When she was appointed associate dean and head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department at New York Medical College in 1967, Dr. Jane Wright was the highest ranking African-American woman in a U.S. medical institution.
Earning her medical degree in 1945 from New York Medical College she completed her residency at Bellevue Hospital as an assistant resident in internal medicine and then Harlem Hospital as Chief Resident. Hired as a staff physician for New York City Schools in 1949 she continued her work at Harlem Hospital–now as a visiting physician. After six months she would leave the schools to join the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital.
Her father Dr. Louis Wright was the director of the foundation and had re-directed the focus of the its research to investigating anti-cancer chemicals. The pair undertook efforts in the experimental field of chemotherapy, he worked in the lab and she would perform the patient trials. Dr. Jane Wright analyzed a wide range of anti-cancer agents and explored the relationship between patient and tissue culture response as well as developing new techniques for administration of cancer chemotherapy. She is credited with creating a new system for testing potential drugs on human tissue cultures rather than laboratory mice and was among the first researchers to test chemotherapeutic drugs in humans which produced effective dosing levels and saved lives. Upon her father’s death in 1952 she was appointed head of the Cancer Research Foundation.
In 1964 President Johnson appointed her to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke and based on the commission’s report a national network of treatment centers was established for these conditions. It was shortly after this time that she was hired at the New York Medical College where she would work until her retirement in 1987.
During her 40 year career Wright would publish over 100 research papers, pioneer the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast cancer and skin cancer, be the first woman elected as President of the New York Cancer Society, and be founding member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Written by Angela Goad