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Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Getting the Call: Telephoning Accepted Veterinary College Applicants

by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University, January 30, 2011

Ninety-five year old Dr. John Murray’s voice quivered as he told me how he was informed of his acceptance at Cornell’s veterinary college in summer 1935. He had traveled to Cornell to meet the dean a couple of months earlier and was awaiting the college’s decision.

Time went on and I didn’t hear anything. I had given up hope of being admitted when, along in July, I saw my Dad coming into the tannery where I was working. He was holding a letter, and I knew right then that this was it—it was either yes or no. He handed me the letter and I looked up in the left-hand corner:  NEW YORK STATE VETERINARY COLLEGE. My fingers were trembling as I opened the letter and read those opening lines: 'We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted.'  That letter changed my life forever.
Today’s candidates more commonly receive their acceptances by password-secured e-mail. However, for the last few years I was dean, I personally telephoned as many accepted candidates as I could reach during the week assigned for notification. The surprise and joy at the other end of the line was an experience I looked forward to each year.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

NOT FOR US ALONE: The 150th Anniversary of the Veterinary Profession in the United States

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
January 29, 2011

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

The first veterinary college opened in France 250 years ago, but it took another century before the profession was formally established in the United States. 

The year was 1863, and the place was New York City. Forty veterinarians from the northeastern states met on June 9-10 and formed the United States Veterinary Medical Association (USVMA).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Notable African-American Veterinarians

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University 
Posted 01.26.11.

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

February is designated as Black History Month and this year I would like to recognize some notable African-American veterinarians. The deans of three of our 28 veterinary colleges are African-American: Drs. Willie M. Reed (Purdue), Tsegaye HabteMariam (Tuskegee), and Phillip D. Nelson (Western Univ Health Sciences). Dr. Reed, who also serves as 2010-11 president of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, recently shared with me his hope that they might serve as role models for young African-Americans who aspire to a career in the health professions.

Frederick Douglass Patterson (1901-1988) was one of the most influential Black veterinarians in U.S. history. Orphaned before he was two years of age and raised by an older sister who encouraged him to get an education, Patterson received his veterinary degree from Iowa State University (1923) and PhD from Cornell (1932). After becoming president of Tuskegee Institute (now University) in 1935, he overcame tremendous obstacles to establish a veterinary college for Black students at a time when higher education in the South was generally segregated and there were only about 12 veterinary colleges in the country.

Though his contributions to veterinary medicine represent worthy lifetime achievements, more Americans recognize his name as the organizer of the United Negro College Fund which was incorporated in 1944.  To veterinarians and animal lovers everywhere, we can pay tribute to a DVM the next time we hear the well-known phrase, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. Patterson also helped establish the Tuskegee Airmen program during his tenure as president. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1987.

Finally, a recognition to several institutions, in particular, Kansas State, Iowa State, Michigan State, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. Between 1900 and the establishment of the veterinary college at Tuskegee in 1945, these colleges accepted and educated about 70 young Black men to become veterinarians. Several also received postgraduate training, usually leading to a PhD. They formed a core of mentors and role models for the succeeding generations of African-American veterinarians.

Shown below (left) is the graduation photo of Aubrey E. Robinson, Sr. Originally from Pennsylvania, he received his DVM from Cornell in 1920 and established a progressive mixed animal practice in New Jersey. Most of his clients were white, and he served some very large dairy herds and hog operations. He and his wife had one daughter (a teacher), and three sons (a federal judge, an engineer and a veterinarian).

The veterinarian, Dr. Charles R. Robinson, graduated from Cornell in 1944. As a second-year student, he met President Patterson of Tuskegee Institute when he visited Cornell to recruit faculty for his new college. Though Robinson was not one of the inaugural faculty as Patterson had hoped, he did teach there after his war service. He then returned to his father's practice where he spent the remainder of his career. Dr. and Mrs. Robinson (right) are retired and live in Arizona.

Photos courtesy of Cornell University (left) and the author (right).

Cornell's DVM Class of 2015 (150th Anniversary)

Blog by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University, 01.26.11

This a special welcome to the students who comprise the Veterinary Class of 2015 at Cornell University. You are on track to complete your DVM degree during the 150th anniversary of the university.

Our founder, Ezra Cornell, was an entrepreneur who built a vast telegraph network for Samuel Morse. After amassing his fortune in Western Union stock, Cornell returned to his first love, farming. He acquired an expansive land tract on the top of the hill overlooking Cayuga Lake and then set to work fulfilling his dream of providing an educational institution where any person could find instruction in any study.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Veterinarians World-Wide Mourn the Passing of Dr. Robert W. Kirk

by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University.
Posted January 20, 2011

Dr. Robert W. Kirk, professor emeritus of medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, died yesterday (January 19th) in Ithaca.

A 1946 graduate of Cornell, Dr. Kirk was one of the most accomplished clinical veterinarians, authors and educators of the 20th century. His knowledge of general small animal medicine was established through several years in private practice, then honed in his three decades of advanced medical practice, including dermatology, at Cornell University.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dr. Stephen Ettinger receives Mark Morris Sr. Lifetime Achievement Award

by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University;
Posted January 19, 2011.

