A major breakthrough in cancer treatment was the development of chemotherapy in the 1940s. The first chemical noted for its anti-cancer effects were nitrogen mustards. Dr. Jane Cooke Wright played a fundamental role in this story. During her career she would break multiple race and gender barriers and become one of the most distinguished physician-scientists in modern medicine. In fact, her work revolutionized cancer research and how physicians treat cancer.
Born in New York City in 1919, Jane Cooke Wright was the first of two daughters born to Corrine (Cooke) and Louis Tompkins Wright. Her father was one of the first African American graduates of Harvard Medical School, and he set a high standard for his daughters. Dr. Louis Wright was the first African American doctor appointed to a staff position at a municipal hospital in New York City and, in 1929, became the city’s first African American police surgeon. He also established the Cancer Research Center at Harlem Hospital.