In the field of medicine, many discoveries have brought continued health into the lives of millions of people. Across the board, doctors and research scientists have dedicated themselves to finding cures and treatments for some of the most pernicious diseases that have haunted humankind for ages.

One such woman has left an indelible mark in the world of medicine in the fight against cancer. Her name is Dr. Jane Cooke Wright. Here is her story.


Jane Cooke Wright (b. November 20, 1919 – ). cancer researcher and medical educator. Jane Cooke Wright demonstrates in her life the importance of family, institutions, and the professions to Black American women. Dr. Wright continued a family tradition, following her paternal grandfather and father in attaining distinction in the medical profession.

Jane Cooke Wright was the first daughter of Louis Tompkins Wright and Corinne (Cooke) Wright.

Jane C. Wright as a young girl, ca. 1921

Jane C. Wright as a young girl, ca. 1921

Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College

Her paternal grandfather graduated from the Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, a school renowned for educating Black physicians. Her father went to Harvard Medical School and was one of the institution’s first Black graduates. Dr. Wright attended private elementary schools in New York City and won a four-year scholarship to Smith College. She swam competitively in both high school and college, setting varsity records at Smith.

She obtained her medical degree, with honors, from New York Medical College in 1945 in an accelerated three-year program. She completed her internship and residency at Harlem Hospital. In the final year of her residency, Dr. Wright married David Jones, Jr., a graduate of Harvard Law School, and the couple had two daughters, Jane and Alison. At her father’s request, Dr. Wright joined him in his work at the Cancer Research Foundation, which he founded at Harlem Hospital. After his death in 1952, Dr. Wright followed him as the foundation’s director. Dr. Wright’s work at the Cancer Research Foundation focused on the effects of drugs on tumors and other abnormal growths. In 1955 Dr. Wright joined the medical faculty at New York University Medical Center as the director of cancer chemotherapy research and as an instructor in research surgery, attaining assistant professor status by 1961. Her work with Jewell Plummer Cobb led to important insights on the effects of different drugs on living and test-culture tissue, and Dr. Wright also explored innovative methods of chemotherapy administration. She returned to her alma mater New York Medical College in 1967,  as associate dean, professor of surgery, and head of the cancer chemotherapy department and was ranked the highest Black American woman at a nationally recognized medical institution.

Dr. Wright’s cancer research made her an important role model, one honored with national awards. In 1952, at the age of thirty-three, Dr. Wright received a prestigious Merit Award form Mademoiselle magazine for her prominence in cancer research and scholarly publications. The award was designed to recognize the achievements of young women in their twenties and thirties who had already distinguished themselves in their careers, with expectations of even greater future contributions. She also received recognition in Crisis, appearing on the January 1953 cover. Dr. Wright fulfilled these early expectations of greatness and continued to be recognized for her prolific writing and research, publishing more than one hundred papers on cancer research.

Jane C. Wright at work, ca. 1950s

Jane C. Wright at work, ca. 1950s

Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

In 1965 the National Women’s Division of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine honored Dr. Wright with a Spirit of Achievement Award for her work as a scientist and teacher advancing the state of medical knowledge. Two years later, Dr. Wright’s medical contributions earned her the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath, putting in a distinguished group of honorees, among them the writer Elie Wiesel. Smith College awarded her the Smith College Medal in 1968, and the Women’s Medical College (now the Medical College of Pennsylvania) and Denison University gave her honorary degrees in 1965 and 1971.

Jane C. Wright at work

Jane C. Wright at work

Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College

These rewards attest to a career marked by distinguished public and professional service. In 1961 Dr. Wright served as a vice president for the African Research Foundation, which led her to East Africa on a medical inspection tour. Dr. Wright accepted an appointment on the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke in 1964. The commission recommended the establishment of a medical center network devoted to specialized study of these diseases. Dr. Wright’s other public service includes serving on the board of trustees at Smith College and was the first woman to be elected president of the New York Cancer Society of the New York City division of the American Cancer Society and on the editorial board of the Journal of the National Medical Association. Two national publications solidified Dr. Wright’s status as an important role model for women and Black Americans in science and medicine.

In 1975 the journal Cancer Research selected eight women scientists, printing Dr. Wright’s picture with seven others on the cover. The pharmaceutical company Ciba Geigy printed Dr. Wright’s picture on its Exceptional Black Scientists poster in 1980.

For subsequent generations, Dr. Jane Cooke Wright represents outstanding achievement as a professional and humanitarian.

Jane C. Wright at the New York Medical College class of 1945 reunion, ca. 1995

Jane C. Wright at the New York Medical College class of 1945 reunion, ca. 1995

Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College


 “Jane Cooke Wright”, by Amy M. Hay, Black Women in America, by Darlene Clark Hine, et. al., Oxford University Press, 2005.

Bernstein, Leonard, Alana Winkler, and Linda Zierdt-Warshaw, African and African American Women of Science. Maywood, NJ: Peoples Publishing Group, 1998.

Cook, Jane Stewart. “Jane Cooke Wright, American Physician.” In Notable Scientists From 1900 to the Present, edited by Brigham Narins. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2001.


  • 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.



Click on photo to launch video on Dr. Wright.

Dr. Jane Cooke Wright


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  1. larce

    im doing a project on dr. jane cooke wright and i think that she was an amazing woman.

    • Mark Bitman

      Larce, you did a nice job on my friend’s article; however, her name is Jane and not Janet.

      • Ann

        As moderator of this blog, I have gone back and corrected the typos on Dr. Cooke’s name. Thank you for catching that error.

    • Heaven

      I am ding a project on her to and i believe she is a amazing person and did a lot to help the U.S.A so can you give some tips on please i’m in really bad need of some i know that she pioneered chemotherapy and helped a lot of people i know that she died at the age of 93 and when she was born and when she died i need something like what were her fears what did she love stuff like that do you think you can help me reply if you can.


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