The Eye

Roberts CS.

Publication Details

The Doctors Friedenwald

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Ophthalmologic progress in the United States of America is indebted to contributions from three generations of the Friedenwald family of Baltimore. The first Friedenwald in Baltimore arrived penniless from Altenbuseck, Germany, in 1831, looking for opportunity. He became a well-known philanthropist before his death in 1893, and the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of a scholar.

Aaron Friedenwald was born in Baltimore in 1836 and began medicine at age 21 under the preceptorship of Nathan R. Smith. Friedenwald graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore in 1860 at age 24 and went abroad for two years, where he studied in Berlin under Von Graefe, whose assistants were Liebreich and Schweiger, and in Vienna with Arlt, whose operative skill was unchallenged. When he returned to Baltimore, he combined a general practice with ophthalmology, for he was the only practicing "eye doctor" in the city, George Frick having retired from practice. In 1873 he was elected professor of ophthalmology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which position he held until his death in 1902. A major figure in raising the standards of medical education, Friedenwald proposed the creation of the present Association of American Medical Colleges in 1890. His papers and addresses covered a range of ophthalmologic diseases, including "Opticneuritis," "Optic Nerve Atrophy," "Ocular Paralysis," "Uraemic Amaurosis," and "The Relation of the Eye to Spinal Diseases." He also wrote on "The History of Jewish Physicians" in 1897. His gentle manners were a medicine in themselves. An account of the Life, Letters and Addresses of Aaron Friedenwald was prepared by his eldest son, Harry, in 1906.

Harry Friedenwald was born in Baltimore in 1864, graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1884 and the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Baltimore in 1886. After a year in residency at City Hospital in Baltimore, he went abroad. His chief influences were Hirschberg in Berlin, whose History of Ophthalmology is a classic, and Politzer, the otologist in Vienna. No doubt Friedenwald's interest in medical history was stimulated in Berlin. He returned to Baltimore after three years and entered practice in ophthalmology and otology. He succeeded his father in 1902 as professor of ophthalmology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, which position he held until 1929, when he became emeritus professor. He wrote many articles, about 115 in ophthalmology, 20 in otology, and 50 in history. His finest medical contributions concerned ocular manifestations of general diseases, such as arteriosclerosis, systemic hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. The high point of his professional career was perhaps in 1930, when he delivered the Doyne Memorial Lecture on "Pathologic Changes in the Retinal Blood Vessels in Arteriosclerosis and Hypertension" before the Oxford Ophthalmologic Society. His interest in history was slow to mature. His first historical paper was written when he was age 34, after he had authored 50 scientific papers. His major interest in history culminated in a book, The Jews and Medicine, published in 1944. He was a long-time friend of William H. Welch and a bibliophile. His library of Jewish works were bequeathed to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, at his death in 1950.

Jonas S. Friedenwald was born in Baltimore in 1897 and graduated with a B.A. in 1916 and M.D. in 1920 from Johns Hopkins University. While working with Frederick Verhoeff in pathology, he obtained an M.A. from Harvard University in 1922. After a year's preceptorship under de Schweinitz at the University of Pennsylvania, he returned to Baltimore at age 26 to begin practice with his father. As Alan C. Woods pointed out,

It is notable that he had no formal training in any of the special Ophthalmologic hospitals of that era.But when one considers that Jonas had been trained in ophthalmology in his home from his first days in medicine, that he undoubtedly learned more in one year than the average student could assimilate in three, that he utilized to the limit every educational facility available to him, this training was more than enough. (Woods, 1956)

The family fortunes had been established, affording this Friedenwald an opportunity to practice before noon and research after noon. In 1923 he was appointed instructor in ophthalmic pathology at Johns Hopkins University and directed much research conducted at the Wilmer Institute of Ophthalmology, which opened in 1926. He was appointed associate professor of ophthalmology at Hopkins in 1931, which position he held until his death in 1955. Attaining greater fame than his father or grandfather, he is considered the eminent Ophthalmologic scientist of his generation in the United States. Many of his 140 papers concerned the formation and dynamics of intraocular fluid. He designed an ophthalmoscope in 1928, developed by American Optical Company. His book, Pathology of the Eye, appeared in 1929 when he was age 32, the same year as his classic paper on "The Pathogenesis of Acute Glaucoma," which established the role of edema of the ciliary body. His book, Atlas of Ophthalmic Pathology, appeared in 1952. He loved physics and mathematics and employed them in work. An avocation was painting, about which he wrote in a fascinating essay, "Knowledge of Space Perception and the Portrayal of Depth in Painting."


  1. Friedenwald H. Life, letters and addresses of Aaron Friedenwald. Baltimore: Lord Baltimore Press, 1906.
  2. Friedenwald H. The Jews and medicine. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1944.
  3. Friedenwald J. Pathology of the eye. New York: Macmillan, 1929.
  4. Patz A. Jonas S. Friedenwald, man of science. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1980;19:1139–49. [PubMed: 6998915]
  5. Temkin O. Harry Friedenwald. Bull Hist Med. 1951;25:185–90. [PubMed: 14821647]
  6. Woods AC. Jonas S. Friedenwald: in memoriam. Bull Johns Hopkins Hosp. 1956;99:23–28. [PubMed: 13342665]