Home Page Henry L. Jaffe (1896-1979)

Henry L. Jaffe (1896-1979)

My father Henry L. Jaffe was born in New York City and died there at age 82. He was a pathologist who specialized in diseases of bone, and was known for identifying, naming, or defining a number of conditions (including osteoblastoma, osteoid-osteoma, giant-cell tumor, eosinophilic granuloma, pigmented villonodular synovitis, chronoblastoma, and nonossifying fibroma). He described this work in many papers and wrote two books [1-2] that became standard medical references.

He served for fourty years (from his appointment in 1925 at the young age of 28, until his retirement in 1964) as Director of Laboratories of a hospital in New York City—an unusual fixed-point compared with today's world of rapid mobility. Many persons sought his diagnostic opinions, that often differed from other experts. He once confided to me that only one third of the cases sent to him for a second opinion had correct initial diagnoses. He prided himself that in many cases his diagnoses avoided patients undergoing unnecessary radical procedures.

On occasion, my father taught orthopedic pathology at several of the medical colleges and universities in New York City. My father told me that in the 1950's, the Harvard Medical School approached him to become the Chairman of Pathology, but he decided in the end not to leave New York.

Dad believed in using high-quality images to convey medical information. As a consequence, he collaborated extensively with a local medical photographer, and he also became a consultant to the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester. The results of this work ensured that the illustrations in his books and his lectures set new standards of quality for their time.

He spent several years to design his own course on bone pathology, which incorporated extensive illustrative material. He offered that popular course privately in his laboratory at the hospital. Much of the material he developed for this course appeared in a book [3], published over a decade after his death. In the preface, Dr. Marcove wrote “On completing Memorial's oncology fellowship, I had the honor of returning to work with Dr. Jaffe, this time as a clinical instructor in his course on bone pathology. I was the only orthopaedic surgeon to have been able to obtain this position. We gave this three-month-long course two nights a week for over a decade. Pathologists, radiologists, and orthopaedists came from the major medical centers in New York and New Jersey, as well as from cities around the country, to attend this course, which was oversubscribed every year.”

My father served as a consultant to different medical institutions, including the Walter Reed Hospital's institute of pathology, and he was a member of numerous medical organizations.

In 1953 Dad became an honorary member of the Royal Society of Medicine, and served as their Coronation Lecturer. This led my parents to attend the Coronation of Elizabeth in Westminister Abby, after which they toured the British Isles for several weeks with my father presenting lectures around the United Kingdom.

Mr. H. Jackson Burroughs was President of the RSM at the time, and he became a frequent correspondent with my parents. (My father explained that in England the title “Mr.” was reserved for doctors who were surgeons.) Dad also interacted much with the London pathologist Dr. Hubert A. Sissons from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. Sissons had met my father two years earlier when spending a year in the US on a British fellowship. Hailing from Tasmania, I recall Dr. Sissons' appealing Australian accent. Eventually Dr. Sissons succeeded my father after his retirement for some years, before returning to England. (Both these doctors served as my gracious host in London on a number of occasions during my student years.)

In 1979, Dr. Sissons expressed in a letter to me his experiences 28 years earlier during visits to my father's laboratory [4], “I will never forget the way in which he could recall details of individual cases studied many years previously, and the skill with which he could use these details to help solve the diagnostic problems of the minute, or to build up the image of a new idea. His opinions, whether on pathology, or on other subjects, were put forward in an unambiguous and forthright manner, and with a telling and highly individual phraseology.”

My father had his special way express certain ideas. For example, when asked about what university he would recommend attending, he would respond that the best one is the “University of Gluteus Maximus.” He meant that persistent hard work counts more in life than the degrees one obtains.

A 1999 article by Dr. Andrew Huvos of the Sloan-Kettering medical center describes Henry L. Jaffe as “the almost forgotton American pioneer in the history of bone pathology” [5].

A 2005 biography in Springer's Who's Who in Orthopedics begins by stating “Henry L. Jaffe, MD, is considered by many to be the most distinguished bone pathologist of modern times” [6].

My father was a pragmatic, practical person of strong opinions, who certainly would have prefered that his son had pursued a medical career. In spite of this, he remained supportive of my interest in theoretical science—even though he expressed many concerns over the difficulty to succeed in doing such research. In addition to my passion for mathematics and physics, following this direction enabled me to develop outside his gigantic shadow in medicine.


1. Tumors and Tumorous Conditions of the Bones and Joints by Henry L. Jaffe, Philadelphia, Lea and Febiger 1958.

2. Metabolic, Degenerative, and Inflammatory Disesaes of Bones and Joints by Henry L. Jaffe, Phiadelphia, Lea and Febiger 1972.

3. Atlas of Bone Pathology with Clinical and Radiographic Correlations, Based on Henry L. Jaffe's Course by Ralph C. Marcove and Myron Arlen, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippencott Company 1992.

4. Hubert A. Sissons' letter to me of December 5, 1979, with recollections of remarks he made to a medical gathering in New York on November 16, 1979.

5. Henry L. Jaffe (1896-1979), a Pioneering Authority on Bone Diseases: Reflections and an Appreciation, by Andrew G. Huvos, M.D., Annals of Diagnostic Pathology, Volume 3, Number 4 (August) 1999, pp. 260—261.

6. Who's Who in Orthopedics, edited by Seyed Behrooz Mostofi, London, Springer-Verlag, 2005, pp. 161—163.