Dr. Stephen Ettinger received the Mark Morris Sr. Lifetime Achievement Award last Saturday evening at the North America Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Florida. One of North America’s premier annual veterinary recognitions, it is given to the individual who has contributed most significantly to small animal medicine over his or her career.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The 1930s Spike in Jewish Veterinary Students at Cornell

Donald F. Smith, DVM (

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

In my research of Cornell veterinary students during the Great Depression, I had observed that there was a pronounced increase in the number of Jewish students starting in 1931 and continuing through the decade. This was happening at the same time as Cornell’s medical school and many elite undergraduate colleges were quietly limiting the number of Jews to about 10% of their enrollments.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why is there no Veterinary College in New York City?

By Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 7, 2011 (reposted July 9, 2012).

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

Veterinary medicine is filled with strange anecdotes and quirks of history. For example:
  • What happened to the four veterinary colleges that once existed in New York City – and the ones in Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and many other cities?
  • When and why did veterinary colleges separate from medical schools and move to the country?
  • Why did the veterinary profession almost collapse between 1920 and 1925, when much of the rest of the country was experiencing the “Roaring Twenties”?
  • Why did Cornell’s veterinary college―that had a written policy of favoring farm boys over city boys―admit a larger proportion of urban-raised Jews during the 1930s than the medical college at Cornell and the most prominent undergraduate colleges of the period?
  • Why did the veterinary colleges at Harvard University and New York University (which had state funding) both close?
         These and many other questions are answered in an article on the history of veterinary medicine just published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education. [J Vet Med Educ 37 (4) p 317-327]. Based in large part from first person interviews with veterinarians (or close family members) who graduated in the 1920s and 1930s, this article provides answers to many questions that have never even previously been asked.
         This is the first in a series that summarizes the content of a course in veterinary history that I teach for veterinary students at Cornell. Three more articles have since been published and they describe the progress in veterinary education to the present. 

An abstract of the first article can be located at
A full copy can be obtained from the publisher, library access, or by contacting me at the address below.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Dean for the Nation's Oldest Veterinary College

Blog written by Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 6, 2011.


When Professor Lisa Nolan goes to work at Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine on January 15th, she will be assuming the position of dean of the oldest veterinary college in the United States.[i]

Dean Lisa Nolan
Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Photo provided by Iowa State University 

I met Dr. Nolan during an AVMA accreditation review site visit to the Ames campus five years ago. In her position as executive department chair at the time, she clearly and concisely represented the college’s academic programs, and provided a compelling vision for the future direction of teaching and research in the college.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Water For Elephants: A Book, A Movie, and Veterinarians who Graduated from Cornell in 1931

Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel, Water for Elephants, opens as 93-year-old Jacob Jankowski, sits dejected in an assisted living home, verbally sparring with a retired lawyer. As the story flashes back to 1931, we learn that veterinary student Jankowski is about to take his final exams at Cornell University when his parents are killed in an auto accident. Jacob is disconsolate because his father―also a veterinarian―had mortgaged his practice to pay the Ivy League tuition. He abandons Cornell and joins the circus.

Centenarian Dr. Lawrence Waitz is a real member of the Veterinary Class of ’31. He graduated along with 35 other men―sorry, there were no women in the class like the sensuous Catherine who sat beside Jacob with her thighs provocatively touching his―and began his practice on Long Island in the depths of the Depression. Dr. Waitz settled in Hempstead from which he could drive in all directions to riding academies, stables and dairy farms.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Going to Cornell in 1930

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 2, 2011

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

Joe Merenda went to Cornell before there were dormitories, residence advisors, financial aid consultants and cafeterias.Born in 1912, Dr. Merenda grew up on a Long Island estate where his parents were employed as laborers.  As he was finishing high school, a Cornell graduate named Jack Sloan noticed the teenager had an affinity for animals. “Go to veterinary college”, he told him. “You go for one year. If you like it, you continue. If you don’t like it, you quit, but you will have had a year of college.”

Joseph Merenda, DVM and friend Ms. Rae Lazare, 2007
Photo by the author
Arriving at the train station in Ithaca with throngs of other students in the fall of 1930, Joe experienced independent living for the first time. “Now that was an experience! You are met up there by a Cornell student and he has a laundry bag—a big khaki laundry bag with a big red C—and you’re not going to be able to go through college unless you’ve got one of those big C laundry bags. So they sell you a laundry bag for 50 cents.

“Then another fellow says, ‘You got a room?’ and I said, ‘No.’ So he says, ‘Wait here’. And they’d get two or three other fellows who didn’t have a room. They took us up by car to a little office in Collegetown. And you’d sit there and they’d say, ‘What kind of room do you want? You want a room on your own, or with one or two people?’

“I didn’t know what I wanted so I took the first house that I saw. There were three of us in that house, sharing two rooms.”

