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Friday, June 22, 2012

Veterinary Education and the G.I. Bill

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted June 22, 2012
Honoring the GI Bill, signed 68 years ago today.

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

As World War II was drawing to a close, hundreds of thousands of battle-weary veterans returned home. Eager to resume their lives, the G.I. Bill of Rights (signed by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1944) eased the transition of some of them back into society by providing access to university and postgraduate education. Students who started veterinary college between 1946 and 1948 were mostly veterans, many of whom were already in their mid- to late 20s with spouses and small children. It is sometimes quipped that Cornell's 1950 graduating DVM class photo had 50 graduates and 50 children, most still in diapers. 

With only ten veterinary colleges in the United States in the early 1940s (1), available slots for veterinary students were very limited. The situation was especially acute in the agriculturally-rich midwest and southern states, and in California. Responding to this need, seven new colleges were established in the four-year period starting in 1944. Six were at land-grant universities; the other was at Tuskegee Institute, a member of the Historic Black college system.

Location of  Veterinary Colleges established
before 1920 (red) and between 1944 and 1948 (blue). 

Colleges are identified in footnote (2).

Members of the first graduating class of the new college at the University of Minnesota were all men, one of whom was Dr. Glen Nelson:  "Most of us were veterans. We had a B17 pilot who was shot down over France and escaped back to England with the French Underground. We had a B29 pilot [who] flew over Nagasaki the day after THE Bomb. I was a tank officer under Patton in North Africa and Italy. We had a prisoner of war in our class, an ex-POW, and another who was shot up pretty bad (sic) on Saipan. Going to the student center was like sitting around the American Legion Club."

Of the 17 veterinary colleges in 1948, all but two (University of Pennsylvania and Tuskegee Institute, later University) were at land-grant institutions. Most of these were located in rural areas of the country in towns or small cities such as College Station, TX; Ithaca, NY and Athens, GA. An 18th veterinary college was added at Purdue University a decade later, but no more were established until the 1970s.

(1) Middlesex University in Massachusetts operated a veterinary college  in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
(2) Veterinary colleges established between 1868 and 1920 were at: Auburn, Colorado St, Cornell, Iowa St, Kansas St, Michigan St, Ohio St, Texas A&M, U of Pennsylvania, and Washington St. Those established between 1944 and 1948 were at: Oklahoma St, Tuskegee, UC-Davis, U Georgia, U Minnesota, U Illinois, and U Missouri.

Some material for this blog first appeared in an article by Dr. Smith in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education (JVME, 38[1], pages 84-99, 2011).
Dr. Smith invites comments at