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Morris Ziff
  1. Philip Cohen1,
  2. David Ziff2,
  3. Peter E Lipsky3
  1. 1 Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
  2. 2 Retired Clinical Psychologist, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
  3. 3 RILITE Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Peter E Lipsky, RILITE Foundation, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; peterlipsky{at}

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We, rheumatologists, practise in an era when the study of rheumatic diseases and the care of affected patients are rooted in rigorous scientific investigation. This was not the case before the mid-20th century, when Dr Morris Ziff and a few other Pillars of Rheumatology pioneered the application of rigorous basic and clinical science to a nascent field, in which affected people were often regarded as hopeless and incurable. It is important to recall that rheumatology is a very young discipline. Before 1937, there were only six major US centres of rheumatology, and their focus was mainly on disease description. Other than aspirin and gold salts, few specific therapies existed, and most patients were left to journey through the painful natural history of their disease without effective treatment. Three major advances transformed the field: the discovery of rheumatoid factor (RF) by Erik Waaler in 1940 (rediscovered by Harry Rose in 1948); the recognition of the utility of glucocorticoids in rheumatic diseases by Hench and colleagues in 1948; and the discovery that same year of the lupus erythematosus (LE) cell phenomenon by Hargraves. These exciting findings created the opportunity to develop a scientifically based specialty that could make a significant difference in patient lives. However, it took insightful pioneers, such as Morris Ziff, to capitalise on these advances and to provide the intellectual energy to develop the vigorous discipline we see today.

Morris Ziff was born in 1913 in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn to recent Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire. He grew up under modest circumstances. His hopes for a career in medicine were dashed on his father’s unexpected death during his undergraduate years, placing on young Ziff and his brother the responsibility of supporting the family during the depths of the Great Depression. Despite heavy familial responsibilities and while …

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  • Handling editor Josef S Smolen

  • Contributors PC and PEL wrote and edited the manuscript. DZ provided key biographical information, documents, access to Ziff’s memoirs, and editorial input.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.