“No Child Should Die In The Dawn Of Life.”

Danny Thomas and child


Danny Thomas Statue

From the first moment St. Jude founder Danny Thomas began raising money in the 1950s to build a children’s hospital, his mission was to help all desperately ill boys and girls, regardless of a family’s religion, financial status or race. Segregation was common practice in the South, but Danny held firm in his conviction that all children, no matter their background, deserved a fighting chance.

When St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened its doors on February 4, 1962, it was the first fully integrated children’s hospital in the South. Black and white patients were treated in the same rooms; they dined together; and bathroom facilities were integrated.

In most Southern hospitals, Black personnel, even those with university degrees, were normally employed in service areas. At St. Jude, they were hired as doctors, researchers and nurses delivering world-class care to the hospital’s first patients.

Even though there was still discrimination in the South, it was not going to be permitted at St. Jude. Lemuel Diggs, MD, an original member of the St. Jude Board of Governors, wrote: “In my opinion, the St. Jude Hospital should be supported by people of all races, and we should never allow the segregation problem to interfere with our more important aims. Today, a son of one of the technicians in my laboratory died of leukemia after an illness which financially wrecked their family, as well as causing mental and physical strain on members of the family. … It is for such a disease that St. Jude Hospital is being built. The petty matters of race pale into unimportance in the face of catastrophes of this type.”

During the 1960s, St. Jude also played a key role in the integration of hotels in Memphis. Arrangements were made with a downtown hotel to provide housing for patients. However, the hotel refused to allow the first African-American patients and their parents to register. Donald Pinkel, MD, the hospital’s director, issued an ultimatum. If the children and their parents could not stay in the hotel, then it would not be used for any St. Jude patient families. The hotel agreed to change its policy, provided that African-American families eat in their rooms instead of the dining facility. Again, Dr. Pinkel held firm, and the hotel management relented.

Scientific Milestones at St. Jude

Today, St. Jude researchers, backed by extraordinary resources and support teams, are focused on making big discoveries. The hospital opened in 1962 and by the end of its first year, 30 research projects had been initiated. In 1972, St. Jude revolutionized leukemia therapy and declared it was no longer incurable. In 1976, the hospital was designated a Collaborating Center by the World Health Organization (WHO) to study transmission of influenza. St. Jude established what is now the world’s largest long term follow up clinic for pediatric cancer patients in 1984. In 1985, St. Jude began accepting brain tumor patients, and designed clinical care through research efforts. St. Jude formed a pediatric AIDS Clinical Trial Unit with neighboring hospitals in 1992. In 1996, it opened vector production labs and became one of the few centers globally with a comprehensive cell and gene therapy program. St. Jude launched the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project in 2010 to understand cancer development, progression, and resistance to therapy. In 2017, the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences enrolled its first students. In 2020, St. Jude launched the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative as a coordinated effort across basic and clinical research to accelerate development of therapies.

St. Jude Today

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 60 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. By 2030, the institution’s goal is to cure at least 60% of children with six of the most common kinds of cancer worldwide.

When patients and families arrive at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, they’re enfolded in a warm blanket of care and concern.  St. Jude treats children with cancer, blood disorders and related life-threatening diseases, taking many of the toughest cases. This often includes children who do not respond well to standard treatments. Regardless of the duration or the cost of care, families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Then they discover their St. Jude family will walk beside them every step of the journey, help alleviate their stress and assuage their worries.