100 Years of Women's Suffrage - The RVCS' First Female President 

The 6th February 2018 marks a hundred years since some British women were given the right to vote. With over half of the current veterinary profession being female and this only set to increase in the future this is an important milestone for the entire profession. With the voting open for the new AVS and IVSA committee (with voting open to any vet student) it is excellent timing.

Last year we published an article on Aleen Cust which can be viewed here so this year we thought we would highlight another extraordinary female vet – Dame Olga Uvarov who was the first female president of the RCVS.

Image from: National Portrait Gallery

Image from: National Portrait Gallery

Uvarov was born in Moscow in 1910 and was the daughter of a Russian lawyer and descendent of a Tartar count. After the Russian revolution in 1917, the family moved to the relative safety of the Russian countryside. Here the family fell victim to a typhoid epidemic which led to the death of her mother. Uvarov’s father was then shot at a revolutionary tribunal, leaving her and her brothers alone apart from an uncle (Sir Boris Uvarov) in London. After months of waiting she travelled to London and arrived without any hair or fingernails and suffering from Malaria. Her first memory of London was being amazed that people could leave their washing outside without it being stolen.

She graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1934 winning Bronze medals in Physiology and Histology. The profession she entered was very different to the modern profession with women “not expected to treat horses” instead expected to try and “alleviate the sufferings of sick lap-dogs”. She was one only thirty-four women registered with the RCVS and began her career in a mixed practice before setting up her own small animal practice in Surrey in the 1940s. She then entered the pharmaceutical industry and became the head of Glaxo Laboratories Veterinary Advisory Department. She also worked for the BVA as an advisor on Technical Information.

As one of the first women in the profession she was elected President of the Society of Women Veterinary Surgeons in 1947 and then became President of the Central Veterinary Society in the 1950s, from whom she received the Victory Gold Medal in 1965. She was elected to the council of the RCVS in 1968 and became President in 1976. She was first made a CBE in 1978 and then a DBE in 1983. Outside of her veterinary work Uvarov enjoyed literature, ballet and flowers - she even has an orchid named after her! She was forced to move out of her home after it was attacked by animal right activists and sadly died in September 2001.

Uvarov paved the way for women taking on leadership roles in the veterinary profession and is an inspiration to all. She is a reminder of the importance of hard work, fairness and determination in making a good vet. Uvarov was and still is one of the most influential vets in recent history and is a role model for past, current and future veterinarians.

Image from: Art UK

Image from: Art UK

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