From groundbreakers to disease hunters to Nazi fighters: A look at notable female veterinarians on International Women's Day

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For immediate release: 03/07/2019

A look at notable female veterinarians on International Women's Day

In honor of International Women's Day on Friday, March 8, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is celebrating the impact and achievements of women within the veterinary profession.

As recently as 1975, women made up only 5 percent of the 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 are women, and 6 of the 15 members of the AVMA Board of Directors and 58 of the 140 members of the AVMA House of Delegates are women.

"AVMA's commitment to expanding diversity within the veterinary profession and leadership is evident in all that we do," said Dr. John de Jong, AVMA president. "From offering focused programs and scholarships for rising leaders and veterinarians in underrepresented groups at our Veterinary Leadership Conference and the AVMA Convention to working with, and supporting groups, like the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, we know that a 'better balance' will strengthen all of 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 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.
  • 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. Rene 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.

Visit the AVMA's website for additional information on AVMA initiatives and policy on diversity and inclusion. For more information about International Women's Day, #balanceforbetter, visit

About the AVMA

Serving more than 100,000 member veterinarians, the AVMA is the nation's leading representative of the veterinary profession, dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of animals, humans and the environment. Founded in 1863 and with members in every U.S. state and territory and more than 60 countries, the AVMA is one of the largest veterinary medical organizations in the world. Informed by our members' unique scientific training and clinical knowledge, the AVMA supports the crucial work of veterinarians and advocates for policies that advance the practice of veterinary medicine and improve animal and human health.