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H MS c56

Wright, Louis T. (Louis Tompkins), 1891-1952. Papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997: Finding Aid

Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)


Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: H MS c56
Repository: Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine)
Title: Louis Tompkins Wright Papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997
Date(s): 1879, 1898, 1909-1997
Quantity: 26 boxes
Language of materials: English
Abstract: The Louis Tompkins Wright Papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997, chronicle Wright's student years at Clark University and Harvard Medical School; internship and later career at the Harlem Hospital; political involvement in the NAACP and other groups and anti-segregationist beliefs; activities in various professional societies; and his medical practice in New York City. The bulk of the collection consists of clippings, mostly from black New York newspapers, about blacks in medicine, blacks as professionals, and health care for blacks. Also includes personal and professional correspondence, including a limited amount of correspondence of Wright's wife, Corinne Cooke Wright; reprints of writings; and pamphlets, some containing brief histories of black medical societies, concerning political issues. The collection also contains several photographs of Wright, his family, and his attendance at professional events and civic activities.

Conditions Governing Access:

Access requires advance notice. Consult the Public Services Librarian for further information.
The Louis Tompkins Wright Papers are stored offsite. Researchers are advised to contact reference staff for more information concerning retrieval of material.

Conditions Governing Use:

The Harvard Medical Library does not hold copyright on all the materials in the collection. Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Public Services Librarian. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Public Services Librarian are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright. Reference Services and Access Information.

Preferred Citation:

Louis Tompkins Wright papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997. H MS c56. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.


Louis Tompkins Wright (1891-1952), son and stepson of physicians, and father to two daughter-physicians, graduated from the Harvard Medical School in 1915. He interned at the Freedman's Hospital, affiliated with Howard Medical School, in Washington, D.C., and then went into practice with his stepfather, Dr. William Fletcher Penn, in Atlanta for a year before joining the Army Medical Corps in 1917. During World War I, he saw service in France and sustained permanent damage to his lungs resulting from a gas attack at Mt. Henri. Returning to civilian life in 1919, Dr. Wright began what was to be a lifelong association with the Surgery Department at Harlem Hospital. He was the first Black to be appointed to the medical staff of a New York hospital, the first to be made director of a department in a non-segregated municipal hospital, and the first to serve as president of a medical board of such a hospital.
But Harlem Hospital was far from integrated when Dr. Wright went to work there. His appointment opened the doors to a recognition of the city hospital system and more especially to the advent of Negro professional personnel into Harlem Hospital. He was an active force in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) efforts as early as 1920 to undermine the unwritten law that barred Negro doctors and nurses from services in New York municipal hospitals. (He would later serve for twenty years as chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors.) In the 1930s, he successfully opposed a proposal of the Julius Rosenwald Fund to erect a segregated hospital in New York. In all ways he fought to foster full and equal opportunity not only in a hospital environment but in the larger community as well.
Though often a tireless and tempestuous warrior, Dr. Wright did not put all of his time and energy into battling racial discrimination. His 100 or so publications include reports of scientific activities and clinical research on such subjects as traumatic injuries, the use of aureomycin and other antibiotics, and chemotherapy and malignant disease. In his later years, as a hobby he collected the scientific publications of Negro physicians, the number said to exceed 3,000.
In addition to his career at Harlem Hospital, he was appointed police surgeon of the City of New York in 1929--the first of his race to hold that position in any major American city. He was also the first Black admitted to fellowship in the American College of Surgeons (1934) and to honorary fellowship in the International College of Surgeons (1950). He was a leader of the group that formed the Manhattan Central Medical Society in 1930 and a founder of the Harlem Surgical Society in 1937. Life magazine in 1938 saluted him as "the most eminent Negro doctor in the United States."
At the height of his powers, prolonged illness unfortunately interrupted Dr. Wright's career. Nevertheless, he still had ten good years remaining to him, and he used them well. A number of his investigations on antibiotics were conducted after his return to work. In 1948 he established both the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation and the Harlem Hospital Bulletin. He lived long enough to enjoy a tribute to his many social and medical contributions in the form of a testimonial dinner given in the spring of 1952, a demonstration of national proportions attended by over 1,000 well-wishers. This occasion celebrated the Louis T. Wright Library of Harlem Hospital, thus affording him the satisfaction of having his name linked permanently to that of the institution with which he was so closely identified.

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