During Women’s History Month this March, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is celebrating the past achievements of women in veterinary medicine and the accomplishments of women within the profession today.
As recently as 1975, women made up only 5 percent of the veterinary profession, with no women serving among AVMA’s officers, executive board or councils, and only one woman serving in AVMA’s 126-member House of Delegates.
By 2010 women made up roughly 50 percent of the profession, and today, approximately 61 percent of U.S. veterinarians and 80 percent of U.S. veterinary school students are women. Among positions of leadership, six of the 16 members of the AVMA Board of Directors—including the vice president, chair and vice chair—and 69 of the 140 members of the AVMA House of Delegates are women, and both candidates for 2022 AVMA president are women. In addition, the AVMA’s chief executive officer and chief scientific officer are women.
“The strides women have taken within veterinary medicine over the past 50 years have been tremendous, and it’s wonderful to look around today and see so many great examples for future generations of veterinarians to look up aspire to,” said Dr. Lori Teller, chair of the AVMA Board of Directors. “But we can’t get complacent, and the AVMA will continue to work on expanding diversity and representation within the profession, from offering programs and scholarships at AVMA events for rising leaders and veterinarians in underrepresented groups, to working with and supporting groups like the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative.”
Trailblazers in veterinary medicine
Following are just a few of the groundbreaking women who have made significant contributions to the veterinary profession and helped save the lives of animals and people:
- Dr. Mignon Nicholson: The nation’s first college-trained female veterinarian. Dr. Nicholson graduated in 1903 from McKillip Veterinary College in Chicago.
- Dr. Elinor McGrath: A 1910 graduate of Chicago Veterinary College, Dr. McGrath became AVMA’s first female member.
- Dr. Helen Richt Irwin: Secretary of the AVMA meeting’s section on small animals in 1937 and the first woman to hold an office in the AVMA.
- Dr. Mary Knight Dunlap: A 1933 graduate of Michigan State University, Dr. Dunlap founded the Association for Women Veterinarians (AWV) in 1947 in the hopes of sparing female veterinarians from having to endure alone the professional problems, harassment and discrimination that she had experienced.
- Dr. Maria von Maltzan: Shortly after the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933, Dr. von Maltzan became an active member of the German resistance, helping hundreds of Jews avoid capture and escape the country. She said she learned the skills she used to deceive German intelligence officers while secretly studying to become a veterinarian against the wishes of her mother. “It was easy for me to resist Nazi authority because I had always resisted my mother’s authority,” she said.
- Drs. Alfreda Johnson Webb and Jane Hinton: Dr. Webb, a member of the 1945 inaugural class at Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Hinton, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania both graduated in 1949 to become the nation’s first black female veterinarians.
- Dr. Mary Beth Leininger: In 1996, Dr. Leininger became the AVMA’s first female president.
- Dr. Tracey McNamara: In 1999, while serving as the head of the Department of Pathology at the Bronx Zoo, Dr. McNamara was credited with the discovery of West Nile Virus in its initial major U.S. outbreak.
- Dr. Bernadette Dunham: Dr. Dunham was Acting Director for the AVMA Governmental Relations Division prior to joining the FDA in 2002. From 2008-2016 she served as Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which was responsible for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of animal drugs, and the safety of animal feed, including pet food.
- Dr. Bonnie Beaver: Dr. Beaver became the second woman to serve as president of the AVMA in 2004 and is a founding member of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
- Dr. René Carlson: Dr. Carlson served two terms as AVMA vice president (2004-2006) before her election as the third woman to serve as president of the AVMA in 2011. She served as president of the World Veterinary Association from 2014-2017.
- Dr. Janet Donlin: Dr. Donlin was selected as executive vice president and CEO of the AVMA in 2016, marking the first time a woman has held the highest staff leadership position in the AVMA since the office was created in 1922.
The AVMA is thankful for these groundbreaking and world-changing veterinarians, and for all of the women who have helped pave the way for the veterinarians protecting human, animal and environmental health today.