A Brief History

Auburn Veterinarian | Summer 2017

The concept of One Medicine traces the common heritage of human and comparative medicine to its beginnings with the domestication of animals and continues to the turn of the 21st century. Then, retreating to the 19th century, the history of Alabama statehood and the settlement of east Alabama lays the groundwork for the founding of Auburn and the establishment of higher education by church conferences during the antebellum period. The permanent roots of the college took hold with the establishment of the State Agricultural and Mechanical College during the turbulent times of the reconstruction era. The veterinary medical curriculum started as a department in the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1892 and served as the foundation for the college to be inaugurated 15 years later. There followed two world wars and the Great Depression which saw 41 independent schools of veterinary medicine disappear out of an initial 63 schools stated in North America since 1862. The slow but steady progress of the college at Auburn is traced to the present day, relating significant events and personalities that have marked its chronology over the past 125 years. The long narrative will explain more fully how truly remarkable the accomplishments at Auburn have been as viewed against the backdrop of history.

In this age of doityourselfism, the practice of medicine, law, the ministry, and farming seem to be irresistible to the amateur. In close competition is the interpretation of history. I hasten to disabuse you at the outset of any notion that I conceive of myself as a historian. That is a learned profession unto itself, in the likes of David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin, of Shelby Foote, and of course our own Wayne Flynt. My only qualification for such a presumption as this is that, by happenstance and a time warp, I have been witness and participant of the scene for four generations, and through the eyes of my grandmother, since the mid-19th century. Erin Iola Hardin, who lived with us intermittently until her death in 1944, was born in Auburn in 1855 and related memories of Rousseau’s and Wilson’s raids in 1864 and 1865, and of the privations of Reconstruction. She was well acquainted with the faculty of both the East Alabama Male College and the Female College in Tuskegee, reportedly tutored some of the early Samfords, and addressed President Thach as “Charlie.”

My father, Henry Asa Vaughan, was born on a farm in Marengo County, near Demopolis, in 1892 (the year Dr. Cary was recruited by President Broun). He dated Dean McAdory’s daughter Freddie, was a schoolmate of Dean Sugg’s and Dr. Marvin Williams’, and worked as a Macon County agent during Dean Cary’s tick eradication program.

Whether in the best of times or the worst of times, (to borrow a phrase from Mr. Dickens) man’s most ambitious undertakings oft seem destined for launch irrespective of winds or tides. No better example exists than the founding of the State Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama in 1872. It was during the darkest days of that postwar period euphemistically termed “the Reconstruction.” A more inauspicious time and place can scarcely be imagined. By comparison, the Great Depression was a cakewalk.

Full appreciation of the significance of the establishment of formal veterinary medical education in a Deep South state during the last decade of the 19th century is possible only with an understanding of the history of the region overlaid on daunting factors that challenged such an undertaking. Chronicling such a history must reach back in time to include ancient truths that are so often forgotten or neglected in the haste to deal with the present.

Even today, attention is being focused on what many consider to be a current concept of One Medicine, the convergence of the healing arts of human and animal medicine for their mutual benefit. In point of fact, One Medicine predates history of man’s earliest efforts to avoid or repair the effects of injury and disease to both himself and the animals on which he rapidly became dependent for his survival as soon as their domestication commenced over ten thousand years before Christ.

The history of veterinary medicine and its relationship to human medicine starts with the evolution of life forms and the emergence of animal cultures, progressing into early medicine as practiced in the cradles of civilization.

Fast forward four millennia through the Assyrian and Babylonian empires and ancient Egypt, the golden age of Greece, and the rise and fall of the western Roman empire, Byzantium and the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to the 18th century. The emergence of European schools of veterinary medicine in the 18th century fueled the rapid advances of medicine in the 19th century, climaxed by the establishment of formal veterinary education in North America in 1862. That these dates concurred with events that were taking place in Alabama is less a coincidence than the culmination of the southward expansion of the American frontier after the War
of 1812.

Into this cavalcade of civilization in the first half of the 19th century, the boundaries of a new nation pushed westward and southward, reaching in its course the Chattahoochee River, opening up fertile new ground in Alabama.

