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MD Anderson's History

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A bit of perspective -- looking back on MD Anderson over 70 years

With The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center turning 70, we at GAP would like to take a brief look back to see how MD Anderson started and what it has become.

How it all began

In 1941, when the Texas Legislature authorized the creation of the Texas State Cancer Hospital and the Division of Cancer Research, the nation was in the middle of World War II. Building materials were in short supply, construction that did not qualify as defense was banned and doctors were scarce because many were in the armed services.

So, when trustees of the M. D. Anderson Foundation stepped in to help, their funds were welcomed resources.

The foundation

The M. D. Anderson Foundation was established in 1936 by Monroe Dunaway Anderson, a successful banker and cotton broker from Jackson, Tenn. He moved to Houston in 1907 to give his cotton business access to larger banks and deep water shipping when the Houston Ship Channel was ultimately completed in 1914.
Anderson died in 1939, leaving the foundation $19,000,000. The foundation’s goal of promoting  “health, science, education and advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding among the people" seemed a perfect match for the new cancer research hospital.

In 1942, M. D. Anderson Foundation trustees matched state funds of $500,000 and proposed that the state cancer hospital and division of cancer research be moved to Houston on property owned by the foundation. Trustees also requested that the hospital and research division be named in memory of M. D. Anderson. The University of Texas Board of Regents agreed to the request, naming the institution The M. D. Anderson Hospital for Cancer Research of The University of Texas.

Humble beginnings

The foundation provided property near downtown Houston for the fledgling hospital. Known as “The Oaks,” the parcel of land and quarters had been the home of the late Captain James A. Baker (grandfather of Secretary of State James A. Baker III).

Now, the institution needed a leader. Houston physician Ernst W. Bertner, M.D., filled the acting director role at MD Anderson until a permanent director could be found. Bertner served without salary until 1946, when he became the first president of the new Texas Medical Center.

After World War II ended in 1945, The University of Texas began searching in earnest for a full-time leader for the institution. They began interviewing a young surgeon who had recently been discharged from the Army Air Force. R. Lee Clark, M.D., had earned his medical degree at the Medical College of Virginia and had done postgraduate work at the American Hospital in Paris and the Mayo Clinic. He became the first full-time director and surgeon-in-chief of the M. D. Anderson Hospital for Cancer Research on Aug. 1, 1946, and led the institution from 1946 to 1978.

During Clark’s tenure, the institution moved to the Texas Medical Center in 1954 with additional support from the M. D. Anderson Foundation and the community. Shortly after the move, the institution – dubbed the “Pink Palace of Healing” by Time Magazine – officially became The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute.

Years of growth

In 1972, the University of Texas System reorganization led to establishment of The University of Texas System Cancer Center, which including the hospital and the Science Park in Smithville.

A few years later, after 32 years of service, Clark retired. In 1978, UT System Chancellor Charles A. LeMaistre, M.D., was chairing a search committee to replace Clark when several faculty members began a campaign to recruit LeMaistre. LeMaistre resigned his position on the committee and agreed to become a candidate. On Aug. 1, 1978, he became president of The University of Texas System Cancer Center. An anti-smoking advocate, LeMaistre worked to inform the public of the dangers of tobacco and to encourage the prevention of its use. During his 18 years as president, MD Anderson doubled in size and further entrenched itself as one of the preeminent cancer hospitals in the nation. In 1988, the institution adopted its current name: The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

In 1996, after LeMaistre retired, John Mendelsohn, M.D., became the institution’s third full-time president. Mendelsohn had served as Memorial Sloan-Kettering's chair of the Department of Medicine and  founding director of the National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center at the University of California, San Diego.  During his tenure, MD Anderson has more than quadrupled in budget, tripled in space and doubled in patients served and work force, thanks in part to philanthropic support that has increased almost tenfold in the past 15 years.


From its humble beginnings as an idea to the more than 800,000 patients who have received care since its inception, MD Anderson has become the world’s leading cancer center. MD Anderson receives more research grants from the National Cancer Institute than any other academic institution. With employees working in more than 50 buildings in the greater Houston area and in central Texas, MD Anderson is the largest freestanding cancer center in the world. The institution’s School of Health Professions offers bachelor’s degrees in eight allied health disciplines and more than 1,100 clinical residents and fellows come to MD Anderson each year to receive specialized training in the investigation and treatment of cancer. About 600 graduate students are working on advanced degrees at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, which MD Anderson operates with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. In 2010, MD Anderson placed more than 10,000 patients on clinical trials exploring novel treatments, the largest such program in the nation.

As MD Anderson has grown to become the nation’s preeminent cancer center, its mission has remained clear and focused – not unlike the original goals set forth by the M. D. Anderson Foundation. For 70 years, thousands of employees and volunteers have dedicated their lives to Making Cancer History for the hundreds of thousands of patients they serve.

Visit the MD Anderson history and institutional profile page for more information.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center