Skip to main content
King County logo

Responding to AIDS - Home   |    About this Exhibit - Introduction   |    AIDS Emerges   |    Poised to Respond   |    New Programs: Working Together   |    Responding to Fear   |    The AIDS Prevention Project   |    A Leader in Research, Education, and Housing
   |    Expanding Outreach   |    Needle Exchanges   |    The AIDS Omnibus Act: New Mandates   |    Safer Sex: The New Normal?   |    The Legacy   |    Gallery   |    Oral Histories    |    References and Resources

About Responding to AIDS

This exhibit describes the response by the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, from 1982 to 1996, using documents, photographs, graphics, audio, and video from the King County Archives.

The exhibit and oral histories are not intended to provide a comprehensive history of AIDS in Seattle-King County, but rather to document one facet of the history: the accomplishments, challenges, and perspectives of Public Health staff.

In addition, the records presented here are only a small percentage of the Archives’ Public Health collection, and the exhibit only touches on some of the complex issues and challenges faced by the program and the community. Researchers are encouraged to contact the Archives to review the collection, which includes records from beyond this exhibit’s 1996 cutoff date.

A printable version of this exhibit is available upon request. Please email us at to request a copy. The print version is reformatted to a folio layout and provides transcriptions of the oral history clips incorporated throughout the exhibit.

The HIV/AIDS Oral History Project

As the Archives processed the records of the AIDS Prevention Project and began research for this exhibit, former Project Coordinator Tim Burak helped us identify people, places, and events in collection photos. On hearing just a few of Tim's reflections and stories, it became apparent that the unique experiences and perspectives of people working in public health were missing from the familiar narrative of the AIDS epidemic in our region. We hope that the interviews will help complete the historical record.


The emergence of AIDS in major U.S. cities demanded an unprecedented response from the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. Before the syndrome was completely understood and its cause isolated, public health officials embarked on an aggressive program of public education, prevention, patient assessment and counseling, and research.

With leadership and input from individuals personally affected by the disease, the Department worked directly with community organizations to develop programs that addressed the unique needs of at-risk populations and people with AIDS.

The Department’s AIDS Prevention Project would come to serve as a model for public health agencies across the nation, and it informed responses to future public health crises.

The spread of HIV/AIDS in King County would be less significant than in cities such as New York and San Francisco. But by 1996, before effective treatment was developed, over 3,000 people in King County would die from AIDS-related diseases, and the impact of the disease is still felt to this day.



"The ground shifted with AIDS. Our culture shifted, our language shifted, the way we think about relationships, acceptance of different expressions of sexuality - everything changed with AIDS. I don't think yet, even decades later, people even realize what a pivotal moment that was." 

- Ann Downer, AIDS Prevention Project Education Program Coordinator


Oral history interviews with former and current employees of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health were produced with support from a 4Culture Heritage Project Grant funded by the 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax Fund.

We are grateful to all who shared their stories for the oral history project. Thanks to Michael Brown, Lawrence Knopp, and David Reyes---volunteers with the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project---who generously donated their time planning for and conducting the oral history interviews.  Thanks also to King County videographers Tim O'Leary and Judi Chapman for recording the interviews.  Professional transcription services were provided by Jackson Street Associates.

A special thank-yous to Archives staff and volunteers: to King County Archives volunteer Kimberly Mann for her work processing the archival collection, researching, writing, and scanning materials for this exhibit, and planning and applying for grant funding of the HIV/AIDS Oral History Project; to King County Assistant Archivist Rebecca Pixler for her work arranging, processing, and describing the collection; researching and writing for the exhibit and interviews; and for her leadership in pulling together and helping guide the oral history team; and to former Assistant Archivist Amy Holloway who processed the records of Dr. Bob Wood.

Finally, sincere thanks to Tim Burak, Patricia McInturff, Hunter Handsfield, and Dr. Bob Wood for reviewing the site and providing critical feedback and helpful suggestions.

Original editing and Web Design and development by former County Archivist Carol Shenk. Web migration to King County Archives website by Emily Cabaniss and Jen Peters.

Responding to AIDS

An exhibit and oral history project from the King County Archives.

Content warning: The archival records featured in this exhibit discuss sexual behavior and illegal drug use. Please direct questions or comments to

Copyright King County Archives, Seattle Washington, June 2016.




Please note: This exhibit features historical materials relating to HIV/AIDS. For current health information, please visit Public Health, Seattle & King County - HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention and Education.



Oral histories produced with support from a 2015 4Culture Heritage Projects Grant.


TTY Relay 711

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday: 9 am-4 pm

Please note the Archives is closed Wednesdays.