A Look Back at the First Black Graduates of VA-MD Vet Med
written by Sherrie Whaley
(The original version of this story has been corrected and includes both our first black female and male DVM graduates.)
African-Americans have played an important role in the veterinary profession since the early 1900’s. As Black History Month draws to a close, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine takes a look back at its first black graduates and at some of the profession’s most influential black veterinarians.
Opening its doors in 1980, the college graduated its first African-American doctors of veterinary medicine six years later. Two females, Dr. Margie Lee and Dr. Lynn Hoban, hold that distinction.
Today, Dr. Lynn Hoban (DVM ’86) owns and operates her own practice, Friendship Pet Hospital, in Fountain Hills, Az. The Washington, D.C. native received her bachelor of science degree from Cornell University before starting vet school. Since then she has practiced in several states, including Maryland, Texas, California, and Arizona.
Hoban’s areas of special interest include endocrinology, internal medicine, and ophthalmology. She owns a German Shepherd, a Rottweiller, and a Persian cat. Her interests outside of veterinary medicine are competing in the German dog sport of Schutzhund with Max, the shepherd, and gardening.
Dr. Margie Lee (DVM ’86) is a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Athens, Ga., where she has worked since 1992. She holds a joint appointment in the college’s Department of Population Health and Department of Infectious Diseases. Prior to that, she was a research scientist at Washington University in St. Louis for two years.
Lee completed her bachelor’s degree in biology at Virginia Tech, then completed her doctor of veterinary medicine degree. She continued her education at the University of Georgia completing both her master’s and doctoral degrees in medical microbiology. Lee’s medical microbiology research interests include food safety, vaccines, and biologics, disease ecology and microbial ecology.
The college graduated it first black male doctor of veterinary medicine four years after Drs. Lee and Hoban broke the color barrier. Dr. Mario Dance (DVM ’90) now works as a clinical veterinarian in charge of animal care at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond. For almost 15 years, he has also served as a consultant veterinarian with the Veteran’s Administration providing animal care and research consultation.
As a veterinary student, Dance served as freshman class president and vice chair of the college’s Omega Tau Sigma service fraternity. In his current role at VCU, he provides veterinary care and consultation to the university research community helping to establish and enforce policy for the humane use of animals in research. Dance also serves as Chief of Medicine and Surgical Services, Chief of Necropsy Services, Chief of Clinical Diagnostic Services, and Chief of Quality Assurance.
Between 1900 and the establishment of the veterinary college at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute in 1945, Kansas State, Iowa State, Michigan State, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania accepted and educated about 70 young black men to become veterinarians. Several also received postgraduate training, usually leading to a Ph.D. They formed a core of mentors and role models for the succeeding generations of African-American veterinarians.
One such role model was Frederick Douglass Patterson (1901-1988), identified as one of the most influential black veterinarians in U.S. history, according to historical research conducted by Cornell University’s Donald F. Smith. Orphaned before he was two years of age and raised by an older sister who encouraged him to get an education, Patterson received his veterinary degree from Iowa State University (1923) and his doctorate from Cornell (1932). After becoming president of Tuskegee Institute (now University) in 1935, he overcame tremendous obstacles to establish a veterinary college for black students at a time when higher education in the South was generally segregated and there were only about 12 veterinary colleges in the country
Though his contributions to veterinary medicine represent worthy lifetime achievements, more Americans recognize Dr. Patterson’s name as the organizer of the United Negro College Fund, which was incorporated in 1944. Smith also credits the Washington, D.C. native as the originator of the well-known phrase, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Dr. Patterson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1987, one year before Patterson’s death.
Black women first earned veterinary degrees in 1949. Dr. Jane Hinton earned her VMD from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Alfreda Johnson Webb was the first female to graduate from the Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine. Webb taught biology and mathematics at North Carolina A&T College, and then went on to teach anatomy and coordinate the laboratory animal science program at North Carolina State University. She died in 1992.
Today, African-Americans hold the top leadership positions at three of the nation’s 28 accredited veterinary colleges. Dr. Willie M. Reed (Purdue University), Dr. Tsegaye HabteMariam (Tuskegee University), and Dr. Phillip D. Nelson (Western University of Health Sciences) serve as deans at their respective institutions.