Born in the Summer of Love: The Haight Ashbury Free Clinic Transformed Drug Addiction Treatment


The influx of hippies to San Francisco in 1967 during the Summer of Love created a surge in health care needs, including many suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, pneumonia, food poisoning, and bad drug experiences.

“As a straight-laced zoology student at UC Berkeley in the 1950s, David Smith never imagined himself as a drug expert giving free medical care to ailing hippies in the middle of the Summer of Love. His role in founding the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic was a world away from Oklahoma, where his grandparents were farm workers during the Dust Bowl era, and Bakersfield, Calif., where his mother became a nurse and inspired him to go into medicine. Both his parents died young and Smith was an orphan by 19. With some money he inherited, he bought an apartment in Haight-Ashbury in 1960, which then was a working-class neighborhood. He enrolled in medical school and pharmacology graduate school at nearby UC San Francisco, graduating in 1964. By the summer of 1967, he was directing the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Screening Unit at San Francisco General Hospital. That was the Summer of Love, when the streets of Haight-Ashbury filled with tens of thousands of itinerant, indigent, and intoxicated flower children, and Smith suddenly found himself a drug expert in the center of a massive drug epidemic, pushing to provide health care to a population shunned by the mainstream. The hippies flowing into San Francisco in 1967 weren’t embraced by everyone with open arms, and city health officials at the time thought that a clinic in the Haight would only encourage them to stay. Smith, who had never been involved in activism before, saw the suffering in his neighborhood, and inspired by other free movements like the Diggers (who served free meals) and a bit of drug experimentation of his own, decided he had to do something. During a public meeting with city health officials that took place on UCSF’s Parnassus campus, Smith first declared, ‘Health care is a right, not a privilege,’ which would become the slogan for the free clinic movement. … The clinic opened its doors on June 7, 1967. Shivering hippies lined up down the street and the clinic treated 250 people the first day, 350 the second day. ‘They came in with gonorrhea and cut feet and colds and pneumonia, because they came from all over the country, and they thought it was sunny in San Francisco in the summer, and it wasn’t,’ said Smith. There were also injuries from botched abortions, gastrointestinal disorders from eating rotten food, not to mention hallucinations and bad trips from the plentiful drugs. …”
University of California San Francisco (Video)


The Haight Ashbury Free Clinic began receiving more attention, including coverage in the New York Times. It also began receiving more support for its work, including its first government grant in 1971.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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