Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Harriet C. Legum
MSA SC 3520-15135

Biography:

Harriet C. Legum became an outstanding advocate for breast cancer research and other health related causes after her own battle with breast cancer drastically changed her perspective on life. Since her recovery, Legum has raised millions of dollars for research, co-founded “A Woman’s Journey,” a public health education symposium, and held numerous positions on various charity and health boards and committees.

Legum was born on February 9, 1944, in Baltimore, Maryland.1 She grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where she earned a degree in early childhood education in 1966.2 Upon graduation, Legum returned to Washington, D.C., where she taught nursery school for two years.3 She then moved to Baltimore following her marriage to Jeffrey, and she became a nursery school and kindergarten teacher at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. She taught there from 1968 to 1972, until her children, Laurie and Michael, were born.4 While raising her children, Legum taught part-time at the Jewish Community Center in Baltimore. She continued to foster her passion for teaching children by volunteering at the Park School in Baltimore and Siani Hospital. At the Park School, Legum chaired the annual “Brain Thrust” educational program and the school auction, and at Siani Hospital she led an education program to familiarize first-grade students with hospitals.5

Then, at the age of 43, Legum would receive life-changing news.6 Almost two years earlier, Legum found a lump in her breast during a self-examination and suspected cancer.7 She went to numerous doctors and they all denied her sickness and told her not to worry about the lump. Then one morning, Legum woke up and the mass had grown.8 Alarmed, she went to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, where surgeons confirmed her breast cancer.9 Following surgery and radiation, Legum made a full recovery.10 It was her fight against cancer that transformed her life. Before battling cancer, Legum was very quiet and subdued. After being initially ignored by doctors, and for the necessity of fighting the cancer, Legum learned to speak up and communicate her feelings.11, 12 This new, more proactive Legum was ready to aggressively battle breast cancer on all fronts saying, “As I became stronger emotionally and started to lose some of my friends to this disease, I realized I had to do something.”13

She certainly did something; she dedicated her life to raising funds and awareness for the treatement and cure of breast cancer. Legum became chair of the Johns Hopkins Oncology Breast Cancer Research “Chair and Fellowship Campaign”, a position she says her recovery gave her the confidence to take on.14 As chair, she recruited a group of 20 women to raise $2.1 million for breast cancer research at Johns Hopkins.15 This money was used to establish the Breast Cancer Research Chair and Fellowship, the first of its kind in the country.16 Dr. Nancy Davidson received this position and has consequently made great progress in the fight against breast cancer from the financial stability Legum raised. Dr. Davidson was able to play a major role in nation-wide clinical trials that led to the implementation of new treatments for breast cancer. She served as the senior investigator for a major study that led to the approval of Avatin for metastic breast cancer and by served as co-investigator for a clinical trial that helped launch Herceptin as a medication for early-stage breast cancer.17 Dr. Davidson’s work was not the only success; the Breast Cancer Center itself saw great gains from Legum’s relentless support. The Center gained backing from the Avon Foundation and was renamed the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center.18 They were also recognized by the competitive National Cancer Institute’s SPORE, or Specialized Program of Research Excellence.19 The Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center was also named a Center of Excellence by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research program.20 Legum continues her fight against breast cancer, as she recently chaired another fund-raising event for the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Center after raising the initial $2.1 million in the 1990s.21

