Black Veterinarians and Science
February is Black History Month, an important time of year to not only Black people, but people of every race and ethnicity. We all celebrate the progress that people of color have made and continue to make despite oppression. While most of us are familiar with key figures like Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson, and Barack and Michelle Obama, African Americans have made countless contributions that have improved the world we live in today.
It’s especially important to recognize Black veterinarians and scientists, as they work in a field mainly dominated by white women. While women also face difficulties and oppression in many ways, Black individuals, regardless of gender, find it extremely difficult to achieve and maintain a career in veterinary medicine. Less than 9% of those in the veterinary and animal services field are Black or African American, and Black veterinarians make up just 1.2% of individuals in the profession in total, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021. These veterinarians have experienced many white clients refusing to let their pets see a Black doctor, which not only hurts the pet’s wellbeing, but makes it harder for veterinarians of color to run successful clinics. This leads to a lack of resources and community for Black veterinarians, making it even more difficult for the next generation to enter the field.
Thankfully, the government has stepped up to promote diversity across all fields and educational institutions, and with the help of organizations such as the National Association for Black Veterinarians (NABV). Many intellectuals have also helped, and continue to help, make a career in veterinary medicine possible for everyone. Below are just a few of the African Americans who have been instrumental in the field. To read more about the revolutionary Black Americans who contributed to veterinary medicine, click here.
Dr. Augustus Nathanial Lushington
Often referred to as the first Black vet, Lushington earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree when graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1897.
He was actually born in Trinidad in 1869, but moved to the United States at 20 years old. Lushington met his wife Elizabeth Gavino Hubert, whose connections helped him enroll in Cornell University to study Agriculture. After graduating in 1894, Lushington went on to study veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in three years. This opened up the door for many possibilities for Black people, and Lushington’s portrait is now displayed at the main entrance of the university’s main building.
After graduating, Lushington began treating farm animals, working at his own veterinary practice in Philadelphia for two years. He then became an instructor in Veterinary Sanitation and Hygiene before practicing medicine again in Lynchburg, Virginia. There, he faced many difficulties including white clients who refused to pay after Lushington treated their animals. But this doctor went on to support the community in other ways, becoming a statistical reporter to the Bureau of Animal Industry, the Federal Department of Agriculture, and a member of the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce.
Lushington died on February 12th, 1939, but his achievements brought the first glimmer of representation to the veterinary field and continues to be a great source of inspiration today. Learn more about Dr. Lushington here.
Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson
Born in 1901 and named after the famous activist and orator Frederick Douglass, Patterson transformed his life with difficult circumstances into a history-altering legacy. After both of his parents died when he was 2 years of age, young Patterson spent his childhood in instability, living under the care of many family members. However, Patterson flourished at Iowa State with a doctorate of veterinary medicine and a Master of Science. He also went on to graduate from Cornell University with a doctorate of philosophy.
The doctor then taught at Tuskegee Institute as head of their Department of Agriculture, improving their veterinary program and serving as the institute’s third president in 1935. Over the course of 53 years, Dr. Patterson transformed Tuskegee into a highly valued university. He founded many programs, including the veterinary medicine school. This gave students, especially Black students, the opportunity to work toward a high level degree and career. Tuskegee’s veterinary school revolutionized the field, graduating 75% of African American veterinarians in the US.
Dr. Patterson’s impact doesn’t stop there. In 1944, he founded the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to bring opportunities for private Black colleges and students. Just a few months before his death, President Ronald Reagan awarded Patterson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in June 1987. He influenced higher education in countless ways that touched all students, regardless of race.
The doctor’s outstanding contributions are much more expansive than described here. His work is explained in more detail by UNCF, or learn more about Tuskegee University and its legacy here.
Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb
Two individuals actually hold the title of being the first female and African American veterinarians: Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb being one of them. Webb was born in 1923 in Mobile, Alabama, and attended higher education at Tuskegee Institute, now University, thanks to Dr. Patterson. She earned a Bachelor of Science in 1943 and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 1949.