Auburn Veterinarian | Fall 2017

In 1836, shortly after the Treaty of Washington in 1832 that removed the Creek Indians from east Alabama, the town of Auburn was founded by John J. Harper from Georgia. Growth in the town paralleled that of the territory, soon requiring efforts to meet the needs of education. Early preparatory schools that served a wide area of east Alabama and west Georgia were the forerunners of the East Alabama Male College founded by the Methodist Church in 1856. Closed in 1861 with the declaration of Civil War, the college served as a Confederate hospital until 1865.

History records that rapid advances in science and industry are often borne on the wings of war. It is noteworthy that the Civil War coincided with the proof of the Germ Theory in the laboratories of Louis Pasteur (1860), marking the beginnings of modern medicine and ushering in the Golden Age of bacteriology. Wound infections and contagious plagues had been the bête noire of civilization from the beginnings of time. Following Pasteur’s momentous revelation, discovery of the true etiology of these infections followed in rapid-f ire order.

During the decade that Charles A. Cary was graduating in veterinary medicine at Iowa State University (1887), Robert Koch had identif ied the cause of tuberculosis (1882), and the f indings of Theobald Smith of the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) incorporated the testing of infected cattle, which led to compulsory pasteurization of milk products. Also of note at the time was the discovery of the piroplasm causing Texas tick fever and its mode of transmission. In so doing, Frederick Kilborne and Cooper Curtice, working under Daniel E. Salmon and Theobald Smith in the laboratories of the BAI, demonstrated for the f irst time the role of insect vectors of both human and animal contagion, opening the door to elucidation of the causes of malaria, yellow fever, plague, typhus, and innumerable other arthropod-borne diseases.

Three other events occurring in the same timeframe (1860-1890) were seminal in the birth of veterinary medical education in Alabama. In 1862, a year after Lincoln was elected president, Congress passed the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land-Grant College Act, and the act establishing the United States Department of Agriculture, all aimed at assisting the family farmer. The Morrill Act, in particular, provided for agricultural and mechanical colleges throughout the country. The Methodist Church had a well-established college in Auburn with no funds to operate it. So in 1872, the East Alabama Male College, under the administration at the time of Dr. B.B. Ross, chairman of the faculty board and presumably with the support of Governor David P. Lewis, made a successful bid for Alabama’s land-grant college, transferring ownership of the church college to the state of Alabama. The second Morrill Land-Grant College Act in 1890 provided annual appropriations to each state to support its land-grant college. It also provided funding for publicly supported black institutions (including Tuskegee Institute) which became known as the Colleges of 1890.

The third major event occurred in 1887 with the passage of the Hatch Act which provided for a yearly grant to each state for the support of an agricultural experiment station. This coincided with the administration of William Leroy Broun, president of the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College.

Up until the turn of the century, Germany and France had been the fountainheads of medical and comparative (veterinary) medical knowledge. It was into this exciting period of discovery in 1891 that Broun and Cary, then a University of Missouri graduate student of Dr. Paul Paguin’s—himself a student of Louis Pasteur—had a chance meeting on a train.1 President Broun, intent on emphasizing the sciences at Auburn, recognized the potential in Cary and persuaded him to join the faculty at Auburn as a visiting lecturer of physiology and veterinary science in the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1892. It might be said that, from this time onward, the future was virtually preordained.

In satisfaction of his agreement with President Broun, Cary pursued his graduate studies further in the laboratories of Robert Koch in Germany, returning to Auburn in 1893. An immediate benefit of Cary’s first-hand acquaintance with the work of Pasteur and Koch was that Alabama was one of the first states in the nation to institute the use of tuberculin for detection of tuberculosis in cattle and the application of public meat and milk inspection and the pasteurization process. This was the finest example of the practice of One Medicine. Applying the findings of Kilborne and Curtice, Cary tackled the South’s problem with tick fever which had effectively paralyzed the cattle industry. But to execute these multiple responsibilities, there needed to be a formal structure to use as a base of operations.

