Louis Tompkins Wright Biography (1891-1952)


A brilliant medical doctor and specialist in fractures and head injuries, Louis Wright made strides in multiple directions in the field of medicine. His greatest accomplishments include his perfection of an intradermal smallpox vaccination, the use of Aureomycin for lymphogranuloma venereum (a viralvenereal disease), the treatment of humans with antibiotic chlortetracycline,the invention of a brace to cushion head and neck injuries, a blade plate for the treatment of knee fractures, and drug therapy for cancer. The son of Dr. Ceah Ketcham and Lulu Tompkins Wright, he was born in LaGrange, Georgia, onJuly 23, 1891. His father died in 1895, leaving the family penniless. To support her children, Wright's mother worked as a dormitory matron.

Influenced by his stepfather, Dr. William Fletcher Penn, Wright decided to study medicine. He earned a B.A. from Clark University in Atlanta in 1911 and graduated valedictorian of his class. While studying for his M.D. from HarvardUniversity, he worked as a field hand to earn his tuition. A staunch civil rights advocate, he interrupted class attendance to picket showings of D. W. Griffith's movie The Birth of a Nation and challenged and eventually defeated a rule denying African American medical students access to white patients.

Although Wright graduated cum laude and fourth in his class, he was denied aplace at any Boston hospital. After interning at Freedmen's Hospital and distinguishing himself with a research article concerning application of the Schick test to African Americans, he was licensed in three states and practiced in Atlanta before joining the U. S. Medical Corps in 1917. It was during his wartime service that he perfected the intradermal injection of smallpox vaccine to lessen side effects. Stationed in France, he became the youngest surgeonto superintend a hospital.

Shortly after marrying Corinne Cooke, Wright set up a surgical practice in New York City in 1919. The next year he joined the staff of Harlem Hospital, where he advanced from the lowest level to surgical director and began an open-door policy toward people of color. Among his other associations were surgeonfor the New York police, president of Crisis Publishing Company, board member of the New York department of hospitals, and lieutenant colonel in the Medical Corps Reserves. He also served as a director of the NAACP and vigorouslyopposed the establishment of separate veterans' hospitals for African Americans.

In 1948, with grants from the Damon Runyon Fund and the Cancer Institute, Wright changed directions and inaugurated research on chemotherapy for cancer patients by starting the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation. His fifteen articles on the effects of teropterin, triethylene melamine, hormones, andfolic acid on tumors detailed breakthroughs in cancer treatment. His daughter, Dr. Jane Wright Jones, joined his staff and continued his work after his death.

Wright's awards include a purple heart for his service in World War I, the NAACP's Springarn Medal, and honors from the American College of Surgeons. He published eighty-nine articles, mainly concerning his experiments with Aureomycin and Terramycin, and with accident injuries. He also contributed a chapterto Scudder's Treatment of Fractures. Wright suffered a heart attack and died on October 8, 1952.

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