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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stories of Women Veterinarians

By Donald F. Smith
March 8, 2014 (International Women’s Day)

March is Women’s History Month. For veterinarians, it provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on the challenges women faced in gaining access to the profession until the mid 1970s; and the challenges they face even to the present to be involved sufficiently in the leadership of profession.

For the past year, I (and others) have written extensively on the subject of women veterinarians in general, and women’s leadership, more specifically. Here is a listing and brief overview of some of these stories in the hope that his repository will serve as an inspiration to women and men alike. 

Stories of Individual Women in the Early Years of the Profession through the 1960s

One of the early women to receive a DVM was Joanna Asmus, Cornell class of 1929. She was the daughter of the university’s farrier, a post that was held in very high distinction in that period. This story was researched and written by a veterinary student, Michelle  Pesce ’12.

Cornell admitted three women in 1935. Though it was during the depths of the Depression, this was the most women of any single class to that date. There was reluctance on the part of some faculty to admit women feeling that they were taking the place of a man who could be a family breadwinner. Nonetheless, the women were well-integrated with the 37 men, most of whom considered the women valued members of the Class of 1939. Each of these women had careers in clinical practice. Two also developed alternative pathways, one in zoo animal medicine (Halloran) and the other (von Decken Luers) in regulatory work in the Virgin Islands. Here are their stories.

Additional descriptions about life during the Depression can be found in a series of four stories at www.veritasdvmblog posted November 13, 14, 16 and 17, 2013.  Though none of these stories are about women, per se, they give the reader a sense of how challenging life was during that period and how precious a commodity a veterinary degree was for young people of either gender.

The University of Pennsylvania admitted its first woman in 1934. Josephine Deubler VMD, PhD led a remarkable career in teaching and research. An avid dog breeder and judge, the capstone of her career (in her words) was having the privilege to judge Best in Show at the 1998 Westminster Kennel Club show in Madison Square Garden.

During the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for veterinary classes to hold two seats per year for women. Admission committees would review all of the male candidates, then select a small group of women candidates for interview. Occasionally, a class would have three or four women, as in the Class that started at Cornell in 1956, of which Dr. Carolyn Comans was a member. Five years later, Dr. Linda Reeve Peddie was the only women in her Cornell class.

Stories of Women’s Leadership in Organized Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Eva Evans graduated less than two years ago from the University of Tennessee. Despite her busy life in clinical practice, she has already become involved with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as a member of the Political Action Committee. She is considered a role model and mentor for other young women seeking to influence the profession through organized veterinary medicine.

Though still a relatively early career veterinarian, Dr. Karen Bradley is a well-respected veterinarian and one of the most influential women leaders in the profession. She is founder and president of the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. Here is the story that I call simply, “Five Days in July”.

Dr. Andrea Dennis-LaVigne will assume the presidency of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association this spring. She is deeply involved not only in the veterinary profession, but also in community service, most notably as a governor appointee to the Board of Trustees of the University of Connecticut.
Dr. Linda Tintle is a practice owner in the northeast who has served as her state’s association president. She is a strong advocate for practice ownership, as she emphasizes in this story from last August.

Through changes in policy and creative educational opportunities, Iowa Veterinary Medical Association advocates and promotes women and recent graduates to leadership position in its state organization. Some of their programs are jointly administered with Iowa State University.

At a national level, the profile of AVMA leadership positions demonstrates an unequal representation of women amongst the colleges of which they are alumnae.  Some colleges, notably Iowa State University and Washington State University have alumnae in greater numbers than colleges like University of California, Davis, or the Ohio State University, among others.

Stories of Women Deans in Veterinary Medicine

Though our student population has been over 50% female for almost three decades and now exceeds 80% at many colleges of veterinary medicine―the national average is 78%―there are only six women deans in the US (20%, similar to US Congress).

One of the great thrills of writing about leaders is interviewing them and finding out what makes them so successful, while recognizing that they are most often ordinary people doing exceptional things in an extraordinary way.  Here are the stories of two deans, Dr. Sheila Allen (University of Georgia) and Dr. Eleanor Green (Texas A&M University).

Not surprisingly, the deans credit mentors as one of the significant reasons for their success as veterinarians and as academic leaders.

Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, and Courses in Women’s Leadership

The Women’s Veterinary LeadershipDevelopment Initiative (WVLDI) has sponsored and organized several educational programs in the last few months, and has exciting plans for the next year. Sponsors include the AVMA and CEVA Animal Health.

A successful women’s leadership development course for students at Cornell was held on March 1. Thirty-five first-, second- and third year students attended the six-hour Saturday program, with guest speakers from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Participants in the First Student Course for Women's Leadership,
held at Cornell University on March 1st. Instructors in the middle of the front row are
Linda Tintle DVM, Julie Kumble MEd, Susan Wylegala DVM, and Andrea Dennis-LaVigne DVM
(Photo by the author)
With acknowledgement and thanks to the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, led by Drs. Karen Bradley (President), Stacy Pritt (Vice President), and Douglas Aspros (Secretary-Treasurer); and the rest of the directors. 

Dr. Smith can be reached at