Dr. Jane Cooke Wright, a pioneer in oncology who formalized chemotherapy as a standard treatment for cancer and broke barriers as the highest-ranked African-American woman at a nationally recognized medical institution, died Feb. 19 at her home in Guttenberg, N.J. She was 93.

Born in New York City in 1919, Wright was the daughter of Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright, a revered physician who also made history in the field. In addition to being one of Harvard Medical School’s first African-American graduates, Wright’s father was the first Black doctor appointed to a staff position at a municipal hospital in New York and became the city’s first African-American police surgeon, according to the National Institute of Health.

After graduating from Smith College and New York Medical College, Dr. Wright went on to intern at Bellevue Hospital from 1945 to 1947, serving as a medical assistant resident in internal medicine. Shortly thereafter, she served as a resident at Harlem Hospital, where her father was the director of the Cancer Research Foundation.

While working with her father, Dr. Wright experimented with different chemical agents on leukemia in mice and also began treating patients with anti-cancer drugs. After her father’s death in 1952, Dr. Wright succeeded him as director.

In 1955, she became an associated professor of surgical research at New York University Medical Center. Nearly a decade later, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke. During this year, Dr. Wright also founded the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO).

In 1967, Dr. Wright made history when she was named professor of surgery, head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department and associate dean at New York Medical College. In an era when there were only a few hundred African-American women physicians in the country, Dr. Wright became the highest-ranking Black woman at a nationally recognized medical institution.

During the 1970s, Dr. Wright implemented an expansive program on heart disease, stroke and cancer at New York Medical College and launched a program for doctors to study chemotherapy.

Throughout her 40-year, Dr. Wright wrote over 75 research papers on cancer chemotherapy. She retired in 1987. A family member confirmed to the {New York Times} that she had dementia.

Dr. Wright is survived by her two daughters, Jane and Alison Jones and a sister, Dr. Barbara Wright Piece.


Eric Johnson

Special to the AFRO