Legum did not limit her work to breast cancer research; she expanded her support and labor to women’s health in general, by co-founding “A Woman’s Journey,” an annual program held in Baltimore which draws between 1,000-1,400 women each year. Seven years after her recovery from breast cancer, Legum and Mollye Block revisited Johns Hopkins. They were concerned over the lack of local resources for women and their families with questions about their health.22, 23 They met with officials at Hopkins to discuss how to provide women with health education so that they could make better-educated health care decisions for themselves and their families.24 Legum worked with Leslie Waldman, associate director of marketing for Johns Hopkins Medicine and coordinator of “A Woman’s Journey,” to develop the program. From this meeting came, “A Woman’s Journey,” an annual conference sponsored by Johns Hopkins Medicine that brings in over thirty physicians and researchers to instruct women on health issues ranging from heart disease to depression, and give women a voice for themselves and their families.25 The event features 32 hour-long seminars, which allows women to attend sessions on subjects that interest them and to return yearly to hear fresh topics. The conference, which began in 1995, has grown to serve thousands of attendees from numerous states and countries, and is staffed by over 100 volunteers, in addition to paid staff and speakers.26, 27 But the sheer numbers do not tell the profound impact of the event on women around the world. Legum described the personal effect of the event saying, “We get letters every year from someone who says ‘Thank you, I would not have saved my husband or child’s life without the symposium.’”28 These stories include a woman opting to undergo an alternative procedure she learned about at the conference, instead of getting a hysterectomy to reduce the pain from fibroid tumors and another woman changing her entire lifestyle, losing over forty pounds in the process, after learning that she was at risk for heart disease, the number one killer of women.29 Attendees recognized the empowerment the conference brings with the life changing information it provides to women who, all to often, take their health for granted.30, 31 "A Woman's Journey," goes on the road about once a year, in order to reach women in other parts of the United States. International attendees to these events are often health advocates attempting to increase women's health educational programs in their countries.

In 1998, a loved one of the Legums developed encephalitis and fell into a coma. The Legums spent many hours at the Johns Hopkins Neuro Critical Care Unit (NCCU) over the course of six months while the patient was undergoing treatment.32, 33From this experience, the Legums were amazed at how tirelessly doctors in the NCCU worked. They never gave up on the patient, who made a complete recovery in what is considered a “landmark case,” because of the successful outcome after almost six months of unresponsiveness from the patient.34 After the amazing recovery, Legum and her husband decided to generously endow the Jeffrey and Harriet Legum Professorship in Acute Neurological Medicine.35 Dr. Hanley, recipient of the endowed professorship stated the importance of this gift saying, “endowed chairs are so important. They allow medical researchers to have enough free time to design and implement novel studies that can change the way we practice medicine. No one today is paying for that kind of creative freedom except for patient advocates like the Legums.”36 With this creative freedom, Hanley is able to research the use of basic neurobiologic approaches and interventional treatments to acute brain ailments. This allowed the Johns Hopkins Neuro Critical Care Unit to become one of the first units to employ contemporary tactics for preserving and protecting the brain after acute severe injuries.37

As one of Baltimore’s “most tireless and successful charity fund-raisers”, Legum has held and continues to hold many positions for her various causes.38 Legum has held volunteer positions with the Associated Jewish Charities, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Park School. In 1992, she joined the board of the Maryland Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and helped start the Race for the Cure. She also chaired the Johns Hopkins Oncology Breast Cancer Research Chair and Fellowship Campaign.39 In 2004, she was co-chair of the Baltimore Crabtown Project, which benefited Baltimore City Public Schools.40 She has also held positions on the Johns Hopkins Board of Visitors and Johns Hopkins Oncology Advisory Committee.41 She has helped educate youth and spread awareness about breast cancer by speaking for Hadassah’s “Check it out” high school program to educate young women about breast cancer.42

Since 1994 she has been on the board of directors for the Kennedy Krieger Institute. With the Institute, she has held positions on the Board Resources Committee, the Education and Community Programs Committee, and the External Relations Committee.43 In 2000, she chaired the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s annual fundraising event, “Festival of Trees”, which raised $600,000.44 She also utilized her background in early childhood education to help create the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s music therapy program, which the President of the Kennedy Krieger Institute claimed, “would not have been possible…without Mrs. Legum’s support and leadership.”45 Legum is still committed to volunteer work, and recently agreed to help launch an integrative medicine program at Johns Hopkins, which offers care to cancer patients by blending Eastern and Western medicine practices.46

Legum’s work and inspirational story have been recognized by numerous organizations. In 1997, Legum was featured in the American Cancer Society Portraits of Hope and named on of “Baltimore’s Most Powerful Women” by Baltimore Magazine.47 A year later, she was featured in the American Cancer Society Voices of Hope for her selfless commitment to fighting cancer.48 She was also named the “Community Volunteer of the Year” from The Rotary Club of Woodlawn-Westview, in recognition of her exceptional dedication and commitment to the community. In 2002, she received the Fairway to Life Breast Cancer Progress Award given to a breast cancer survivor who, through dedication, commitment, and sometimes-personal sacrifice, has made a difference in the lives of others.49 She was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in March 2009.50

Harriet Legum gallantly fought breast cancer and utilized the courage and confidence she gained through her recovery to better the lives of those struggling with illness everywhere. Her story is truly inspiring and many researchers, doctors, patients, and survivors dramatically benefit from Legum's tireless volunteering.
 

