Women's History in Veterinary Medicine

posted: by: Dawn, RVT Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

The field of veterinary medicine is constantly changing, not only in the medicine available to practitioners and their patients, but also in the practitioners themselves.

Up until about 20 years ago, the field was dominated by men.  There were increasing numbers of women becoming veterinarians, but the majority of vets were men.  Women began trickling into the field in the early 1900’s.  As with human medicine, they had to find a college that would accept them, then work to be accepted by their professors and fellow classmates.  In that time, it was perfectly acceptable for women to become nurses, but not doctors.

Below is a timeline of women in veterinary medicine in the United States:

1910: Two women graduate veterinary college and begin practice as small animal veterinarians.  At that time, veterinary medicine was largely geared towards large animals who provided a source of food and income for people, not those considered farm pets.  One of these women left the field and became a nurse, while the other, Elinor McGrath, stayed in the field for over 30 years.

1930’s: The country sees its first female zoo veterinarian in Patricia O’Connor Halloran.  She worked at the Staten Island Zoo.

            In 1939, there were around 5,000 male veterinarians, compared to 31 females.

1940’s: This decade saw the first woman in the Army Veterinary Corps, Captain Thais de Tienne, as well as the first two African American female veterinarians, Alfreda Johnson Webb, and Jane Hinton.

1950’s: The country sees its first female equine veterinarian in Phyllis Lose.

1960’s: The Federal Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act are passed.  This was important to women in veterinary medicine as they still faced obstacles based on their gender.

1970’s: Title IX passed into law which focused on gender discrimination in federally funded education.  At this time, it was thought that women would enter a college program, then marry, start a family, and drop out, leaving a seat that could have been filled by a man.

             The Air Force Veterinary Corps had their first female veterinarian, Catherine Tull, while Joanna Brown became the first active-duty woman to become a colonel in the Army Veterinary Corps.

1996: The American Veterinary Medical Association names its first female president, Dr. Mary Beth Leininger.

2000’s: The number of women in veterinary medicine continues to increase, but still lags behind men for a few years.

                                                         Female                        Male

            2005 Total US Veterinarians               36, 383                        43,186

            2007 Graduating Veterinarians              1,873 (75.3%)               616 (24.7%)

            2009 Total US Veterinarians               44, 802                        43,196

            2013 US Practicing Veterinarians              55%                            45%


In 2017, 80% of students in veterinary schools were women.  The ratio of women to men in practice remained at 55% women/45% men.  Data was collected for the first time for certified veterinary technicians and it was found that nearly 90% of that field were women.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we celebrate the brave women who opened the doors for women to enter the veterinary field, as well as the women in the field today.

Timeline Reference: Wuest, Paula. “The History of Women in Veterinary Medicine in the U.S.” Today’s Veterinary Practice. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/the-history-of-women-in-veterinary-medicine-in-the-u-s/  accessed 3/18/22.