Happy International Women’s Day from everyone at AVS!
There have been massive changes in the veterinary career since the first woman vet Aleen Cust graduated from Edinburgh University and became the first woman to be recognised as a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1924
Cust was born in Ireland in 1868 and enrolled at Edinburgh in 1896 under a different name to avoid embarrassment for her family (!). She finished her degree in 1900, winning the Gold Medal for zoology. However, she was not allowed to sit her exams as the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons only counted male students as students. Her case was eventually taken to the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh but she was unsuccessful and it wasn't until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 that Cust was able to begin the path of becoming an official veterinary surgeon - she joined the RCVS register in 1924.
Between finishing her degree and actually graduating, Cust worked as a veterinary inspector in Galway. She also worked for the YMCA in France where she unofficially helped the Army Veterinary Corps during the First World War; she then worked in an army bacteriology laboratory. Alongside treating animals she was also a keen breeder of Pomeranians, Cocker Spaniels and ornamental pheasants.
At the time that Cust died in 1937 there were sixty women in the profession. Since then, thanks to Cust’s pioneering work the number of female vets has exploded, with 60% of vets being female and the female to male ratio of veterinary graduates being 80:20. Female leadership in the profession is also on the rise; there have been four female presidents of the British Veterinary Association, including the current president Gudrun Ravetz.
Aleen Cust is an inspiration for all vet students, male or female, for being the definition of determined and not letting any obstacle stopping her fulfil her dreams.
Haines, C (2001) International Women in Science: A Biographical Dictionary to 1950. ABC-CLIO