The history of the University of California - San Francisco starts in 1848, the year of the Gold Rush. On January 24, 1848, gold nuggets were found in the millrace at John Sutter's encampment on the American River, setting off a decade-long nationwide wave of "gold fever."
South Carolina surgeon Dr. Hugh H. Toland came west in search of gold, but after a few discouraging months as a miner, he realized that his medical knowledge was potentially more profitable. He sold his claim and headed west to establish a surgical practice in the lively and profitable San Francisco.
In the wake of the 1906 earthquake, the relocation of university science classes from San Francisco to Berkeley was viewed as a temporary measure. Science instruction then became securely entrenched in teaching laboratories at Berkeley, and clinical training was centered at the San Francisco County Hospital and Parnassus Heights in San Francisco.
The University of California Regents were aware of the need for consolidation, but preferred San Francisco as the location for the medical school. In April 1912, they resolved that the medical school should be reunited in San Francisco as soon as possible. In 1916, they commissioned Dean Herbert Moffitt to study medical education around the county and draw up a plan for future development of the medical school at Parnassus. With the exception of the nurses' dorm built across the street from the hospital in 1921, little of Moffitt's plan was realized.
During the 1920s, the school had gone virtually leaderless. The University of California Regents were informed of the acute need for change at the medical school in the late 1920s. The first task was to restore the power of the deanship at the University of California School of Medicine and select an individual of sufficient vision and strength of personality to sustain a dramatic reform program.
On December 13, 1927, a plan was presented that the popular San Francisco physician Dr. R. Langley Porter be brought out of retirement to lead the medical school. The Regents quickly approved Porter's appointment and the new dean's authority was enhanced by mandating that the advisory board of the medical school should advise the University president through the dean's office. The dean would serve as the sole representative of the president of the university to the faculty, students, and nurses. In early 1928, the Departments of Bacteriology and Pharmacology were transferred from Berkeley to new labs outfitted on the third floor of the medical school building.
The Graduate Division at University of California San Francisco was established in 1961. Harold Harper of the Biochemistry Department was the first chairman of the Graduate Division. The division has since expanded to include 20 degree programs.