University of Minnesota

Mary Woodard Lasker

1900 — 1994

Born in Wisconsin in 1900, Mary Lasker graduated from Radcliffe College in 1924 with a degree in art history and moved to New York to work as an art dealer. From 1939 through 1942, she was secretary of the Birth Control Federation of America and vice president and secretary of Planned Parenthood.

In 1940, Ms. Lasker married advertising business-owner Albert Davis Lasker and in 1942 they established the Lasker Foundation, which continues to finance medical research and programs. The Laskers advocated for cancer education and awareness, assisted in the creation of the American Cancer Society and lobbied in Washington for the National Cancer Institute. They also lobbied for the National Heart Act, and Ms. Lasker was appointed to the first Advisory Committee of the National Heart Institute, formed in 1948. After Albert Lasker died in 1956 from colon cancer, Ms. Lasker started the National Health Education Committee and continued to lobby at the federal, city and state level to support medical research. In particular, she was lobbyist in the signing of the 1971 National Cancer Act and served for years as gadfly and impetus for many strategies in medical research, including the national collaborative study to test the hypotheses of John Gofman about lipoproteins in atherosclerosis.

Ms. Lasker was well-connected in the political community and a friend of President Johnson, from whom she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969. She was a recipient of the French Legion of Honor and in 1989 received the Congressional Medal of Honor. On February 2, 1994, Ms. Lasker died from pneumonia. (HB)


The Washington Post, 23 February 1994; “Mary Lasker, Notable New Yorker.”

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