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Saturday, February 12, 2011

When Washington, D.C. had Two Veterinary Colleges

By Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University
Posted February 12, 2011

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

After 33 years of operation and educating almost 500 veterinarians, the United States College of Veterinary Surgeons in Washington, D.C. shut its doors forever in 1927.

“The passing of the horse sounded the death knell of the veterinary profession”, was the opening line of the June 16th 1927 article as The Washington Post announced the closure.

The other institution was the National Veterinary College, established in 1892 by Cornell University graduate, Dr. Daniel Salmon (the man credited with discovering the Salmonella organism). The college later became part of Columbian University, which was renamed George Washington University in 1904.

Both of these veterinary colleges had important responsibilities to train veterinarians who would treat and eradicate diseases of livestock like hog cholera and pleuropneumonia in cattle, as well as control diseases that spread from animals to humans, such as tuberculosis and Salmonellosis.

The veterinary care of pets was also growing in importance as evidenced by the two-story dog hospital constructed at George Washington University in 1908. The state-of-the-art concrete brick building had modern hot water heating and was large enough to accommodate 75 small animals.

Though the emerging fields of hygiene and food inspection were of great importance to the federal government, and the medical care of household pets was increasing in value to the public, the veterinarians’ chief responsibility remained the medical care of the hundreds of thousands of horses in the major cities of the country.

As the horse was replaced by the automobile and other internal combustion conveyances, the city-based veterinary colleges in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and numerous other cities had all closed by 1927. All, that is, except at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where the veterinary school was aligned with the medical school.

Education of the profession continued in rural America at land grant universities where veterinary colleges had been established in smaller communities such as Ames, IA; Ithaca, NY; Columbus, OH; and Fort Collins, CO.

Unfortunately, the loss of the veterinary profession's urban footprint and its close affiliation with some of the major medical schools of the era such as Harvard, New York University and George Washington University, compromised the profession's ability to reach it full potential in both animal and human health.

Dr. Smith invites comments at