The History of Veterinary Medicine: South Carolina
by Roger Ross, DVM
FoxNest Veterinary Hospital
The only official government involvement in national agricultural affairs in the early years of our new nation were handled by the US Patent Office which was formed in 1837 to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts”.
Many of the patents concerned agricultural matters.
But non-government agricultural groups, granges, and professional societies involved in various plant and animal sciences/breeding/husbandry were common and active both before and after the American Revolution. Such groups were successful in calling for a U.S. National Board of Agriculture which was established in Washington, D.C.
By 1841 the many different agricultural societies joined together to form the U.S. Agricultural Society.
In 1852 there was a big national agricultural CONVENTION in Washington, DC involving delegates from 23 states and territories along with lots of governmental bigwigs. The big topic was about forming a government department designed as a national assistance program for agriculture.
In 1860, The Hon. Thomas G Clemson (who later founded Clemson University), in his report as superintendent of agricultural affairs of the US Patent Office, said:
“The requirements of the present age, and the permanent importance of the subjects embraced in its operations, demand that this agency of the government SHOULD BE ENLARGED
A vast majority of the intelligent agriculturists of the country, dissatisfied with the limited functions now exercised by the government, not only confidently anticipate, but demand an organization at least equal in importance to that of any other department…”
All this led to the formation of the US Department of Agriculture, created by an act of Congress on May 15th, 1862, opening the way for tax dollars to be used to assist agriculture in general, the livestock industry, and also led to the beginnings of our country’s efforts to investigate and control diseases on a national level.
Remember how remarkable this is ... the country was being torn by civil war... officially starting in February, 1861
But Let Me Digress a Little:
The early 1800’s were an exciting time. The country was new. Governments everywhere were changing, religion was changing, class and social barriers were being tossed aside…especially in America…the industrial revolution was in progress, and what is not too often stressed but was of enormous concern was the desire for education:
Basically, thousands upon thousands of people from the war torn, starving, and dead end cities, towns, villages, and farms of Europe came to America with the promise of opportunity, the possibility of owning their own land, and of earning prosperity and social rank based on merit rather than birth.
These were very ambitious people and as soon as basic survival needs were met, the thing most desired was education for themselves or their children. Part of this burning desire was sparked by it’s obvious need to get ahead … now that getting ahead was possible…and part was constantly being refueled by pamphlets and the newly introduced wonder of newspapers full of articles.
Articles about the new ideas of the enlightenment coming out of European salons and universities.
Articles about new inventions, methods of farming, animal breeding, medicine, germ theory, the adventures of discovery in far off lands, about getting rich, about our clipper ships…fastest in the world…not to mention all the exciting tales…true and false about the opening of the American West.
There were many attempts to establish agricultural colleges such as were being formed in Europe with private funds and by the bigger agricultural societies but these met with limited success at first.
Consider just a few of the bigger events and changes in our young country up to 1860:
The invention and implementation of railways spanning from sea to sea.
Steam engines to propel those trains as well as ships and factories.
Settlement of the Midwest and beyond.
Major new cities popping up on our many navigable rivers and ports.
A populace that was becoming more and more literate, and more and more prosperous now that we were becoming the bread basket and supplier of goods for a war torn Europe.
Of course, we were about to become embroiled in our own incredibly bloody war between the states as we hashed out our many differences over slavery, the economy, political power, women’s rights, religion, sin, utopias, Darwin, child labor, class resentment, city gangs, corruption, Indian genocide, Divine Destiny, Devil Rum, Mormons, TAXES, and a hundred other issues of the day.
At any rate, by 1860, several states were successful in starting up agricultural colleges, the first being in Michigan, New York, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.
Great Universities, of course, such as Harvard and Yale were established long before, but didn't’ offer agricultural courses at the time.
Harvard … like the University of South Carolina… (more about this soon) did start an agricultural and Veterinary Medicine program, but it didn't’ survive.
In 1862 The Land Grant College Act was passed. This basically awarded large tracts of national public land to each State which they were to use to establish Colleges with practical programs designed for “the common man” and not the rich kids studying law, liberal arts, and theology in private universities like Harvard. The States would sell off some of the land to raise money for buildings and endowments and staff. In the case of Clemson University, convict labor was used to clear the land and build buildings…I suspect other States did likewise.
All of these land grant colleges offered agricultural programs to include at least basic veterinary sciences.
By 1877, more than 22 land grant colleges…and many private colleges offered instruction in veterinary medicine.
Understand, though, that it would be more accurate to say equine medicine since very little was taught about other species.
Many of these private veterinary colleges were notorious for handing out degrees whether or not the pupil was deserving as long as the tuition was paid. Apparently, this problem was even more prevalent in private colleges giving out MD degrees.