Veterinary classes were also a new experience. The faculty warned the new students to look at the guy to their left and the one to their right because by the end of the term, one of them wouldn’t be there.

“It wasn’t going to be easy. You didn’t know whether you were going or coming; you were overwhelmed. You’re a kid away from home, you’re up there, you’re living in a house, you take your meals when you feel like it. You go to class, and nobody seems to give a darn about what you’re doing. It was just a whole new way of life.”

Joe was one of the 40 students (of 60) to receive his DVM degree on schedule in 1934. He accepted a position with Dr. C.P. Zepp, an accomplished small animal veterinarian with a clinic on West 53rd Street in New York City. It was an exciting time for dog and cat veterinarians. Dr. Merenda and his small animal colleagues were pioneers in every sense of the word, developing procedures that were in some cases more innovative than those used by their former instructors at Cornell.

Current site of the veterinary practice on West 53rd Street,
just east of the Sheraton Hotel.
As he had during his college days, Dr. Merenda continued to live modestly during the Depression, saving much of his weekly $25 salary so he could get married. He was called into military service in 1941, then returned to his small animal practice for an additional 30 years.

Dr. Merenda remained an active alumnus all his life, returning to Cornell yearly for reunions, even as late as 2009 at age 97. Not bad for a kid who had never been away from home!

You can read (and hear) my complete 2007 interview with Dr. Merenda at,%20Joseph%20J.%20'34%20BioInt.pdf

Dr. Smith invites comments at  

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Veterinarian for Eighty Years

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted January 1, 2011

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

A hearty New Year tribute to 100-year-old Dr. Larry Waitz who marks his 80th year as a veterinarian in 2011. He was awarded his D.V.M. from Cornell in 1931, earlier than any other living U.S. veterinarian.

Dr. and Mrs. Waitz, and their dog, in October 2007.

I spoke by telephone with Dr. Waitz today at his home in Cutchogue (Long Island). Towards the end of our conversation, I asked if he had any words of advice for veterinary students today. “Just tell them that being a veterinarian all these years has been the most wonderful experience of my life. I just loved every minute of it.”

Dr. Waitz started practicing 15 years before antibiotics, and spayed dogs in the days of rudimentary anesthetics. He remembers cows being housed and milked in converted multi-floor warehouses in Queens and Brooklyn (my wife refers to this as the 'original factory farming'). 

As a boy of 14 in New York, Larry was able to get a job exercising horses and leading trail rides. At one of his stables, he met a veterinarian who so impressed him with his medical skills with horses that he decided to pursue that as a career.

He entered Cornell in 1927 at the age of 16 and graduated four years later with a DVM degree as the youngest student in his class. Unlike the fictional account of the Class of 1931 hero in the book, “Water for Elephants”, who was supposed to have had four female classmates, Larry assured me there were actually no women in his class--and Cornell records corroborate this (more on this book in a future blog).

Veterinary students attending college during the Depression lived on almost nothing. Though tuition was free for New York residents, the students typically held one or two jobs to pay their student fees and living expenses.

Waitz loved Cornell and took time from his work and studies to enjoy the area. He would sometimes walk down the hill into Ithaca after studying late into the evening, then climb the steep Seneca or Buffalo Street hill to return to his apartment on Eddy Street.

Though he also loved to ski, “There was only one snowstorm all the four years that I was at Ithaca. I put my skis on about 9:00pm at the back of my house. I went down all the way to the center of the town, and then I got the trolley car and came up again. I did that a couple of times. I loved the surroundings. Fortunately, I had buddies that always had an old car. It was a delightful time.”

I asked Larry what it was like starting a practice on Long Island during the Depression. “I started off when men were selling apples on the street for 5 cents but, right from the beginning, I made a good living. I was so fortunate to be a veterinarian because there was a shortage of large animal veterinarians in that area.

“At first, a lot of people, including a girl I dated, said, ‘You’re crazy to be a veterinarian. The horses are going; there won’t be any work once the horses are all gone.’ How wrong she was. I took care of about 18 commercial dairies, many stables of horses, and many private horses on estates and riding academies. And the horses are still going strong on Long Island!”

After retiring over four decades ago, Dr. Waitz became a master sailor and very accomplished painter. He and his wife, Anne, still live in a farmhouse a few thousand feet from the bay which he grew to love in his later years. You can read (and hear) my complete 2007 interview with this kind and gentle man at,%20Lawrence%20T.%20'34%20BioInt.pdf

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Dr. Larry Waitz died at his home in Cutchogue, NY on February 27, 2011, four months before his 100th birthday, and one month after Annie Lind, his wife of 72 years. 

Happy New "World Veterinary Year"

January 1, 2011
Surprise your veterinarian and her/his staff by wishing them a Happy World Veterinary Year.

The designated was recently conferred by the United States Congress "to bring attention to and show appreciation for the veterinary profession on its 250th anniversary”.
The Congressional citation emphasizes the roles that veterinarians play in promoting healthy pets and healthy families, as well as biomedical research, sports, food safety, conservation biology and the Armed Forces.