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Who Was MD Anderson?

Monroe Dunaway Anderson

Frugality and thrift, industry and integrity — these were the most prominent characteristics of Monroe Dunaway Anderson. To these may be added shrewdness and acquisitiveness, which made him wealthy beyond most men of his time. He was also friendly, humble, kind, humorous and a little bashful.

Monroe Anderson was born June 29, 1873, in Jackson, Tenn., a small city 70 miles northeast of Memphis. His father was the first president of Jackson’s First National Bank, which he helped organize. His mother was the daughter of the Rev. William Monroe Dunaway, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister. 

His Scottish Presbyterian ancestors endowed him and his siblings with frugality and thrift; indeed, these qualities prevailed widely in a South devastated economically as well as physically by the recently ended Civil War.

Monroe attended Jackson’s public schools and Southwestern Baptist University at Memphis before going to work in Jackson’s other bank, the Peoples’ National, where he learned the banking business thoroughly. 

In 1904, his older brother Frank and Frank’s brother-in-law, Will Clayton, decided to establish a partnership to engage in buying and selling cotton. They needed more capital and invited Monroe to become a partner. Thus was established Anderson, Clayton and Co., with its principal office in Oklahoma City, a new city in Oklahoma Territory where cotton grew bountifully. In 1905, Ben Clayton, Will’s younger brother, was made a partner, raising the partnership to four members — two Andersons and two Claytons.

In Jackson, Monroe continued his banking career until 1907, when he moved to Houston to give his company access to larger banks and, eventually, to deep water shipping on completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914. 

With full-time devotion to partnership affairs, he became the chief financial officer and later, following incorporation, he was named treasurer. For a time, he also served as president of Anderson, Clayton and Co. 

The company continued to prosper, and Monroe became wealthy through a combination of good management, good fortune, and the capable efforts of himself and his energetic associates. Anderson, Clayton and Co. came to be the world’s largest merchant of the world’s most popular commodity; for nearly a century it was known as “King Cotton.”

Foundation established

In the mid-1930s, MD Anderson and Will Clayton owned more than half the corporation’s stock. The death of either, if resulting in a large estate tax, might have made it necessary to liquidate the company. Partly for this reason, in 1936,
MD Anderson created the charitable foundation that bears his name and funded it with about $300,000. This foundation was destined to receive $19,000,000 more after Monroe’s death in 1939.

The charter of the MD Anderson Foundation did not specify precisely how its money should be used, but the trustees leaned strongly in the direction of health care. 

Soon after taking possession of the estate from its executors, the trustees noted that the 1941 Texas Legislature had authorized The University of Texas to establish a hospital for cancer research and treatment somewhere in the state. No location was specified, but $500,000 was appropriated for the purpose. The Anderson Foundation agreed to match this sum if the hospital would be built in Houston and named for its benefactor. A site was offered in the new Texas Medical Center, another creation of the Anderson Foundation.

Ernst W. Bertner, M.D.

The Baker estate

The hospital began its operations in temporary quarters on the James A. Baker estate at 2310 Baldwin Street in downtown Houston during World War II, under the acting director, Ernst W. Bertner, M.D. MD Anderson Cancer Center rightly regards the Baker home and extensive grounds as its place of birth. Several war-surplus buildings were added in the late 1940s and 46 patients were being treated in those primitive quarters when the hospital moved to its current site in March 1954. 

The first permanent building, clothed in pink marble, is now the core of a complex of more modern buildings that surround it. Those buildings are sheathed in concrete and glass; the Georgia quarry was depleted of pink marble before the demands of MD Anderson ran out.

MD Anderson is deeply indebted to the people who have worked here. Along with the MD Anderson Foundation trustees, Bertner deserves special thanks for developing a great medical center for Houston and serving as first president of the Texas Medical Center. He also was acting director of the cancer center during its organizational years, 1942-1945.

R. Lee Clark, M.D.

Presidential leadership

In 1946, the first full-time president, Randolph Lee Clark, M.D., took firm charge of the fledgling institution and lifted it to great heights in terms of successful operation and worldwide recognition. He served 32 years until retirement in 1978 and was followed by Charles A. LeMaistre, M.D., who continued the great work begun by Clark. LeMaistre’s retirement in 1996 after 18 years brought in the third full-time president, John Mendelsohn, M.D., who in every way lived up to the standards of excellence exhibited by his predecessors during his 15-year tenure. In 2011, Ronald DePinho, M.D., began the latest chapter in MD Anderson’s leadership story.

It may truthfully be said that MD Anderson Cancer Center is as much a monument to Lee Clark and his successors, and to the thousands of physicians, scientists, nurses and others who dedicated themselves to this splendid institution, as it is to the memory of the man whose name it bears.

While he died unmarried and childless, MD Anderson was the “father” not only to the Texas Medical Center and the institution that bears his name, but also to libraries, auditoriums, college buildings and even a planetarium in his native Jackson. If he were to return to earth and look about, he would be amazed and probably a little amused at the prominence his name has attained throughout the civilized world.

This historical overview was written by Thomas D. Anderson, a nephew of Monroe D. Anderson and a devoted friend of the institution that bears his uncle’s name. Tom Anderson was a member of MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors from 1962 until his death in 2007 and chaired the board from 1965 to 1974. His original text has been amended to bring the MD Anderson story up to date.


Our Name, Through the Years

Creating a new cancer hospital and research center during the height of World War II was no easy task.

Building materials were scarce, and the government banned construction that did not qualify as defense or as essential to the health and safety of the people.

Doctors, likewise, were in short supply as many were away in the armed services.

The new state cancer hospital might never have been more than a piece of legislation but for the vision of Colonel William B. Bates, John H. Freeman and Horace M. Wilkins, trustees of the MD Anderson Foundation, who conceived a great medical center for Houston. They soon shared their dream with Ernst W. Bertner, M.D., a prominent physician interested in cancer control.

Before long, many farsighted Houstonians were talking about building a great cancer research facility and planning for a medical center that, in time, would extend hope and help to people throughout the world.

The institution known today as The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has had five different names.

  • 1941: Established by the Texas Legislature as the Texas State Cancer Hospital and the Division of Cancer Research.
  • 1942: Renamed M. D. Anderson Hospital for Cancer Research of The University of Texas to honor support from the MD Anderson Foundation.
  • 1955: Name changed to The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute at Houston.
  • 1972: UT System reorganization led to the establishment of The University of Texas System Cancer Center, including both the hospital and research facility in Houston and the Science Park in Smithville.
  • 1988: Name changed to The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to incorporate the worldwide name recognition associated with MD Anderson.

MD Anderson: Quick look

Created: 1941

First patient: 1944 (approximately 1 million patients treated overall)

Ranking: No. 1 in cancer care, America’s Best Hospitals, U.S. News and World Report (ranked in the top two every year since 1990)

Employees: 19,973

Faculty: 1,685

Volunteers: 1,080

Trainees: 6,341

Average number of inpatient beds: 654

Active clinical research protocols: 1,101 (more than 8,000 patient registrants)

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center