In 1939, Dorothy Hixon Clendening presented the Hixon Laboratory to the University of Kansas. One floor of the laboratory was established as a library devoted to medical history. At that time, Logan Clendening donated to the library his collection of history of medicine works, as well as works in the basic sciences. Upon Dr. Clendening's death in 1945, his collection of approximately six thousand volumes was bequeathed to the University of Kansas Endowment Association. Clendening's generosity was augmented by a collection of Chinese objects and books on Chinese medicine presented by Dr. Matthew W. Pickard. Dr. E. H. Hashinger gave the library a collection of early nursing bottles and surgical instruments.
Through the years, the Library received important collections from Ralph H. Major, Edward H. Skinner, Russell L. Haden, and Thor Jager. These items, in addition to ongoing acquisitions, eventually increased the number of volumes to approximately 25,000.
On July 28, 1983, the Library received formal designation as The Clendening History of Medicine Library. Earlier that year, the Executive Committee of the Medical Faculty met and unanimously approved a resolution recognizing that "the Clendening Library houses one of the most outstanding collections of books and artifacts relative to the history of medicine that exists in the United States". Further, they opined "that the continued growth and development of all aspects of human medicine will be best achieved if based upon the history of medicine".
During the 1980's and 1990's, the Library continued to acquire rare books, both through gifts and through direct purchase. In 1998, the Library participated in the Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine sale at Christie's. Purchases included a collection of works on mesmerism and Georg Bartisch's Ophthalmoduleia.
Additionally, during this time, the Library acquired numerous new works in the history of medicine and expanded its scope to include biomedical ethics and medical humanities. Presently, the Library holds approximately 29,000 monographs, 1800 bound serials, and numerous manuscripts.