Gender Equality

Gender Equality

Well, September was just terrible (we can all list off many reasons, so I won’t start). I thought things had surely hit a low point….and then I heard the news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The loss of RBG, of such a warrior for women’s rights, was certainly disheartening and felt like another blow when we were already down. But it made many of us more closely review and remember her career and accomplishments, and that is helping to transform the loss into gratitude and inspiration. Without women like RBG who worked throughout their lives to advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, I would not be in the position I am today – a female educated, employed professional (with a credit card in my own name – also something that was not an option for women a few decades ago!). In the spirit of RBG and the changes she helped fight for, I thought I would give a shout-out to a few women pioneers in veterinary medicine who also overcame significant adversity and inequality. They helped to pave the way for opportunities for generations of women to follow.

Aleen Cust was the first female veterinarian in the United Kingdom (practiced in Ireland). She enrolled in school under a different name to avoid embarrassment for her fancy family, and after graduating in 1897 was denied permission to sit the final exam or become recognized by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She did find a way to practice veterinary medicine anyway, including becoming a veterinary inspector at one point, service during WWI treating army horses, and working in an army bacteriology lab. She was FINALLY recognized by the RCVS in 1922 (after the passage of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act in 1919).

Dr. Mignon Nicholson was the first female graduate from a veterinary school in the United States in 1903. There’s really no information about her or her career out there except that she graduated from McKillip Veterinary College in Chicago (everyone’s favorite!).

Dr. Elinor McGrath (Chicago Veterinary College) and Dr. Florence Kimball (Cornell) were two other early lady bosses who made it through vet school as the only women in their graduating classes in 1910. Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb (Tuskegee) and Dr. Jane Hinton (Penn) became the first black female veterinarians in 1949.

How about some shout-outs for women vets in leadership roles? Dr. Mary Knight Dunlap founded the Association for Women Veterinarians in 1947. Dr. Mary Beth Leininger became the first AVMA President in 1996. Dr. Shirley Johnston became the first female dean of a vet school in 1998.

I certainly need to acknowledge our own past and present female PVMA members who entered the field at a time where gender discrimination legislation was relatively new and significant obstacles and prejudices were still faced. Thank you to members Dr. Mary Blankevoort (first female PVMA member!), Dr. Sue Morgan, Dr. Kerry Greeley, and Dr. Deb Barnes. You also helped inspire the next generation of women and were important examples to continue to change society’s (and our own profession’s) opinions too.

While true gender equality is still not a reality, huge strides have been made. RBG would agree that work still needs to be done. She stated that “real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” So let’s keep putting one foot in front of the other during this tumultuous year, doing our part to speak out against injustices in the world, and remembering to have gratitude to the countless strong women who helped us get to this point. Thank you, RBG, for a lifetime of service and thinking beyond yourself or a political party or a point in time. And thanks, Aleen, Mignon, Elinor, Florence, Alfreda, Jane, Mary K, Mary Beth, Shirley, Mary B, Sue, Deb, and so many others.

Amanda Veatch, DVM
PVMA Board Treasurer