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The 1917 Clinic started in January 1988 in response to the growing AIDS epidemic in communities within Alabama and surrounding states.

An ever-increasing number of residents with HIV/AIDS, along with patients who were returning home to Alabama from other parts of the country, were beginning to overwhelm the health care delivery system with the special and unique needs associated with HIV.

In addition to specialized medical care, persons living with HIV also required access to social services, specialized nursing care, home health care, hospice, and new treatments available only through clinical research trials. UAB was in a position to provide patients access to clinical drug trials through established networks with both government and industry.

By the time the 1917 Clinic had formed in 1988, a sufficient number of researchers and physicians were already in place. The Clinic provided a specialized environment in which to treat patients and study HIV. The blood and tissue samples collected over the years have been used to learn how HIV causes disease, and have contributed to the development of increasingly more effective treatments.

The 1917 Clinic was named after its original address, 1917 5th Avenue South, and kept its name when it moved in 1993 to the 908 South 20th Street location and again in 2020 when it moved to the current location in the Dewberry Building, 3220 5th Avenue South.