Dr. Jane C. Wright, whose innovative research on chemotherapy was hailed as a medical breakthrough, died on Feb. 19 at her home in Guttenberg, N.J. She was 93.
According to her daughter Jane Jones, Wright had dementia.
Many older Harlemites will recall that Jane Wright was the daughter of Dr. Louis Wright, a stalwart for many years at Harlem Hospital and among the first Blacks to graduate from Harvard Medical School. His daughter carried on a family tradition in the medical field that was started by her grandfather. She established her mark with her pioneering work in cancer research, particularly in helping to promote chemotherapy as a viable treatment option for cancer and not a last resort.
Like her father, Wright launched her career in a significant way at Harlem Hospital, where she began working alongside him as a researcher. In their studies of various drugs and their effects on tumors, they experimented with chemotherapeutic agents on mice and subsequently on humans with a relative amount of success. She continued the work after her father died in 1952 and succeeded him as director of the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation.
Key to her research was the belief that most cancers were caused by viruses and thereby could be treated with anti-cancer agents comparable to antibiotics.
By 1964, her determined efforts, along with those of a team of doctors from the NYU School of Medicine, led to a nonsurgical system in delivering doses of anti-cancer drugs to difficult-to-reach tumors in various parts of the body, including the spleen and kidneys.
When the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) was founded in 1964, she was the only woman among the seven founding physicians. Later, Wright was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the President’s Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke.
She became the head of the chemotherapy department and associate dean at the New York Medical College in 1967, becoming the first Black woman to hold such a post at an American medical school.
“Not only was her work scientific, but it was visionary for the whole science of oncology,” said Dr. Sandra Swain, the current president of ASCO, in a telephone interview with the New York Times. “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.”
Wright was born on Nov. 30, 1919, in Manhattan. After graduation from the Fieldston School in the Bronx, she attended Smith College, receiving her degree in art before concentrating on medicine. In 1945, she earned her medical degree from the New York Medical College.
In 1947, she married attorney David Jones; he died in 1976. Along with her daughter Jane, she is survived by her daughter Alison Jones and a sister, Dr. Barbara Wright Pierce.