1 This oft-repeated fictional account has subsequently been corrected.

Auburn Veterinarian | Winter 2018

Dr. Cary extended the bounds of veterinary medicine at Auburn to statewide programs that materially affected both human and animal health. In close cooperation with the handful of graduate, licensed veterinarians in the state (the early Alabama Veterinary Medical Association), this resulted in the enactment by the state legislature of laws regulating the practice of veterinary medicine, livestock sanitation, meat and milk inspection, and prevention and control of such animal diseases as tuberculosis, brucellosis, Texas tick fever, hog cholera, and rabies. In 1907, in response to his 15 years of efforts statewide, as well as a growing number of national offices, and with the support of then-President Charles C. Thach and Governor Braxton Bragg Comer, Cary succeeded in establishing the College of Veterinary Medicine at Alabama Polytechnic Institute. It became the seventh or eighth veterinary college in North America, tied with Colorado, and the first in the entire southern United States from coast to coast below the Mason-Dixon Line (lat. 39 degrees 43’ 26.3” N.)—the southern boundary of Pennsylvania. Cary was, of course, appointed its first dean.

In the same year, with the urging of President Thach, the Alabama Legislature made Cary the State Veterinarian. Before the year’s end, together with 11 Alabama veterinarians who were graduates of approved veterinary colleges, Cary organized the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association with the purpose of establishing standards of professional ethics, education, public health, and licensure. This greatly increased public recognition of accredited graduates of professional colleges and sharpened the distinction between the practice of veterinary medicine by licensed graduates and the all-too-common laymen and farriers on whom the public had had to rely. Cary served as the association’s secretary-treasurer for 28 years until his death in 1935.

Covering all bases during that inaugural year, Cary also organized a student veterinary medical association. His recognition of the importance of organized veterinary medicine and his unflagging support at the national as well as the regional levels earned him the presidency of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1920.

The original veterinary department boasted a two-story frame building with independent gas, water, and sewer system. It included classrooms, museums, and laboratories for physiology, bacteriology, pathology, and photography. Separate facilities provided housing for laboratory animals, anatomical studies, and a one-story hospital for livestock.2 Paddocks and sheds had sufficient capacity for 125 cattle or other large animals as well as isolation quarters for contagious diseases. The department had close relationships with the departments of animal husbandry, pharmacy, chemistry, botany, and physics.

Requirements for admission were: 18 years of age, of good moral character, and passage of a satisfactory examination on 1) geography and the history of the United States, 2) English (grammar and composition), 3) reading (an extensive booklist of the classics of literature), and 4) mathematics (through algebra and geometry). Transfer students had to supply certificates of honorable discharge from previous colleges. It is interesting that, although Cary reinforced President Broun’s desire to emphasize science, he also retained significant elements of the old liberal arts core curricula. Cary himself was multilingual and continued to follow the professional literature in German and perhaps French. The three-year course leading to the DVM degree consisted of three terms per year that covered an impressive array of subject matter ranging from physics, chemistry, botany, pharmacy, and livestock management to all the basic and clinical sciences in a modern curriculum today. In addition, a thesis was required in all three terms of the last year. Suffice it to say that the graduate was deserving of a professional degree.

Nineteen students were registered in 1907, increasing to 51 by 1909, at which time five qualified for their degrees. These numbers continued to rise to 74 registrants and 23 graduates in 1916. World War I intervened, and the student population experienced a sharp decline which extended through the next decade. This could be attributed to several factors incident to the war. An infestation of boll weevils from Mexico swept across the South early in the twentieth century; a virtual embargo was imposed on southern cattle due to tick fever;3 a large segment of available labor moved north to work in factories; and the reliance on the horse and mule for draft and transportation was being replaced by the use of steam- and gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. A farmers’ depression in the South hit in the 1920s before the Great Depression enveloped the country. It was 1932 before student numbers regained their pre-war strength; and, by then, the Great Depression had to be dealt with.

