Total Pageviews

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).