Why 2019 is the Year of the Woman
In 1903, Dr. Mignon Nicholson graduated from the McKillip Veterinary College in Chicago. Although she goes down in the history books as the first college-trained female veterinarian in the United States, little is known about her following graduation. Sadly, over the next few decades, only a handful of women followed in Nicholson’s steps.
Women were discouraged from attending vet school because they would more likely to leave after marriage and having children.
In 1975, more than 70 years later, there were still only about 1200 women practicing veterinary medicine, which represented 5% of the profession. Women were discouraged from attending veterinary school because, they were told, they would more likely to leave after marriage and children. However, at the same time, the 70’s ushered in the rebirth of feminism. Only three years earlier, Title IX, a federal law to protected students and education workers based on gender was passed in 1972. This law stated that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In March of 1972, the same year, the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was placed before Congress and sent to the States for ratification. Despite many years and bipartisan support, the States failed to ratify the ERA by the deadline. Congress even extended the deadline to 1982; sadly however, despite extension of the deadline, only 35 states ratified the ERA. To this day, this proposed amendment has not been ratified by 15 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia (although Virginia seems to be working on it). Now, despite recent ratifications in 2017 and 2018 by two States, it will take an act of Congress to revive it.
Despite the failure to ratify the ERA, veterinary medicine, which had for many years been a male-dominated profession, saw a significant increase in the number of women studying at veterinary colleges. A milestone was reached in 1986, when there was an equal number of male and female students attending veterinary schools in the U.S.
Today, the AVMA says that 2/3 of all veterinarians are exclusively small animal practioners; of these, 63% are female.
In 2017, for the first time in history, women finally became the majority in the veterinary field. Today, the AVMA says that 2/3 of all veterinarians are exclusively small animal practioners; of these, 63% are female. Women also makeup 85% of all veterinary students, while veterinary technicians are about 90% female.
2019 is the year that we change for the better as a profession.
Everyone seems to agree that we will see female professionals in the field continue to rise. Sadly, although women outnumber men in the veterinary field, they are still underrepresented in higher management roles. Real change in our field will come when female leaders are less of an exception and more the norm across the industry and academia. I encourage you to designate 2019 as the year that we change for the better as a profession. Apply for leadership roles. Negotiate for better pay. Support your female colleagues and promote them. Mentor others. I am sure that is what Dr. Nicholson would have intended us to do. Let’s become stronger…together!