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Mary Lasker

AKA Mary Woodard Lasker

Born: 30-Nov-1900
Birthplace: Watertown, WI
Died: 21-Feb-1994
Location of death: Greenwich, CT
Cause of death: Natural Causes
Remains: Buried, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, NY

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Activist, Philanthropist
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Health care advocate

Mary Lasker worked first as an art historian, then as a designer of "Hollywood Patterns," a line of dress-making patterns and fabrics decorated with photos of movie stars. She served as Secretary at the Birth Control Federation of America, and Vice President of its successor group, Planned Parenthood. After she met and married millionaire advertising executive Albert Lasker, she convinced her husband and his friends to bankroll medical research and other scientific and philanthropic endeavors. She became an even more outspoken advocate for medical research after cancer took her husband's life.

In her time, cancer was invariably a death sentence, and the disease was so feared that it could not be mentioned by name on NBC, a policy she convinced the network's CEO David Sarnoff to change. She prevailed upon the nation's most widely-read magazine, Reader's Digest, to publish a series of articles about cancer, and her lobbying efforts brought the federal government to its modern role of providing financial support for medical science. She supported President Harry S. Truman's 1945 call for universal health insurance, though the proposal was defeated with complaints about "socialized medicine", and she rallied nationwide support two decades later for President Lyndon B. Johnson's Medicare and Medicaid proposals.

She was a fierce critic of the priorities and management of the American Society for the Control of Cancer, which worked to "disseminate knowledge about the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of cancer; to investigate conditions under which cancer is found; and to compile statistics about cancer". With her access to wealthy contributors she was instrumental in forcing the ouster of ASCC President Clarence Cook Little, and the ASCC was subsequently reorganized and renamed the American Cancer Society, dedicated not just to collecting and disseminating information about cancer but to funding scientific research to combat the disease.

She was the driving force for lobbying efforts that eventually convinced Congress to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, an effort which transformed the NIH from a medical library to a major underwriter of medical research. She was the most prominent spokesperson for the National Cancer Act, legislation which greatly increased funding for the National Cancer Institute. She is the namesake of the Lasker Foundation's Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service. Businessman James W. Fordyce is her nephew.

Father: Frank Elwin Woodard (banker)
Mother: Sara Johnson Woodard
Sister: Alice Woodard Fordyce (philanthropist, b. 1906, d. 1992)
Husband: Paul Reinhardt (art gallery owner, m. 1926, div. 1934)
Husband: Albert Lasker (ad executive, m. 21-Jun-1940)
Son: Edward Lasker (stepson, film producer, b. 15-May-1912, d. 11-Jul-1997)
Daughter: Frances Lasker Brody (stepdaughter)
Daughter: Mary Lasker Foreman Block (stepdaughter, d. 1981)

    High School: Milwaukee-Downer Seminary (now University School of Milwaukee)
    University: University of Wisconsin at Madison (attended)
    University: BA Art History, Radcliffe College (1923)
    Scholar: Oxford University

    Presidential Medal of Freedom 1969
    French Legion of Honor 1984
    Congressional Gold Medal 1989
    American Cancer Society
    Birth Control Federation of America Secretary
    Cancer Research Institute Trustee
    Kennedy Center Board of Directors
    Lasker Foundation Co-Founder & President (1942-94)
    Museum of Modern Art Trustee
    National Cancer Institute
    Norton Simon Museum Board
    Planned Parenthood Vice President
    Research to Prevent Blindness Trustee
    National Committee for Mental Hygiene Director
    National Institutes of Health
    United Cerebral Palsy Research and Education Foundation
    Member of the Board of Braniff
    English Ancestry
    Irish Ancestry

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #3432B (78, issued 15-May-2009)


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