Last month, ACT for NIH published the first-ever book-length biography of Mary Lasker.  

“Angel in Mink: The Story of Mary Lasker’s Crusade for Medical Research and the National Institutes of Health,” is based largely on detailed oral histories that Lasker left behind and includes a collection of haunting photographs that cover her life. A photo archive of images collected for publication in the book is available here.

ACT for NIH is sending thousands of printed copies to academics, advocates, and members of Congress. A PDF edition is available as a free download below.

An article about the book is published in The Cancer Letter (March 24, 2023).

A note from ACT for NIH Foundation

Readers may ask why a foundation dedicated to advancing biomedical research in the 21st century has sponsored a biography of Mary Lasker, a woman born in 1900. It is the foundation’s hope that this definitive biography of one of the most consequential public health and medical research advocates in our nation’s history will be an inspiration to those who want to leverage the purse and power of government to improve the human condition.

Mary Lasker’s unrelenting efforts are a case study in how individuals or organizations can masterfully and profoundly impact public policy to address compelling societal challenges. She created a new model of political advocacy and in the process cultivated lifelong personal relationships with presidents, first ladies, and members of Congress. These government leaders responded to her passion, persuasive arguments, and personal charm.

Among her achievements, she played a pivotal role over half a century in helping the National Institutes of Health become the nation’s preeminent biomedical science organization, and the largest funder of medical research in the world. Because of Mary Lasker, NIH had the funds to support research that led to the discovery of countless treatments, cures, and vaccines that have spared tens of millions across the globe from the ravages of disease.

Mike Stephens, the first president of ACT for NIH, had a front-row seat. Over a thirty-year career on the legislative staff of the appropriations committee that funds the NIH, Mike had numerous interactions with Mary Lasker and grew to admire her immensely. He also was close friends with two retired health policy reporters, Shirley Haley and Bradie Metheny, who had long dreamed of writing such a book. The result of the partnership between the authors and the foundation, which Mike has coordinated, is Angel in Mink.

Jed Manocherian
Founder and Chairman

[An interview with Manocherian is available here.]

A note from the Lasker Foundation

Mary Lasker always thought big. Thanks to relentless dedication, social finesse, and political prowess, her legacy is as big today as her vision was throughout her life. Yet Mary Lasker’s story has not been as widely told as it deserves — until now. In the pages of this meticulously researched book, readers will revel in Mary Lasker’s journey through the halls of power and science, a journey that was key to positioning the United States as the world leader in medical research. Her call to action — “If you think research is expensive, try disease” — remains as true today as ever. As we battle a pandemic and rally to increase public trust in science, this book is a timely reminder of the need to invest in medical research, use science to guide our public health policy, and come together to improve the health of our world.

Claire Pomeroy, MD, MBA
President, Lasker Foundation

[An interview with Pomeroy is available here.]

A note about sources

Much of the material in this narrative is drawn from a series of interviews with Mary conducted over 20 years from October 1962 to August 1982 by historian and author John T. Mason Jr. for the Columbia University Libraries Oral History Research Office’s Notable New Yorkers collection.

Mary’s recollections are subject to the quirks of human memory, and in the instances where they run counter to other sources, we have either corroborated her account, found a common thread, or noted in the text when there is a discrepancy.

Given her achievements, there is surprisingly little research available on Mary Lasker, so the source for most references to her in other books and publications are these same oral history interviews. Likewise, Mary’s relationship with her husband Albert is described in depth only in John Gunther’s beautifully written biography Taken At The Flood: The Story of Albert D. Lasker, to which we also turned for the story of Albert’s illness and death.