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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Admission of Women to Veterinary Medicine at Cornell

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted December 1, 2010

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

I read several articles this week commenting on a recent study that attempts to explain why more women than men apply to veterinary college.[i] Professor Anne Lincoln from SMU in Texas concludes that one of the reasons we have so few men applying to become veterinarians is “men’s strong negative response to women’s increasing enrollment”. Based upon data from a 20-year period starting in the mid 1970s, Professor Lincoln concludes “that for every 1 percent increase in women in the veterinary college student body, about 1.7 fewer men will apply the subsequent year.

During my history course at Cornell last spring, we spent a substantial amount of time examining issues relating to access for women, Jews and Blacks in veterinary medicine. For those students enrolled in the course this spring, I wrote this blog to get you thinking about these issues over the holiday break.

You can read more about the personal stories of some of the women who graduated between 1930 and 1970 at (includes biographies and interviews with women veterinarians) and (stories of women who graduated before 1950).

Dr. Marie Koenig Olson,
the only woman to matriculate in veterinary medicine at Cornell in 1933.
Her father, husband, son and granddaughter were also veterinarians.
Photo from Cornell University archives.

Relative to women enrolled in veterinary medicine at Cornell, there were five distinct time periods:
1905-1935: Approximately 12 women entered the veterinary program in these early years, surpassing all other veterinary colleges in the U.S. They were a fascinating group of women, pioneers in every sense of the word.

1935-1945: Considering the times, this was the “Decade of woman veterinarians at Cornell” as they comprised about 5% of the entering classes. Several classes had four women.

1945-1970: The Dark Ages for women at Cornell! At the end of WWII, proportions of women, Jews and Blacks all declined. Though people sometimes report that Cornell had a quota of two women per year, the number of matriculating female students varied from zero to four.

1970-1995: A change in the admission policy to treat women and men equally resulted in a 500% increase in the percentage of women admitted to Cornell between 1971 and 1977. The first class that was over half women graduated in 1981 (Dr. Sheila Allen, the current dean at University of Georgia, was in that class). The proportion of women dropped briefly below 50% then increased slowly thereafter.

1995-2015: During the last two decades, the percentage of women matriculating has increased marginally, but mostly has hovered between 70% and 85%. The class that graduates in May 2011 is 70% women. As I write this blog, we are reviewing the admission folders of students for admission in 2011, Cornell’s sesquicentennial Class of 2015.

[i] Lincoln, Anne E. 2010. “The Shifting Supply of Women and Men to Occupations:
Feminization in Veterinary Education.” Social Forces 88(5):1969-1999.

Dr. Smith invites comments at