Dr. Webb was the first Black member of the Women’s Veterinary Association, and the first Black woman in the North Carolina General Assembly. She was very involved in a variety of organizations and in 1972, she received the Alpha Kappa Alpha Award for Political Excellence and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Tuskegee University.
Deciding to stay involved with higher education, Dr. Webb taught anatomy at Tuskegee and became an associate professor by 1959. The doctor then moved to North Carolina and served as a professor of biology at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T from 1959-1978, as well as the professor and coordinator of Laboratory Animal Science (1977). She researched cytology, embryology, and histology, and was a member of the planning committee for the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine, which was founded in 1981.
The North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine found inspiration in Dr. Webb’s influential work, establishing a $50,000 scholarship in her name for two students in 2016. This college also is made up of four houses, one of which being House Webb. Their motto is “aequitas equitas,” meaning fairness, equity, and justice.
Learn more about Dr. Webb’s life and contributions here.
Dr. Jane Hinton
The other “first” Black female veterinarian was Dr. Jane Hinton. She was born in Canton, Massachusetts 1919, to mother Ada Hinton, a teacher, and father William Augustus Hinton, who reached prominence in his research of bacteriology. He was also the first African American to write a medical textbook and teach at Harvard Medical School.
Growing up, Hinton went to schools throughout Europe to receive the best education possible. She returned to high school in the US, then graduated from Simmons College (Boston, Massachusetts) with a bachelor’s degree in 1939. Then, Dr. Hinton worked in Harvard University’s Department of Bacteriology and Immunology with John Howard Mueller. Together, they developed the Mueller-Hinton agar, which is now a very common method for testing an antibiotic’s bacterial resistance.
Hinton went on to work as a medical technician, then enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She graduated with her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1949 as class historian and class secretary. Returning to her hometown in Massachusetts, Dr. Hinton practiced small animal medicine and served as a federal government inspector for the Department of Agriculture. The department researched and responded to disease outbreaks in livestock.
This woman challenged many standards for women and Black women, retiring at an early age (1960, at just 41) and never marrying. She inspired many throughout her life and after her death in 2003. Without Dr. Hinton’s contributions, our modern understanding of medicine would look much different. Being a Black woman in science and medicine has allowed for many more to follow in her footsteps. To learn more about Dr. Hinton, click here.
Black History In The Making: The Vet Life
Have you watched The Vet Life? This Animal Planet television program features Dr. Diarra Blue, Dr. Aubrey Ross, and Dr. Michael Lavigne, who run a multi-species veterinary hospital and animal shelter in Texas. Each doctor has broken barriers in veterinary history after graduating from Tuskegee University. Deciding to come together and open their own animal hospital Cy-Fair in 2013, Dr. Blue’s sister recommended they start a reality show. The trio was originally against it, but have greatly enjoyed the process and entertainment they can provide for others.
While the show is entertaining, heartfelt, and funny, it also inspires. Visibility of Black doctors helps children realize the possibility of achieving their dreams, and the doctors on The Vet Life hope to see more minority groups enter the veterinary profession.
“I take a huge amount of pride in representing what I believe is one of the most important, elite, difficult, loving and intellectual professions that exist. I feel that I have an even greater responsibility to my beloved profession… Add being Black on top of that just shows how much more responsibility I have and how important my journey is.” — Dr. Blue, with Discovery
The three doctors have also spoken about a deep bond they have with each other and the animals they treat. They help each other with difficulties such as compassion fatigue and remain friends outside of their work. Watch The Vet Life here.
Often, the conversation around minority rights can feel overwhelming. So when it comes to showing support to African Americans and the Black community, keep these core actions in mind:
- Lift up Black voices.
- Learn when you can.
- Show respect for everyone.
Though the veterinary field still has a long way to go to increase diversity and accessibility, awareness is the first step. Harmony Veterinary Center strives to provide opportunities for all underprivileged communities and we will continue working towards increased representation and awareness.