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Advancing the health and well-being of animals and people

History and Archives

Dr. James LawHere at Cornell, we've been working for nearly 150 years to keep animals and people healthy.

The history of the teaching of veterinary medicine at Cornell predates the establishment of the college in 1894. Shortly after the university was founded in 1865, Ezra Cornell insisted that a chair of veterinary medicine be instituted. He instructed Andrew D. White, the university's first president, to seek the best-qualified person to teach courses in veterinary medicine and surgery.

President White secured the services of Dr. James Law, an already distinguished veterinarian and teacher, who was a graduate of the Edinburgh Veterinary College in Scotland. Dr Law brought with him a commitment to rigorous training for veterinarians. At Law's urging, Cornell set much higher requirements for a veterinary degree than any other institution at that time. In 1871, the University Faculty passed a resolution requiring four years of study for a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVS) degree and an additional two years for a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), a degree previously unavailable from any institution in the United States.

When the university opened in the fall of 1868, Dr. Law's first classes included students who were working toward degrees in agriculture and the biological sciences, and a few "special students" who were pursuing veterinary degrees. In 1871 Myron Kasson earned the University's first BVS degree. He was followed very quickly, in 1872, by Daniel Salmon. Four years later Salmon earned the first DVM degree in the country. Dr. Salmon went on to serve as the founding chief of the US Bureau of Animal Industry and is best known today for identifying the infectious pathogen Salmonella and pioneering the fight against contagious diseases.

For the next twenty years, James Law lobbied state legislators for funding to expand Cornell's veterinary program into a genuine college. A gauntlet of letters, visits, speeches, and editorials finally paid off in the spring of 1894. On March 21, New York State Governor Roswell P. Flower signed the legislation that chartered the veterinary college as the first state-supported college at Cornell University. Flower himself had grown up on a farm and knew the needs of livestock owners and the dangers to human health from diseased animals and their products. Thus, in recognition of the importance of veterinary medicine to the health of the state's citizens, the New York State Veterinary College was established at Cornell.

The original appropriation to house and equip the new college was $50,000. Planning began immediately, and in 1896 the first building at Cornell dedicated entirely to veterinary medicine opened its doors. Aptly named James Law Hall, the building had classroom space, laboratories, a library and a museum. Thus the college had a home, but there was still the matter of tenants.

When classes began in the fall of 1896, there were six professors, two instructors, and 11 students. The faculty were hand-picked by Law and represented the finest scholarship in their fields. The students were also expected to arrive well-prepared. The scholastic requirement for entrance was a high school diploma, a high standard at the time.

It is because of these high standards, that Cornell's veterinary students went on to become highly sought-after researchers, educators and clinicians. Of course, like other veterinary colleges of that era, most of the early students were male. However, in keeping with Ezra Cornell's original commitment to "found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study," the Veterinary College played an important role in educating women veterinarians. Florence Kimball, the first woman in the United States to receive the DVM degree, graduated from Cornell in 1910. In fact, seven of the first 11 women to become licensed veterinarians in this country were Cornell graduates.

The college remained at its original site at the southeast corner of East Avenue and Tower Road until 1957, when it moved to its present site at the east end of Tower Road. Renovations and expansions have made the college a state-of-the-art veterinary education center. Its 15-acre campus totals 650,000 square feet of space (which equates to 13.5 football fields, or 138 NCAA basketball courts, or 10 rugby fields, or 11 lacrosse fields, or 353 bocce courts), the largest veterinary college complex in the country.

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell is one of 28 veterinary colleges and schools in the United States and one of only three in the Northeast. Since 1868, the faculty, students, and graduates of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University have devoted themselves to the advancement of the health of both animals and humans though education, service, and research.

With 4,669 graduates (and 4,909 degreed and non-degreed alumni), Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine is recognized internationally as a leader in agriculture, public health, biomedical research, and veterinary medical education.

The Archives

There is much more to the story of veterinary medicine at Cornell. The Archives of the College of Veterinary Medicine is home to a wealth of information about the history of the College and its graduates. If you have questions or comments, please contact Rare and Manuscript Collections.

This information was updated on October 15, 2012. Please call 607.253.3369 for current numbers.