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St. Jude history

Learn about the history of St. Jude, why Danny Thomas founded our organization and the impact we’ve had on our patients and their families over the years.

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Danny Thomas gets a hug from a patient in a historic photograph.
Building on St. Jude campus at dusk with rainbow lights in the windows.

Who we are

Located in Memphis, Tennessee, St. Jude is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Through groundbreaking treatment and research methods, expert staff and our community of supporters, St. Jude provides customized care for some of the world's sickest children regardless of their race, ethnicity, beliefs or ability to pay.


When was St. Jude founded?

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital opened on February 4, 1962, in Memphis, Tenn., in front of a crowd of 9,000 people. Since then, we’ve been working tirelessly to save the lives of children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. 

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A crowd of supporters gathers in front of the site of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on February 4, 1962.
Danny Thomas stands next to a statue of St. Jude Thaddues on the St. Jude campus in the 1960s.

Why did Danny Thomas open St. Jude?

More than 70 years ago, Danny Thomas was a young entertainer with a baby on the way. Work wasn't easy to come by, and his despair grew. He turned to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, and vowed:

Show me my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.

That prayer marked a pivotal moment. Soon after, he began finding work, eventually becoming one of the biggest stars of radio, film and television in his day. He was on Make Room for Daddy, later known as The Danny Thomas Show. 

Danny used his fame to fulfill his vow, and, in 1962, St. Jude opened, changing the lives of thousands of children and their families. 


St. Jude timeline and milestones




St. Jude opens

On February 4, 1962, we open our doors and begin our journey toward curing childhood cancer.




Sustained remission

A group of St. Jude patients are the first acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) patients to ever be successfully taken off therapy, based on evidence that remission can be sustained. 




Sickle cell research begins

We launch the first major effort to understand the lifelong progression of sickle cell disease.




After Completion of Therapy Clinic opens

We open the After Completion of Therapy Clinic, the world's largest long-term follow-up clinic for pediatric cancer patients.




Peter Doherty wins the Nobel Prize

Peter Doherty, PhD, St. Jude Immunology chair, is awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.  




94% survival rate for ALL

St. Jude reports a 94% survival rate for patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), using therapy that does not include radiation.




LIFE study begins

The St. Jude LIFE study begins to study the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment. This initiative is one of the most ambitious follow-up projects ever conceived.  




National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center designation

St. Jude is designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center. We're the first and only cancer center solely focused on pediatric cancer to receive this distinction.




Pediatric Genome Project launches

We launch the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, a collaboration with Washington University, to uncover why childhood cancer arises, spreads and resists treatment. As part of the largest such initiative in the world, scientists compare the complete normal and cancer genomes of 800 childhood cancer patients with some of the toughest and least understood pediatric cancers.




WHO partnership

St. Jude and World Health Organization (WHO) announce a five-year collaboration to transform cancer care by curing at least 60% of children with six of the most common kinds of cancer worldwide by 2030.




Gene therapy cures babies with "bubble boy" disease

St. Jude announces a cure for SCID-X1, commonly known as bubble boy disease. By combining gene therapy and low-dose chemotherapy with busulfan, immune function is restored in infants with the disorder. 


“A dream is one thing. A realization is something entirely separate." 

-Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital


Help us continue our lifesaving work

When St. Jude opened in 1962, childhood cancer was considered largely incurable. Since then, St. Jude has helped push the overall survival rate from 20% to more than 80%, and we won't stop until no child dies from cancer.

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Learn more about the St. Jude story

St. Jude campus.

How we began

Learn more about how Danny Thomas made his dream a reality.

Two researches looking into a microscope.

Pioneering racial integration

St. Jude was the first integrated children's hospital in the South.

St. Jude patient Lily and her twin sister pose in capes at the St. Jude Walk/Run.

Honors and awards

Over the years, we’ve earned numerous clinical and scientific achievements.

St. Jude CEO.

St. Jude CEOs

Learn about our CEOs since 1961. 


The founding of St. Jude

Danny Thomas vowed he'd build a hospital if he ever became famous. Hear his words about the founding of St. Jude in this video.

St. Jude Founder's Day video

Danny Thomas vowed he'd build a hospital if he ever became famous.

St. Jude patient Pepe stands with his mom and holds a photo of himself from when he was in treatment at St. Jude.

St. Jude patient Pepe with his mom


Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — so they can focus on helping their child live.

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