Jane Cooke Wright (1919-2013)

Image Courtesy of Smith College

Dr. Jane Cooke Wright was a physician and cancer researcher who dedicated her professional career to the advancement of chemotherapy techniques.  Jane Cooke Wright was born in New York City, New York on November 20, 1919.  She was the older of two daughters to parents Louis Tompkins Wright and Corinne (Cooke) Wright.  Wright attended private schools in New York City and in 1942 graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  Wright’s father, one of the first African American graduates at Harvard Medical School, established the Cancer Research Center at Harlem Hospital, New York in 1947.  After her undergraduate studies Wright attended New York Medical College on a four-year scholarship.  She graduated with an M.D. in 1945.

Jane Cooke Wright was an intern at Bellevue Hospital, New York between 1945 and 1946. In 1947 she married David D. Jones, Jr., an attorney.  The couple had two daughters, Jane and Allison.  In 1949 Wright worked as a school physician in the New York City Public Schools and was a visiting physician at Harlem Hospital.  In 1952 after the death of her father, Wright took over as the director of his Cancer Research Foundation.

In 1955 Wright began her work at the New York University Medical Center as the director of cancer chemotherapy research.  She was also an instructor of research surgery in the Medical Center’s Department of Surgery.  In July 1967, Dr. Wright became a professor of surgery at New York Medical College.  At the time she was the highest ranking African American woman in a United States medical institution.

Jane Cooke Wright has received numerous citations and awards.  Among them, the Merit Award from Mademoiselle magazine in 1952, the Spirit of Achievement Award of the Women’s Division of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1961, and the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award in 1967.  The following year her alma mater, Smith College, presented her with the Smith Medal, its highest award. In 1971 Dr. Wright became the first woman to serve as president of the New York Cancer Society.

In 1987, after a forty-four year career, Dr. Jane Cooke Wright retired as an emerita professor at New York Medical College.  Her contributions to the research of cancer chemotherapy have helped to change the face of medicine and continue to be used to this day.

Dr. Jane Cooke Wright died on February 19, 2013 in Guttenberg, New Jersey.  She was 94.

Source:

Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, eds., Notable Women in the Life Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary (Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996); http://www.nlm.nih.gov/ changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_336.html; Lisa Yount, A to Z of Women in Science and Math (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1999).