Wright, Louis T. (Louis Tompkins), 1891-1952

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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.

From the guide to the Papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997, (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Caroline Bond Day papers Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University
creatorOf Louis Tompkins Wright Papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997 Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
referencedIn CIBA-GEIGY Corporation. Exceptional black scientists collection, 1971-1986 (bulk 1980-1984). New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Exceptional black scientists collection, 1971-1986, 1980-1984 Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Archives Section
creatorOf Wright, Dr. Louis T. Harry S. Truman Library
creatorOf Wright, Louis T., PPF 6187 Harry S. Truman Library
referencedIn Louis Tompkins Wright Papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997 Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine
referencedIn Maynard, Aubré de Lambert, 1901-1999. Aubré de Lambert Maynard papers. New York Academy of Medicine
creatorOf Louis T. Wright Papers, 1878-1952 Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
creatorOf Wright, Louis T. (Louis Tompkins), 1891-1952. Papers, 1879, 1898, 1909-1997. Harvard University, Medical School, Countway Library
referencedIn Charles Henry Alston papers Archives of American Art
referencedIn Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon papers Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Wright, Louis T. (Louis Tompkins), 1891-1952. Papers, 1878-1952. Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
referencedIn Berry, George Packer, 1898-. Papers of George Packer Berry, 1950-1965 (bulk). Harvard University, Medical School, Countway Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alston, Charles Henry person
associatedWith Berry, George Packer, 1898- person
associatedWith Caroline Bond Day person
associatedWith CIBA-GEIGY Corporation. corporateBody
correspondedWith Clark University corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Clark University (Atlanta, Ga.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Harlem Hospital corporateBody
employeeOf Harlem Hospital (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Harvard Medical School corporateBody
alumnusOrAlumnaOf Howard University corporateBody
associatedWith John A. Andrew Clinical Society meeting: Dr. Louis T. Wright person
associatedWith Maynard, Aubré de Lambert, 1901-1999. person
memberOf NAACP corporateBody
associatedWith National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. corporateBody
employeeOf New York (N.Y.). Police Department corporateBody
childOf Penn, William Fletcher person
correspondedWith Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972 person
memberOf United States. Army. Medical Corps corporateBody
associatedWith White, Walter Francis, 1893-1955. person
spouseOf Wright, Corinne Cooke, 1891-1980 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
LaGrange GA US
New York City NY US
African American newspapers
African American physicians
Blacks in medicine
African American physicians


Birth 1891-07-23

Death 1952-10-08


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