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Monday, May 21, 2012

African-American Veterinary Students at Kansas State University (1910-1950)

By Donald Smith, Cornell University; with Howard Erickson, Kansas State University
Posted May 21, 2012
This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013)

Cornell has always been proud of her contribution to the education of African-American veterinarians in the early years of the profession. However, of the 70 Blacks who received DVM degrees before Tuskegee University (Institute) was established in the mid 1940s, about a third of them were graduates of Kansas State University. Moreover, unlike Cornell and Penn where the majority of the Black students studied during the early decades of the 20th century, Kansas State’s Black veterinary population was distributed evenly between 1910 and 1950.

Kansas State professor and veterinary historian Dr. Howard Erickson feels that the development of the meat packing industry may have been one of the contributing factors to the leadership role that his university played in the education of African-American veterinarians. “The Kansas City stockyards were built in 1871, and the growth of the meat packing industry followed. Former slaves migrated north and more than 50,000 southern Blacks arrived in Kansas during the 1870s. Unable to procure land for farming as they had hoped, they settled in Kansas City in a community that bordered on what would become the meat packing district.”

By 1905, 25% of the meat packing employees in Kansas City were African-American. Some of the best positions for veterinarians at that time were in the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), which was the meat inspection service of the Federal government. “I think the black workers in the packing plants observed the veterinarian as a respected and successful professional and they encouraged their children to study veterinary medicine.”

Erickson believes that the college administration also had an impact on the fact that 22 African-American veterinarians studied at Kansas State. “Dr. Ralph Dykstra, who served as dean of the college from 1919-1948, may have been more receptive to accepting Black students than leaders of other colleges.” There are anecdotal reports that previous administrators were also supportive of diversifying the student body.

Dr. John William Brown was the
first DVM graduate of
Kansas State University in 1912.
Photograph provided by Kansas St. Univ.
John William Brown was the first Black student to graduate from Kansas State, receiving his DVM in 1912. He eventually worked in the BAI and finished his career engaged in meat inspection in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Thomas G. Perry (1921) established the first small animal hospital in Wichita, KS and became Head of the Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery when the veterinary college opened at Tuskegee. 

Theodore Williams (1935) and Walter C. Bowie (1947) each became deans at Tuskegee, and Eugene Adams (1944) became associate dean and university vice provost. Dr. Adams is also known as the author of the definitive history of Tuskegee’s School of Veterinary Medicine. (1)

Twenty-two graduates may not seem like a very large number. However, during a period when becoming a veterinarian was almost never considered a possibility by the African-American community, Kansas State provided an important beacon of hope. Whether in the meat inspection service or in clinical practice, Black graduates served as role models to other young African-American students. The greater impact, however, was the education of those young men who became deans, department chairs and faculty members at Tuskegee’s veterinary college during its formative years.

1.   The Legacy. A History of The Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, by Eugene W. Adams. Published by The Media Center Press, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL 1995.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at