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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: African-American Veterinarians at Cornell 1910-1920

Posted February 8, 2014 in honor of Black History Month
Readers are encouraged to see original story at 

Guest Author: Jennifer Morrissey, DVM
Editor’s Note: The first two African-American veterinarians in the US graduated from Harvard (1889) and the University of Pennsylvania (1907).1 It is unclear how many more African-American veterinarians graduated in that era, though Kansas State University had a graduate in 1912,2 and there were apparently three early veterinarians at Tuskegee circa 1910.3

While a veterinary student at Cornell (2009-2013), Dr. Jennifer Morrissey took an interest in the history of early African-American veterinary students at Cornell. She suspected that the previously-accepted university reports failed to accurately identify some of the black students who graduated in the early years, prior to the well-known Aubrey Robinson in 1920. With a determination and yearning for clues that was really quite remarkable, she deciphered class photos with tenacity, corresponded with experts in the field, and spent many hours in Cornell’s Kroch Library. Morrissey was eventually able to identity six black graduates between 1910 and 1919. She was proudly able to verify that Cornell’s contribution to educating African-American veterinarians this early in the profession’s history was unprecedented.
Donald F. Smith

Dr. Kirksey L. Curd, 1912, Graduation PhotoKirksey L. Curd, a native of Kentucky, was Cornell’s first African-American veterinary graduate. After receiving his DVM in 1912, he entered the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and spent the remainder of his professional career as a practicing physician at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia.

The next graduate, Garret Singleton ’14, was an Ithaca native whose mother was famous for creating a haven for black students in her house near the Cornell campus.4 After graduation, he had several jobs in regulatory medicine, including working for the Department of Health in Los Angeles. He eventually opened a small animal clinic in Venice, California, and was also an Assistant Humane Officer in the area. A musician, he was a member of a local symphony orchestra.

The Waller Brothers: Owen M. Waller, Sr., M.D., and his wife raised their family in Brooklyn, NY, where he was one of the founders of the NAACP. Two of their sons, Ray and Owen, Jr., attended Cornell and became veterinarians. Dr. Ray Benson Potter Waller ’17 practiced veterinary medicine in Harlem, NY, and also worked at the New York City Department of Health.

Owen Waller, Jr. entered Cornell with two other veterinary students. The three represented the largest number of male African-American veterinary students ever to graduate from Cornell in a single year (1918). Owen was a staunch supporter of the right of Black students to participate in varsity athletics. One of his influential essays was entitled, “The Colored Man as an Athlete”.

One of the reasons Owen was so interested in athletics was that his classmates, W. H. Seabrook (an Ithaca native) and Abram J. Jackson, Jr., were stars in baseball and track. All three men had successful veterinary careers, Drs. Waller and Seabrook in private practices in Brooklyn, and Dr. Jackson with the federal meat inspection service.

The last African-American to enter Cornell’s veterinary college between 1910 and 1920 was Aubrey E. Robinson, who became a large animal practitioner in New Jersey.

Ms. Jennifer K. Morrissey was a 2010 research assistant for the Veterinary Legacy Project.  This portion of her research will be presented at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine on Thursday, February 10rd, in honor of Black History Month.

Dr. Smith invites comments at