Next Score View the next score

    Jane Wright, 93, pioneer in oncology

    Jane C. Wright promoted chemotherapy as broader treatment for cancers.
    Sophia Smith Collection/Smith College
    Jane C. Wright promoted chemotherapy as broader treatment for cancers.

    NEW YORK — Dr. Jane C. Wright, a pioneering oncologist who helped elevate chemotherapy from a last resort for cancer patients to an often viable treatment option, died Feb. 19 at her home in ­Guttenberg, N.J. She was 93.

    Dr. Wright descended from a distinguished medical family that defied racial barriers in a profession long dominated by white men. Her father, Dr. Louis T. Wright, was among the first blacks to graduate from Harvard Medical School and was reported to be the first black doctor appointed to the staff of a New York City hospital.

    His father was an early graduate of what became the Meharry Medical College, the first medical school in the South for blacks, founded in Nashville in 1876.


    A graduate of Smith College and New York Medical College, Dr. Wright began her career as a researcher working alongside her father at a cancer center he established at Harlem Hospital in New York. Together, they and others studied the effects of a variety of drugs on tumors, experimented with chemotherapeutic agents on leukemia in mice, and eventually treated patients, with some success, with new anticancer drugs, including triethylene melamine.

    Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
    The day's top stories delivered every morning.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    After her father died in 1952, Dr. Wright took over as director of the center, which was known as the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation. In 1955, she joined the faculty of the New York University Medical Center as director of cancer research, where her work focused on correlating the responses of tissue cultures to anticancer drugs with the responses of patients.

    In 1964, working as part of a team at the NYU School of Medicine, Dr. Wright developed a nonsurgical method, using a catheter system, to deliver heavy doses of anticancer drugs to previously hard-to-reach tumors.

    That same year, Dr. Wright was the only woman among seven physicians who, recognizing the unique needs of doctors caring for cancer patients, founded the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, known as ASCO. She was also appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke. Its recommendations emphasized better communication among doctors, hospitals, and research institutions and resulted in a national network of centers.

    In 1967, Dr. Wright became head of the chemotherapy department and associate dean at New York Medical College. News reports at the time said it was the first time a black woman had held so high a post at a US medical school.


    ‘‘Not only was her work scientific, but it was visionary for the whole science of oncology,’’ Dr. Sandra Swain, the current president of ASCO, said in a telephone interview. ‘‘She was part of the group that first realized we needed a separate organization to deal with the providers who care for cancer ­patients. But beyond that it’s amazing to me that a black woman, in her day and age, was able to do what she did.’’