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Thursday, May 5, 2011

I want to be a Veterinarian: History of Veterinary Medicine 1940-1970.

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted May 5, 2011

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

By 1940, only ten veterinary colleges in the United States remained open. Twenty others had closed since 1900, including those at Harvard, New York University, and George Washington University.

World War II created a huge need for veterinarians to serve in food inspection domestically and overseas, for development of vaccines anticipated in enemy attacks, and to accompany pack mules in combat with Japanese forces on the rugged Burma trail.

Male Studenta in Cornell's Veterinary Classes of 1943, 1944 and 1945 were members of the Army Specialized Training Progam.  Courtesy of Cornell University.

Veterinarians were in such short supply that colleges operated year-round. Dr. Morris Povar remembers the experience: Going to veterinary school during the summer was a hideous experience. The room must have been 90 degrees; no air.

After the war, hundreds of thousands of battle-weary veterans returned home and many wanted to become veterinarians, but only a handful of states had programs to educate DVMs. In Minnesota, it was the insistence of veterans with strong political ties who forced the legislature to establish a new veterinary program. In all, seven new veterinary colleges opened between 1944-48.

Glen Nelson was in the inaugural class at Minnesota. Most of us were veterans. We had a B17 pilot who was shot flying over France, a B29 pilot who flew over Nagasaki the day after THE bomb. I was a tank officer under Patten in North Africa. We had a POW, and another who was shot up pretty badly on Saipan. Going to the student center was like sitting around the American Legion Club.

Prior to 1945, only about 70 African-Americans had ever received DVM degrees, mostly from northern univerities like Iowa State, Kansas State and Cornell. But that all changed when Frederick Douglass Patterson, DVM, PhD became the third president of Tuskegee Institute and not only founded a veterinary college that continues to this day, but also was the principal force in establishing the United Negro College Fund.

Women, though sporadically admitted to veterinary colleges since 1910, were vastly underrepresented in the post war years when so many men squeezed them out of the few slots previously available.

Even through the 1960s, women were evaluated differently than men. Linda Reeve Peddie sat through her grueling interview at Cornell in 1961, They asked me if I cooked, if I sewed, if I danced. Did I date?  And then the question, ‘If you were to marry someone who had a vocation out in the desert somewhere and there weren’t any animals, just what would you do with this degree?’ I did not think there was a prayer that I would be accepted.

Fulfilling the desire to become a veterinarian is the dominant theme of my second article in a four-part series on veterinary education in the United States (1940-70). It is published in the Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, Volume 38 (1), pages 84-99, and should be available in veterinary or medical libraries, or online services provided by these libraries.

For those how do not have access to the article and would like a copy, please contact me at the following e-mail address.

Comments are welcome at