Arthur G. James was born on March 14, 1912 in Rhodesdale, a small mining town that no longer exists in eastern Ohio's Belmont County. He was the third of eight children of Italian immigrants. His father was a coal miner who later ran a small grocery.
The family's home was rented from the mining company that employed Mr. James, and Arthur's elementary education began in a one-room mining town school. When he was in third grade, the family moved to nearby Uniontown; the school there consisted of one room for the first three grades and a second room for the other five.
As a boy, Arthur worked in the family store, learning all phases of the business and helping to deliver groceries – first in a horse-drawn cart and later in a pickup truck.
In 1930, he graduated from St. Clairsville High School as co-valedictorian and enrolled at Ohio State, where he received a scholarship covering registration and incidental fees. In college, he worked in a cafeteria for his meals and shared an inexpensive attic room with two other students while excelling at his studies.
His scholastic average was high enough to qualify for the freshman honorary society. He completed his Arts School training in 1933 and was accepted into the College of Medicine. His medical school summers were spent caring for laboratory animals and cleaning glassware and equipment, jobs that helped pay his educational expenses. He earned his MD, along with an MMSc, in 1937.
From there he completed a medical internship at the University of Chicago and a surgical internship at Duke University in North Carolina before coming back to Ohio State for a three-year surgical residency. He served as chief resident in 1941-42.
In later years, Dr. James would trace his interest in cancer to his internship at the University of Chicago. Influenced by a cancer surgeon there whose work was advanced for the day and resulted in many patient recoveries, the young physician decided after completing his surgical residency to apply for a fellowship at Memorial Hospital in New York City, which at the time was one of the nation's very few cancer hospitals.
He was accepted and began his fellowship on July 1, 1942, but just six weeks later he was called into service for World War II with the 65th General Hospital, which he had joined while at Duke University. He reported for duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the hospital soon became attached to the 8th Air Force stationed on the North Sea in England.
After the war, he returned to Memorial Hospital to finish his fellowship training before going back to Ohio State in 1947 as an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery. He would remain at OSU for the rest of his career, working his way up to full professor and chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology. He was also the first to hold the Lucius A. Wing Chair of Cancer Research and Therapy.