Endnotes:

1. Edward Miller, M.D., “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form,” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
2. Ibid. Return to text.
3. Ibid. Return to text.
4. “2002 Progress Award Recipient Harriet Legum,” Fairway to Life, 2002. http://www.fairwaytolife.org/progress.htm#2002 Return to text.
5. Miller, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Return to text.
6. Linell Smith, “A River Connects Them; Nature calls and the Happy Hookers tie one on. For a few blessed hours, Baltimore's overscheduled movers and shakers cast the real world aside, fish and relax,” The Baltimore Sun, July 12, 1997, Pg. 1D. Return to text.
7. Miller, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Return to text.
8. Greg Rienzi, “A Feminine Perspective on Health,” The Johns Hopkins Gazette, November 8, 2004. http://www.jhu.edu/~gazette/2004/08nov04/08women.html Return to text.
9. Will Englund, “Breast cancer effort gets help; $ 2.1 million raised; Hopkins expert to fill new research post,” The Baltimore Sun, October 15, 1995. Return to text.
10. Ibid. Return to text.
11. Smith, “A River Connects Them.” Return to text.
12. “10 Powerful Women,” Baltimore Magazine, May 1997. Return to text.
13. Will Englund, “Breast cancer effort gets help; $ 2.1 million raised; Hopkins expert to fill new research post,” The Baltimore Sun, October 15, 1995. Return to text.
14. Smith, “A River Connects Them.” Return to text.
15. Miller, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Return to text.
16. Nancy Davidson, M.D., “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form,” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
17. Ibid. Return to text.
18. Ibid. Return to text.
19. Ibid. Return to text.
20. Ibid. Return to text.
21. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
22. Rienzi, “A Feminine Perspective on Health.” Return to text.
23. Tyeesha Dixon, “Letting women help themselves: Hopkins conference offers attendees in-depth information on oft-neglected health issues,” The Baltimore Sun, November 4, 2007. Return to text.
24. Rienzi, “A Feminine Perspective on Health.” Return to text.
25. Dixon, “Letting women help themselves: Hopkins conference offers attendees in-depth information on oft-neglected health issues.” Return to text.
26. Rienzi, “A Feminine Perspective on Health.” Return to text.
27. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
28. “Video: about A Woman’s Journey, Baltimore, video.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/awomansjourney/baltimore/video.html Return to text.
29. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
30. “Video: about A Woman’s Journey.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. Return to text.
31. Dixon, “Letting women help themselves.” Return to text.
32. Miller, “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form.” Return to text.
33. “After Long Siege, A Landmark Gift,” Neuro Now: New from Johns Hopkins’ Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Spring 2008. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/neuronow/Spring2008/gift/index.html Return to text.
34. Ibid. Return to text.
35. Ibid. Return to text.
36. Ibid. Return to text.
37. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
38. Smith, “A River Connects Them.” Return to text.
39. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
40. Smith, “A River Connects Them.” Return to text.
41. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
42. Smith, “A River Connects Them.” Return to text.
43. Gary Goldstein, M.D., “2009 Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Nomination Form,” Maryland Commission for Women, 2008. Return to text.
44. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
45. Goldstein, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
46. Miller, “2009 Nomination Form.” Return to text.
47. Ibid. Return to text.
48. Ibid. Return to text.
49. Ibid. Return to text.
50. “Harriet C. Legum,” Maryland Commission for Women, Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, 12 March 2009. http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/educ/exhibits/womenshall/html/legum.html Return to text.
 
 

Biography written by 2009 summer intern Stephanie Berger; revised June 2010.
 
 

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