February celebrates Black History Month, an annual recognition of African
American courage, resiliency and achievements in U.S. history. This year,
the theme focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness and the
medical professionals who made a profound impact in their fields and society.
In honor of Black History Month,
Southeast Georgia Health System shares the story of Jane Cooke Wright, M.D., an African American pioneer
who changed the face of cancer medicine. A physician, professor and researcher,
Wright contributed significantly to chemotherapy, revolutionizing oncological
research. Additionally, Wright authored 135 scientific papers and served
on multiple national and international programs to treat cancer patients,
instruct doctors, and develop guidelines for clinical trials.
Born in New York City on November 20, 1919, Jane Cooke Wright was the oldest
daughter of Louis T. Wright, the first African American graduate of Harvard
Medical School. Wright graduated with honors from New York Medical College
in 1945. In 1947, she married Harvard Law graduate David Jones Jr. with
whom she had two daughters.
Wright joined her father, founder of the
Cancer Research Foundation, at Harlem Hospital in 1949. Together, they researched anti-cancer chemical
testing, forming the idea of personalized medicine based on individual
patients. In 1951, she identified the drug methotrexate as effective against
cancerous tumors, establishing chemotherapy as a viable treatment for cancer.
At the age of 33, following her father’s death, Wright was appointed
head of the Cancer Research Foundation. In 1955, she became an associate
professor of surgical research and the director of cancer chemotherapy
research at New York University Medical Center. Wright implemented a comprehensive
program to study stroke and heart disease, and another to instruct doctors
in chemotherapy. By 1967, she was the head of the Cancer Chemotherapy
Department and associate dean at New York College.
In addition to her research, Wright was the only woman to help found the
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in 1964 and became the first
woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society in 1971. President
Lyndon Johnson appointed her to the National Cancer Advisory Board and
the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke.
With multiple awards and recognitions, she retired in 1985. On February
19, 2013, Dr. Jane Cooke Wright died at the age of 93. In honor of her
pioneering spirit, the ASCO annually awards a researcher with the Jane
C. Wright, MD, Young Investigator Award, a grant to spearhead cancer research.
Her legacy lives on in hospitals, clinics, universities, research laboratories
and most notably, in the lives of those she has saved due to her groundbreaking