Veterinary training and veterinary work: A female perspective, 1919-2000

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: History


Context of the research

There is a dearth of critical historical analyses of women in science and medicine. The few works to address these topics focus exclusively on the pre-WWII period. They privilege the work of pioneers, or focus narrowly on named educational institutions and work places. This study will move beyond these contexts and time periods to describe, analyse and account for the educational and work experiences of successive generations of female British vets.

The period studied encompasses the 1919 decision to admit women to the profession, the subsequent growth in female veterinary numbers, and the eventual feminisation of the profession so that by 2000, over 50% of British vets aged under 35 and nearly 70% of the student body were female. The century also witnessed significant change in the nature of veterinary work and the skills and values it required as its focus shifted from horses early in the century, to farm animals, and more recently to pets. Veterinary training lengthened to 5 years, entered the universities, became more scientific, and demanded ever-higher standards of entry as competition for places grew. Meanwhile, shifts in the prevailing concepts of gender altered popular perceptions of the type of education and work that was suitable for women, and reshaped women's expectations, career choices and experiences of family life. This study will explore the connections between these developments.

Using archival material, interview transcripts, and surveys of living vets, it will build a collective biography of successive generations of female vets, and study their shifting expectations, experiences, professional networks and career openings. It will examine how and why certain veterinary activities came to be regarded as suitable (or unsuitable) work for women. It will also trace the drivers and implications of feminisation, an international phenomenon that has progressed further in veterinary medicine than in any other profession. In the course of this research, the student will catalogue the personal collections of two prominent female vets: Connie Ford and Olga Uvarov. They will also identify interesting items of historical material to be showcased on the RCVST website, and develop the accompanying text.

Aims and objectives
- To contribute to the histories of women, gender, science, medicine and the professions, by describing, analysing and accounting for the educational and work experiences of successive generations of female vets
- To analyse the gendering of veterinary work, its construction and change over time
- To engage with the under-utilised collections of the RCVST library; to enhance those collections through the addition of survey data; and to increase their visibility and accessibility through cataloguing, web design and the presentation of research findings nationally and internationally to academic and non-academic audiences.
- To provide historical context for, and inform present-day understandings of the feminisation of the veterinary profession.

Potential applications and benefits include:
- By improving the historical understanding of professional women in 20th century Britain, it will benefit historians and sociologists of women, gender, science, medicine, veterinary medicine and the professions.
- By enhancing the visibility, accessibility and content of the RCVST collections, the project will raise the profile of the library, so enabling it to attract more users, and more resources in future. Hopefully this will inspire more research into the neglected field of vets and animal health.
- By informing understandings of feminisation, its drivers and implications, the study will strengthen the evidence base that underpins RCVS efforts to rebalance the student intake, and assist veterinary employers in their workforce planning

Planned Impact

Who will benefit and how?

The academic benefits, and the benefits to the student and supervisors are considered elsewhere. Other beneficiaries are:
- The RCVST: the active use of donated material will encourage future gifts to the collections and enable the RCVST to demonstrate 'public benefit' as required by its charitable status. Dissemination of findings will enhance wider awareness of the collection, while cataloging and website activities will enhance its profile and accessibility. Hopefully this will prompt further research and improve the RCVST's ability to win more resources for its library.
- The RCVS, the veterinary profession, university veterinary schools and veterinary employers (including practice owners, the pharmaceutical industry, universities and Defra): the continuing feminization of the profession is a matter of great interest to these individuals and institutions, who are engaged in selecting and employing the next generation of vets. While much documented, the drivers to feminization are contested. Some see it as a sign of the profession's decline in status. Others highlight women's naturally caring attitudes to small animals, while others draw attention to increased female aspirations and the removal of barriers to their entry. By placing feminization into historical context, this study will help to clarify this issue. In tracing and accounting for women's career trajectories and choices, it will also feed into workforce planning initiatives and efforts to predict the effects of feminization on businesses. In addition, by studying the problems and obstacles that female vets faced when they were a minority in the profession, and how these were tackled and overcome, it will provide an important evidence base for the RCVS's current 'walks of life' campaign which aims to encourage other minorities to join the profession. These significant benefits will be realised within 5 years of the project commencing.
- Non-academic veterinary historians: Primarily retired vets, they run the Veterinary History Society and its journal,Veterinary History. As users of the RCVST library with a considerable interest in the history of their profession, they stand to benefit both from the intellectual outputs of this project and from its impacts on the RCVST.
- Librarians: this research will provide broader lessons in collaborative working and the creative use of collections, which can then be applied to their own work.
- Genealogists: there is a burgeoning interest in tracing one's family tree. The database of female vets produced by this study will prove useful to descendants.

What will be done to ensure they have the opportunity to benefit?
- Both supervisors, through their professional networks, mailing lists and newsletters, will look out for suitable opportunities for the student to present their findings to vets and librarians. They will encourage and assist the student in drafting papers for delivery to these audiences and also for publication in veterinary newsletters and Veterinary History
- The non-academic supervisor will ensure that opportunities are created and exploited to disseminate news of the award and its findings via the RCVST. Possibilities include: an announcement on its website, in RCVST bulletins to the veterinary press, and in its meetings and social events. Links with the RCVS will also be exploited, eg to advertise the project and its findings in RCVS news (an annual publication sent to all members of veterinary profession) and to explain its findings in person to members of RCVS council, who are drawn from veterinary practice, universities, industry and Defra.


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