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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.

It wasn’t until I interviewed then 93-year-old Dr. Tevis Goldhaft in 2007 that the pieces of the veterinary college enrollment aberration started to fall into place for me.

Dr. Tevis M. Goldhaft, 2007

As the numbers of academically-qualified veterinary college applicants increased in the 1930s, the dean established a written policy stating that farm-bred boys were preferred over city-bred boys because of their greater experience with animals. This was consistent with Cornell’s land grant mission and the veterinary college’s strong commitment to favoring instruction pertaining to agricultural species rather than dogs and cats.

Some felt that this restriction was also used to limit the number of Jewish students in the college because many of them were from New York City with strong academic records. The dean also appointed a Faculty Admission Committee that considered issues like character and suitability for the profession (these were words sometimes used in higher education to enforce quotas on Jews).

Tevis, whose sister, Helen, had entered the veterinary college in 1929, told me that everything changed two years later when he matriculated. “Prior to our class”, he said, “enrollment was limited to five percent. They had this quota arrangement—it was very silent”. But in Dr. Goldhaft’s class, there were 17 Jewish students (over 20% of the class) and almost all were from New York.

Tevis explained that the politicians and lobbyists in New York and on Long Island were concerned that qualified Jewish students were not able to get into Cornell, and they were making plans to open a new veterinary college at the Farmingdale campus on Long Island. To avoid competition that had happened once previously― over Cornell’s strong opposition, the veterinary college at New York University had briefly become a state-supported institution in the early 1920s ―the enrollment of New York City students (mostly Jews) was increased.

The number of Jewish students continued at approximately 20% for ten years. Many of these students returned to the New York metropolitan area after they graduated and established small animal practices to help meet the growing demand for veterinary care of companion animals.

After  my taped interview with Dr. Goldhaft, we communicated several more times about this issue and also about life for Jewish students in general. Though we were never able to find written documentation of the nascent veterinary college on Long Island, he remained confident from his recollection of contemporary oral reports at the time.

Information on Dr. Goldhaft’s sister, Dr. Helen Goldhaft Wernicoff is available at
The 2007 interview with Dr. Goldhaft is at

Dr. Smith invites comments at