decline in new HIV/AIDS cases.

Scope and Content
The Museum of the City of New York Collection on AIDS and Public Health contains materials relating to AIDS/HIV education and awareness in New York City, particularly during the first decade of the epidemic. The materials mainly reflect the efforts by GMHC and other organizations to raise awareness, combat the spread of the disease, and to support individuals with HIV/AIDS and those in the at-risk communities.

The main formats of material in the collection are annual reports, pamphlets, booklets and fliers. A few organizations and events feature prominently in the collection:

AIDS Walk New York
The annual New York City AIDS Walk is the largest single-day HIV/AIDS fundraising event in the world, and has raised over $139 million in thirty years of walks. The event benefits GMHC and dozens of other HIV/AIDS service organizations in the tri-state area. The collection contains materials from the 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1999 walks.

Columbia University’s “Study of Community Reactions to AIDS”
The study was developed in 1982 by Dr. John L. Martin, PhD, MPH, at the School of Public Health. It examined the effects of AIDS on the gay male community, and aimed to generate information on safe sex and natural defenses against transmission. The study involved two parts – interviews and surveys to measure the social and emotional effects of AIDS on the community, and blood draws to provide data on the prevalence of HIV antibody in the community. Dr. Martin led the study for ten years, until he died of AIDS in 1992. The collection contains study correspondence from Columbia to the materials’ donor, Mark E. Ouderkirk, ranging from 1985 to 1992.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis
GMHC is the world’s first and leading HIV/AIDS care and service organization. The organization provides various services for individuals with HIV/AIDS and those in the at-risk community, including medical treatment, counseling, legal services, and job placement. It also aims to end the AIDS epidemic by helping to shift cultural beliefs, promote smart behaviors and build strong communities. The collection contains annual reports, newsletters, posters and safe sex literature and materials distributed by GMHC, ranging from 1986 to 1992.

Click here to view full finding aid and container list for the Collection on Aids and Public Health.

The Museum is thankful to the support of the NEH, and any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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