Mary Woodard Lasker, 1900-1994

  • Mary-Woodard-Lasker-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Health, and PhilanthropyWoman Tags: Art Collector and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    A health activist, philanthropist, and co-founder of the Lasker Foundation.

    Born Mary Woodard, in Watertown, Wisconsin, to a well-established family. Both her parents suffered from high blood pressure and died of strokes when she was in her thirties. Having her parents to suffer from illness with no cure motivated her to fight for the cause of healthcare and medical research, “to turn science into cures.” She went to study art at Radcliffe College and Oxford and settled in New York City, where she worked in an art gallery and got married to its owner.
    Her first move in public health activism was in 1938 when she became the secretary of the Birth Control Federation of America and later of its successor, the Planned Parenthood Federation. In 1939, she met her second husband, Albert Davis Lasker, who had a successful advertisement company; Ironically, one of his clients was the cigarettes company, Lucky Strike. Two years after they got married, Albert sold his company, and together the couple devoted their lives to campaign for public funding of medical research.
    In 1942 they founded the Lasker Foundation, which awards the most prestigious prize in basic and clinical medical research. After Albert died in 1952 from colon cancer, Mary continued her life mission, serving as director and chairman of many health organizations, among them was the American Cancer Society. She engaged with politicians and high society when campaigning for medical research.
    One of her greatest achievements, which she worked on for many years, was expanding the National Institute of Health (NIH) and raising its federal and private funds by a factor of 2000 times. Lasker died in 1994, at age 94, leaving more than ten million dollars to the Lasker Foundation to support medical research and urban beautification.

    “You can solve any problem if you have money, people and equipment”

    “You can solve any problem if you have money, people and equipment”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She became an art collector, building one of the top private art collections in the country.
    • Her second passion was urban beautification, and she funded thousands of trees and flowers planting in NYC and DC.
    • Building 60, the oldest building in NIH is named after her -the Mary Woodard Lasker Center for Health Research and Education.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Three dozen honorary degrees and awards
    * Four Freedoms Award
    * Presidential Medal of Freedom (1969)
    * Congressional Gold Medal (1989)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Woman Tags: Art Collector, NYC Women

    Jordan Gutterman discusses Mary Lasker's legacy (1)

  • Lasker in 1940. Photo credit - NIH Library.