In less than another decade, World War II arrived. At the cessation of hostilities in 1945, veterans returning to school under the GI Bill accounted for a sharp rebound in numbers with students matriculating from as far away as New England. By the time the Southern Regional Education Board was established in 1948 (which was the brainchild of Dean Redding Sugg, 1940-1958), Auburn was providing contract spaces for students from a nine-state area of the Southeast, and at one time boasted an annual enrollment of nearly 500 students.

Proceeding apace with the growth of the young school during these uncertain times were aggressive programs to eradicate tick fever, tuberculosis, hog cholera, and rabies. These consumed the energies and perennially outstripped the resources of the college, the state association, and the office of the State Veterinarian. However, they persevered, and by 1935 the BAI and USDA certified that tuberculosis in Alabama cattle had been reduced to less than 0.05 percent; tick fever was under control and all but eradicated; a program of brucellosis eradication had begun the year before; and programs of rabies vaccination in dogs and of hog cholera prevention were in progress.

During these years, two of Dean Cary’s stalwart faculty emerged as leaders of the profession. In 1908, Isaac Sadler McAdory graduated from McKillips Veterinary College in Chicago and shortly thereafter joined Cary as professor of anatomy and physiology. In 1915, Redding Stancill Sugg graduated from API; and, in 1919, after serving in the Veterinary Corps during World War I, joined the faculty at Auburn as professor of bacteriology. Both men were integral in the development of the state’s livestock industry as well as the young school to which they dedicated their lives. Upon Dean Cary’s death in 1935, Dr. McAdory was appointed dean and served from 1935 to 1940. Dean Sugg succeeded Dean McAdory and, with the exception of a three-year interruption (1942-1945) for his second period of service in the Veterinary Corps during World War II, occupied the deanship until his death in office in 1958.

Graduating under Dean Cary in 1933, Dr. James Etheridge Greene joined the faculty of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery in 1937. After four years of military service in World War II, he returned as professor and head of his department until he succeeded Dean Sugg in 1958. Dean Greene served with distinction until his retirement in 1977. He was succeeded in turn by John Thomas Vaughan ’55, who served until his retirement in 1995. The following dean, Timothy R. Boosinger (Purdue ’76), led the college to a period of impressive growth that saw construction of new facilities for isolation of contagious diseases, the Linear Accelerator Laboratory, the Southeastern Raptor Center, the Large Animal Teaching Hospital, the Alabama State Diagnostic Laboratory, and many other improvements. Growth continues with a new small animal teaching hospital and expanded classroom and teaching facilities.4

It may be said that the institution’s stability throughout periods of national conflict, economic reversals, and sea changes in science and technology is a reflection of the fact that it has experienced only six changes of leadership in more than one hundred years. Listing the accomplishments of each of the administrations and of the faculties and their graduates worldwide is the assignment of future histories.

Today, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University is one of 32 schools and colleges remaining (28 in the U.S.) of 63 that had been started in North America since 1862. Between 1852 and 1938, 41 independent (proprietary) schools were opened. By the turn of the twentieth century, 20 were closed, merged, or suspended. Fourteen more were added to the list by the end of World War I (1920), six more by the Great Depression (1933), and the last one by the end of World War II (1947). That Auburn’s veterinary curriculum has continued without interruption for 125 years as of 2017, and 110 years as a free-standing college is due to the strong foundation on which it was established and the unstinting efforts of five generations of loyal supporters from all ranks of society, of academia, of government, industry, and the military.

For a profession that had languished in the shadow of European science for the first 350 years of its existence in the New World, to have emerged to its current stature in the 21st century is the finest tribute that can be paid to these dedicated men and women who have gone before, and the sternest challenge that can be made to those who follow after. Perhaps Goethe (1749-1832) said it best:

“What you have as heritage, take now as task; For thus you will make it your own!”

—Goethe, Faust

2 By 1907, a second floor had been added to the one-story part.
3 The embargo consisted of 15 states in the southern U.S. from the Carolinas to California.
4 Dr. Boosinger recently retired as provost at Auburn University. (See page 26.) Upon attaining that appointment in 2012, he was succeeded as Dean by the College of Veterinary Medicine current dean, Calvin Johnson ’86.