Philip A. Shaffer Papers


Reference code


Level of description



Philip A. Shaffer Papers


  • 1910-1958 (Creation)


8.95 cubic feet (20 boxes)

Name of creator


Biographical history

Philip A. Shaffer (1881-1960) was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, son of Joseph H. and Hannah Anderson Shaffer. After preliminary education in Martinsburg, he entered the University of West Virginia at the age of 15 and, after receiving his AB, attended Harvard University, obtaining his PhD in biological chemistry in 1904. Shaffer married Nan Jefferson Evans in 1904. The couple had three children, Jane Jefferson Prince of St. Louis, Nancy Elizabeth Shaffer, and Philip Anderson Shaffer, Jr.

While working for his doctorate at Harvard, he was a research biological chemist at McLean Hospital in Waverly, Massachusetts, 1900-1903. After graduation from Harvard, Shaffer became Assistant and Instructor of Chemical Pathology at Cornell University Medical College in New York, remaining there for six years. In 1910 he was appointed Professor of Biological Chemistry and Head of the Department at Washington University School of Medicine, a position he retained until 1946. He twice served as Dean of the School, from 1915 to 1919 and from 1937 to 1946. He was Distinguished Service Professor of Biochemistry from 1946 to 1952, becoming Emeritus in 1951 when he retired from the Medical School Faculty. His teaching career was interrupted briefly during World War I when he served as a Major in the U.S. Army, A.E.F., being given the responsibility for the diets of the overseas personnel. Shaffer was a member of the following societies: Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Academy of Sciences, American Society of Biological Chemists (Secretary 1913-1915, President 1923-1924), American Philosophical Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, Phi Kappa Psi, Alpha Tau Omega.

Shaffer first worked with Otto Folin and his first scientific publication, in 1901, concerned the quantitative determination of uric acid in urine. Later papers were published which dealt both with broad concepts of metabolism over a wide field, and with specific chemical methods of study. One of his early important contributions was his study of metabolism in typhoid fever, which lead to the development of the Coleman-Shaffer high caloric diet in the treatment of that disease. Interest then shifted to relationships of carbohydrate and fat metabolism, with special emphasis on the significance of ketosis. In these studies he collaborated with many of his students and junior staff members - Williams McKim Marriott, Roger S. Hubbard, Michael Somogyi, Alexis F. Hartmann, Edward A. Doisy, Theodore E. Friedemann, and Ethel Ronzoni. Of special interest, Shaffer developed a rapid method of measuring the sugar in small amounts of blood. Banting and Best used his finding in their discovery and assay of insulin. A case arose not long thereafter where insulin was needed to save the lives of two infants in the St. Louis Children's Hospital. Shaffer followed Banting and Best's method. That experience quickly led to understanding that strong acid is needed in the original extraction from the pancreas, and that insulin is a protein and it could be highly concentrated by isoelectric precipitation. At that time, such facts were unknown, either to the Toronto investigators or to the Eli Lilly scientists, who were encountering difficulty in getting consistently potent insulin preparations by the original method. Shaffer's contributions hastened the commercial production of insulin. In his later years, Shaffer became interested in oxidation-reduction reactions, and in this area his contributions were also of significance.

Shaffer published a total of 72 scientific papers. Yet it is probably fair to state that by far the greatest part of his time and efforts were concerned with administrative issues of the School and University that came before him as a member of the Senate and Executive Faculty and as Dean.

Those of us who were privileged to work with Shaffer admired him most for his extraordinary ability to perceive unusual talent in very young people, a trait which led to many valuable appointments to the School of Medicine (W. McKim Marriott, E. A. Doisy, Evarts A. Graham, E. W. West, Carl and Gerty Cori, David Barr, Willard Allen, Barry Wood, R. A. Moore, to mention just a few), for his tremendous courage in never wavering from the high principles which he set for himself and the School of Medicine, and for his extreme loyalty to the School and his utter unselfishness in working for it.

Shaffer died December 4, 1960.

*Adapted from a statement written for the Executive Faculty meeting of December, 1960 by Alexis F. Hartmann, Sr., Carl F. Cori, and Joseph Erlanger. Abbreviated and edited for this introduction November 2001.

Scope and content

The Shaffer papers include ten document series including correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, short publications, notes, and his Ph.D. dissertation. Major subjects are his research work in biochemistry and the administration of WUSM as dean and head of the Department of Biological Chemistry. His work with Barnes Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, American Society of Biological Chemists and the U. S. Army in World War I are also subjects.

In 2006, this collection contained many deteriorated brittle carbon copies on newsprint and newspaper clippings that chipped or fractured with minimal handling. The acidic newsprint had stained surrounding documents and was losing contrast due to browning. Archives staff made acid-free photocopies to preserve content and contrast for future use and preservation microfilming.

System of arrangement

Conditions governing access

The collection is open and accessible for research.

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Users of the collection should read and abide by the Rights and Permissions guidelines at the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives.

Users of the collection who wish to cite items from this collection, in whole or in part, in any form of publication must request, sign, and return a Statement of Use form to the Archives.

For detailed information regarding use of this collection, contact the Archives and Rare Book Department of the Becker Library (

Preferred Citation:

Item description, Reference Code, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University in St. Louis.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

  • Latin

Language and script notes

Finding aids

Generated finding aid

Custodial history

In 1965, the Dean’s Office transferred to the Library most of the Shaffer Papers from the reorganization of the Medical School to Shaffer’s retirement in 1946. The transfer was said to include files pertaining to Shaffer’s work in biochemistry and to the administration of the Biochemistry department. Material collected by Shaffer on general school problems during his tenure as Dean, was retained in the files of the Dean’s Office (Library notes, vol. 5, no. 3, Christmas 1965, p. 3.). Significant additions to the Shaffer Papers came from the Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs (76-018) and Jane Shaffer Prince (93-022, 95-028. 96-005). Specifics are noted in the individual series.

Immediate source of acquisition

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information


Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related archival materials

Specialized notes

Alternative identifier(s)

Rules or conventions

"Describing Archives: A Content Standard, Second Edition (DACS), 2013."

Sources used

Archivist's note

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Place access points

Accession area