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The History of Women in Veterinary Medicine in the U.S.

Patricia WuestVice President of Media Strategy, NAVC

The History of Women in Veterinary Medicine in the U.S.
Early female pioneers in veterinary medicine in the U.S. had to overcome many challenges, opposition and obstacles. This timeline celebrates just a handful of their achievements. Photo Credit: shutterstock.com/ESB Professional

Challenges, opposition and obstacles had to be overcome by the early female pioneers in veterinary medicine in the United States. Here is a timeline of some of the significant milestones achieved by women who have helped pave the way for women succeeding in the profession.

Timeline of Women in Veterinary Medicine in the U.S.

The Early 1900s

1903 Mignon Nicholson graduated from McKillip Veterinary College in Chicago. However, nothing is known about her veterinary career.1

1910 Elinor McGrath, Chicago Veterinary College, and Florence Kimball, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, graduated with their veterinary degrees. Both women chose a type of veterinary practice that was uncommon at the time—they were small animal veterinarians. The nation was still heavily based on a farming economy; building a veterinary practice around pets was highly unusual. Kimball left veterinary medicine shortly after earning her DVM to become a nurse; McGrath practiced veterinary medicine for 37 years.1

The 1930s

1933 Patricia O’Connor Halloran, graduates from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and becomes the first female zoo veterinarian, working at the Staten Island Zoo.2,3

1938 There are 21 female veterinarian graduates in the country, and in 1939 another 10 join their ranks. There are approximately 5,000 male veterinarians belonging to the AVMA in 1939.2

The 1940s

1945 Captain Thais de Tienne, who graduated from Washington State University in 1938, becomes the first woman to be commissioned in the Army Veterinary Corps.3

1947 Dr. Mary Knight Dunlap, who graduated from Michigan State University in 1933, is the founder of the Association for Women Veterinarians, which first convened during the AVMA annual meeting in Cincinnati. Later, Dr. Dunlap recalled: “I felt that I had a duty to other women who might in their ignorance of actual conditions desire to enter the field. It is the duty of a pioneer to blaze a trail, to set up markers for the guidance of those who come after.” For 66 years and during several name changes, the organization was a source of encouragement and, at times, a force for change. It was disbanded in 2013.1

1949 Alfreda Johnson Webb graduates from Tuskegee Institute’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and Jane Hinton graduates from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. They are the first two African-American women to earn veterinary degrees.3

The 1950s

1957 Phyllis Lose graduates from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and becomes the first female equine veterinarian.4

The 1960s

1963 The Federal Equal Pay Act is passed into law.

1964 There are 277 female veterinary graduates in the United States.2 The Civil Rights Act is passed, barring job discrimination based on gender.

The 1970s

1969-1970 The national average for veterinary medical college male enrollment is 89 percent.5

1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments, which abolished gender discrimination in federally funded education, is passed into law. “The thought was that women would get married, start families and drop out of the program,” notes Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, Dipl. ACVD, a professor at Texas A&M University and a past AVMA president, of the mindset before 1972. “The profession needed veterinarians and it was thought that it wasn’t worth the risk to have a woman take a seat that could be occupied by a man. This was the thought in many industries.”6 Catherine Tull, graduates from the University of Texas School of Public Health, becomes the first female veterinarian in the Air Force Veterinary Corps. Joanne Brown, graduates from University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, becomes the first active-duty woman to become a colonel in the Army Veterinary Corps.3

The 1980s

1980 President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.

1987 Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month.

The 1990s

1996 Dr. Mary Beth Leininger becomes the first female president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. She was a 1967 Purdue DVM graduate.3

1998 Shirley D. Johnston, DVM, PhD, becomes the Founding Dean of Western University of Health Science’s new College of Veterinary Medicine, the first female dean to head a college of veterinary medicine.7 Ten years later, she noted: “Gender issues that the profession still struggles with include salary differences between men and women, the paucity of women leaders as deans and department heads in our colleges, and the importance of striking a gender balance in our admission and graduation processes. I believe that our profession will be strongest if it looks like the populations we serve, with similar representation of men and women and full participation by people of color. Being a woman has affected my veterinary career in many ways, most of them positive, but it has not defined nor limited my career.”8

The 2000s 

2005 There were 36,383 female veterinarians in the United States (compared with 43,186 men.1

2007 The graduating class of 2007 (2,489 total students) is split 75.3 percent female (1,873 students) and 24.7 male (616).1 The AVMA has reported that the median income of female veterinarians in private practice was $79,000 in 2007. For males, it was $109,000.6

2009 The American Veterinary Medical Association reports female veterinarians outnumbered their male counterparts for the first time: 44,802 to 43,196.6

 2013 Of the nation’s 99,720 practicing veterinarians, 55 percent were women, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative established; co-founder Karen Bradley, DVM, is named president (Stacy Pritt and Lori Teller are the other co-founders). 9

2017 Women represent the vast majority—more than 80 percent—of enrolled students; it’s the first time that total male matriculation is below 20 percent. It’s been about 30 years (1986) since there was an equal number of male and female students attending veterinary schools in the United States. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the current ratio is 55 percent female/45 percent male in the veterinary market (private and public). As to the gender among faculty at U.S. veterinary schools, the biggest change was in the field of administration (i.e., leadership). In 2017, 42 percent of school administrators were women compared with only 28 percent five years ago. For the first time, the AAVMC collected data on the certified veterinary technician workforce. Nearly 90 percent of those jobs are held by women.10

Learn More

Watch the 4-part video series that our Spark! team created to celebrate International Women’s Day and to shine a light on four remarkable female veterinarians.


1) McPheron T. 2007 Is DVM Year of the Woman. AVMA website. avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/070615d.aspx. Accessed March 1, 2019.

2) Rubin SA. Breaking Down the Barriers: The First 100 Years of Women in Veterinary Medicine. LSU website. lsu.edu/vetmed/diversity/women_in_vet_med/history_of_women_vet_med.php. Accessed March 1, 2019.

3) Flashback: Firsts for Female Veterinarians. DMV360 website. veterinarynews.dvm360.com/flashback-firsts-female-veterinarians. Accessed March 1, 2019.

4) Tiffany LM. First Woman Equine Veterinarian Reflects on Her Career. Veterinary Practice News website. veterinarypracticenews.com/first-woman-equine-veterinarian-reflects-on-her-career. Accessed March 1, 2019.

5) Veterinary Medicine Shifts to More Women, Fewer Men; Pattern Will Repeat in Medicine, Law Fields. SMU website. blog.smu.edu/research/2010/11/01/veterinary-medicine-shifts-to-more-women-fewer-men-pattern-will-repeat-in-medicine-law-fields. Accessed March 1, 2019.

6) Tremayne J. Women in Veterinary Medicine. Veterinary Practice News website. veterinarypracticenews.com/women-in-veterinary-medicine. Accessed March 1, 2019.

7) Western U Names the Nation’s First Woman Dean of a College of Veterinary Medicine. The Horse website. thehorse.com/16055/westernu-names-the-nations-first-woman-dean-of-a-college-of-veterinary-medicine. Accessed March 1, 2019.

8) An Interview with Dr. Shirley D. Johnston. DVM360 website. http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/interview-with-dr-shirley-d-johnston. Accessed March 1, 2019.

9) Loyle D. Bridging the Gender Gap in Veterinary Medicine. DVM360 website. veterinarynews.dvm360.com/bridging-gender-gap-veterinary-medicine. Accessed March 1, 2019.

10) Veterinary Medicine Is a Woman’s World. Veterinary’s Money Digest website. vmdtoday.com/news/veterinary-medicine-is-a-womans-world. Accessed March 1, 2019.