One of my biggest passions as a science educator is to ensure that my students see themselves represented in the scientists I present in my classroom. February, being Black History Month, is a great time to honor Black scientists… but it shouldn’t start or end there! I use this Black scientists activity at the beginning of the year, right off the bat, when I teach the scientific method. Students are introduced to an important scientist and review the scientific process at the same time.
A Medical Legacy
So, can I take this moment to introduce you to an influential female Black scientist? Her name is Dr. Jane Cook Wright. This incredible woman pioneered the use of methotrexate and chemotherapy in the 1960s. If you, as I do, know anyone who has ever fought cancer or taken medications for arthritis or psoriasis, we have Dr. Wright to thank for her work.
Dr. Wright’s family had a strong history of academic achievement in medicine. Her grandfather was born into slavery, but after the Civil War attended Meharry Medical College to become a doctor. Her step-grandfather was the very first African American to graduate from Yale Medical College. Jane’s father was among the first Black students to become a doctor at Harvard Medical School and went on to found the Cancer Research Center in New York City. Both Jane and her sister would also become physicians, despite medicine being a field largely dominated by white men at that time.
Throughout her career, Dr. Wright researched and pioneered several chemotherapy treatments, publishing over 100 scientific articles. In 1967, she was named Head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department and Associate Dean at New York Medical College, making her the highest-ranking Black woman among all American medical institutes at this time. In 1971, she became the first female President of the New York Cancer Society.
Help Make Her a Household Name
It’s stunning to me that this woman, whose impact is so incredibly far-reaching, is not a household name.
I feel a personal responsibility to make sure that my students know what Dr. Jane Wright’s work has done for all of us. Every year, I make sure to highlight her accomplishments in my classroom. My students know her name and know her scientific contributions.
I’ve created a Black scientists activity (a text with a worksheet) that you can use to introduce Dr. Wright to your students. It includes a biography article as well as corresponding questions that highlight how the scientific method played out in her work. Please download the document for FREE HERE – it even includes a Google version! I hope that you’ll share her story with your students and honor this important Black scientist. Please feel free to share it widely with your colleagues, as well!