A Wisconsin Woman Leads the Early Fight for Cancer Research Funding:
I wish today to speak of Mary Lasker, nee Woodard, who hails from Watertown, Wisconsin. After attending the University of Wisconsin and graduating from Radcliffe College, she and her husband, Alfred Lasker, an advertising executive who later died of colon cancer, formed the American Cancer Society in or about 1950. In doing so, they took over the American Society for the Control of Cancer, which was not viewed as an organization dedicated to fund raising. Things then changed, considerably, as Mary and Albert Lasker used their advertising background to promote fund-raising for cancer.
With non-stop efforts, Mary Lasker changed the world of cancer-related fundraising. Residing in Manhattan after college, Mary selflessly devoted a large portion of her life to coordinating a national battle against cancer. She is, as Emperor Of All Maladies (“Emperor”) says, the “fairy godmother” of cancer research. She was key in convincing President Nixon to sign the National Cancer Act of 1971, which strengthened the national Institute of Health and effectively started the War On Cancer – a war worth waging that we should not forget about today.
Mary spent many years teaming up with Dr. Farber in the quest for increased funds for cancer research and increased cancer screening. One of the forces driving her devotion to cancer screening and research played out when she was a child in Watertown. She and her mother went to visit a family friend who was recovering from a radical masectomy of both breasts for breast cancer. According to the book, the friend lived in a small house and cared for seven children as she struggled to recover from this highly invasive and life-altering surgery. As the book relates, Mary “was struck by the misery and desolation of the scene” when they went to visit this friend. This scene was one she never forgot.
No one knows how many people she helped. I know I am one of them. It is for reasons like this that I am biased in favor of supporting cancer research.