Jane C. Wright

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Jane C. Wright
Jane Cooke Wright.jpg
Born (1919-11-30)November 30, 1919
Manhattan, New York City, USA
Died February 19, 2013(2013-02-19) (aged 93)
Guttenberg, New Jersey, USA
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Oncology
Institutions Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center
New York University
New York Medical College
Education Smith College
New York Medical College
Known for Development of chemotherapies; Co-founder of the American Society of Clinical Oncology

Jane Cooke Wright (also known as "Jane Jones") (November 30, 1919 – February 19, 2013) was a pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon noted for her contributions to chemotherapy. In particular, Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. She also pioneered the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast cancer and skin cancer (mycosis fungoides).


Early life and education[edit]

Wright was born in Manhattan to Corinne Cooke, a public school teacher, and Louis T. Wright, a graduate of Meharry Medical College and one of the first African American graduates from Harvard Medical School.[1] Her father, Louis Tompkins Wright, was from a medical family. He was the child of Dr. Ceah Ketcham Wright, a physician graduated from Bencake Medical College, and stepson of William Fletcher Penn, the first African-American graduate from Yale Medical College.[2] Wright's uncle, Harold Dadford West, was also a physician, ultimately president of Meharry Medical College.[3] In becoming physicians, Jane Wright and her sister Barbara Wright Pierce both followed in their father's and grandfathers' footsteps, overcoming both gender and racial bias succeed in a largely white male profession.[2]

As a child, Wright attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, then the "Ethical Culture" school and the "Fieldston School",[1] from which she graduated in 1938.[2] She graduated with an art degree from Smith College in 1942[4] and then earned a medical degree, graduating with honors in 1945 from the New York Medical College.[1]


After medical school, she did residencies at Bellevue Hospital (1945–46) and Harlem Hospital (1947–48), completing her tenure at Harlem Hospital as chief resident.[5] In 1949 she joined her father in research at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center, which he had founded,[5] succeeding him as director when he died in 1952.[2] In 1955 she accepted a research appointment at New York University Bellevue Medical Center, as Associate Professor of Surgical Research and Director of Cancer Research.[5]

Wright's research work involved studying the effects of various drugs on tumors, and she was the first to identify methotrexate, one of the foundational chemotherapy drugs, as an effective tool against cancerous tumors.[2] Wright's early work brought chemotherapy out of the realm of an untested, experimental hypothetical treatment, into the realm of tested, proven effective cancer therapeutics—thus literally saving millions of lives.[2] Wright later pioneered combinatorial work in chemotherapeutics, focusing not simply on administering multiple drugs, but sequential and dosage variations to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and minimize side effects.[2] She was successful in identifying treatments for both breast and skin cancer, developing a chemotherapy protocol that increased skin cancer patient lifespans up to ten years.[2] She published more than 75 papers on cancer chemotherapeutics during her career.[5]

During her career, Cooke also collaborated with cell biologist and physiologist Jewel Plummer Cobb, another noted African American woman scientist.[3]

In addition to research and clinical work, Wright was professionally active. In 1964, she was one of seven founders of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and in 1971, she was the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society. Wright was appointed associated dean and head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department at New York Medical College in 1967, apparently the highest ranked African American physician at a prominent medical college at the time, and certainly the highest ranked African American woman physician.[5] She was appointed to the National Cancer Advisory Board (also known as the National Cancer Advisory Council) by US President Lyndon Johnson, serving from 1966 to 1970.[5][6] and the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke (1964–65).[6] Wright was also internationally active, leading delegations of oncologists to China and the Soviet Union, and countries in Africa and Eastern Europe.[5] She worked in Ghana in 1957 and in Kenya in 1961, treating cancer patients.[2] From 1973 to 1984 she served as vice president of the African Research and Medical Foundation.[2]

Wright retired in 1985, and was appointed emerita professor at New York Medical College in 1987.

Personal biography[edit]

Wright married David D. Jones, an attorney, and the couple had two daughters, Jane Wright Jones and Alison Jones .

Selected publications[edit]

Notable research papers
  • J. C. Wright, J. P. Cobb, S. L. Gumport, F. M. Golomb, and D. Safadi, "Investigation of the Relationship Between Clinical and Tissue Response to Chemotherapeutic Agents on Human Cancer", New England Journal of Medicine 257 (1957): 1207-1211.
  • J. C. Wright, J. I. Plummer, R. S. Coidan, and L. T. Wright, "The in Vivo and in Vitro Effects of Chemotherapeutic Agents on Human Neoplastic Diseases", The Harlem Hospital Bulletin 6 (1953): 58-63.
Selected review articles




  1. ^ a b c Bruce Weber, "Jane Wright, Oncology Pioneer, Dies at 93", The New York Times (obituary), March 2, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Jane Cooke Wright", Encyclopedia of World Biography (2008)
  3. ^ a b Wini Warren, "Jane Cooke Wright", Black Women Scientists in the United States (Indiana University Press, 2000), p.40.
  4. ^ Wini Warren notes that "[Wright's] family was so prominent that when she graduated from Smith College in 1942, her picture appeared on the cover of The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP." Warren, Black Women Scientists in the United States, p. 278, citing The Crisis, August 1942 issue.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Dr. Jane Cooke Wright", Changing the Face of Medicine, National Library of Medicine (last visited March 3, 2013).
  6. ^ a b c d "Jane C. Wright Papers, 1920–2006", Smith College, Sophia Smith Collection (last visited March 3, 2013).
  7. ^ "Young Woman of the Year", The Crisis (Jan. 1953), p.5.

Further reading[edit]

Exhibitions and Profiles
  • Diann Jordan, Sisters in Science: Conversations With Black Women Scientists (2006), p. 33
Encyclopedias and Reference Books
  • Robert C. Hayden, "Jane Cooke Wright", Black Women in America: Profiles (MacMillan Library Reference USA, New York), p. 321.
  • Edward Sidney Jenkins, Patricia Stohr-Hunt, and Exyie C. Ryder, To Fathom More: African American Scientists and Inventors (University Press of America, 1996).
  • Benjamin F. Sheaer, Notable Women in the Life Sciences (Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut), pp. 405–407.
  • "Jane Cooke Wright", Encyclopedia of World Biography (2008)
  • Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present (Gale, 2001)
  • Notable Black American Women, Book 1, Gale Research (1992)
  • Vivian Ovelton Sammons, Blacks in Science and Medicine, Hemisphere, 1990.
  • Lisa Yount, A to Z of Women in Science and Math (Facts on File, 1999)
  • Wini Warren, "Jane Cooke Wright", Black Women Scientists in the United States (Indiana University Press, 2000), p. 276 et seq.
Papers and Archives