At any rate, with the advent of mechanical power and the rapid obsolescence of the horse, most of these private schools offering veterinary doctor degrees are now long gone (some morphed into highly respected institutions such as Pennsylvania’s Veterinary College), but because of their presence and competition, the many private veterinary colleges actually delayed the opening of veterinary programs in some states by up to 50 years!
While all these newly formed agricultural colleges offered courses in veterinary sciences as part of their animal husbandry programs, it took another decade or two before separate, post graduate schools of veterinary medicine were started:
Iowa opened up it’s veterinary school in 1879.
Ohio in 1884.
Cornell in 1894. (Apparently, Cornell was the first, however, to award a D.V.M. degree in the US in 1876 to one of it’s agricultural students after advanced studies.
Washington State in 1895.
Alabama in 1907
Texas in 1916.
Georgia in 1918. And Georgia again after faltering from the agricultural depression of the 1920’s and the general depression of the 1930’s.
And so on.
1886 After The Charleston Earthquake
The Hatch Act
1887: This year was a big deal in that the Hatch Act was passed (congressman William Hatch of Missouri) granting funds to State Agricultural Colleges for research purposes. This resulted in the formation of state experiment stations which contributed greatly to the study of plant and animal diseases.
Since the Hatch Act, many additional ACTS have led to a greatly expanded Dept of Agriculture and lots of money devoted to experimental agricultural and research stations, research performed by State veterinary colleges, and so forth in attempts to control animal diseases and to improve and safeguard our nations food supply.
What about South Carolina
1878: The University of South Carolina Act is passed. As with all great events, not everyone was pleased with the idea of spending yet more tax money. One opponent asserted “that farmers had no more use for an agricultural department than a telegraph wire to the moon.”
1879: The University of South Carolina opens up a college of agriculture and mechanical arts in Columbia, SC.
By 1887, an agricultural experiment station was established as was a graduate program for advanced ag students leading to a veterinary doctor degree.
During the first couple of years, the agricultural school was deemed unsatisfactory by Governor Hagood, who then enticed John M. McBryde to head the new college as Professor of Agriculture and Horticulture.
Professor McBryde was a South Carolina native (born in Abbeville in 1841) but was working as a star professor at the University of Tennessee. He was a good organizer and a man of vision, principle, and tenacity.
Good thing, about the tenacity, I mean, because the State legislature was apparently very stingy with funds and the program had political enemies which eventually destroyed the school. Despite all this, Professor McBryde had developed a strong agricultural program by 1887 at which time he became president of the university and Milton Whitney became head professor of agriculture. Like other land grant ag programs, veterinary science was taught during the junior and senior years as part of the 4 year agricultural degree.
The Ag school at the University of South Carolina taught agricultural chemistry, hygiene (germ theory and sanitation; especially critical in the handling of milk and control of diarrhea), and was one of the first Ag schools to teach bacteriology in the Eastern U.S.
Teaching bacteriology, physiology, and hygiene was Professor B.M. Bolton who had attended a number of European universities and was one of the best qualified bacteriologists in the country.
Dr. W.B Niles, an 1885 graduate from Iowa State Veterinary School was hired to become professor of veterinary science (and the sole member of this new department) that taught junior and senior Ag students veterinary skills. Here’s a description of the courses:
“Veterinary anatomy and physiology are taught during the year by lectures, demonstrations and dissections. Subjects for dissection are easily secured, which, with the aid of many anatomical specimens in the museum, furnish good facilities for the study of this branch… Pathological anatomy is studied by holding post mortem exams on diseased animals. Students are I this way made familiar with the tissues in a state of disease.”
Author’s Aside: I can’t help but ponder where the easily secured subjects for dissection came from… I’ve read stories about human and veterinary anatomy classes from as late as the 1940’s where the students were expected to round up and bring to classes stray dogs and cats for their studies. I can imagine lazier students swiping the friendly neighbor’s cat instead.
“The actions and uses of the principal medicines used in veterinary practice are discussed by means of lectures during the first term. The dispensing room at the Veterinary Infirmary affords opportunity for compounding the different preparations used in veterinary practice…The remainder of the year is devoted to lectures on the principles and practice of veterinary medicine and surgery and obstetrics…Practical instruction in the treatment of disease and injuries, performance of operations, etc. is given daily (Sunday excepted) at the Veterinary Infirmary when cases are available. The Infirmary is well equipped with the necessary appliances, instruments, etc., for the proper treatment of medical and surgical cases. The number of cases brought to the Hospital is large enough to make this the most practical part of the department, of great importance and value to the students”.
The graduate department of the agricultural college offered studies in bacteriology, physiology, veterinary science, and agricultural chemistry and work leading to a D.V.M. degree was available much in the same manner that work leading to a Ph.D. is arranged today.
However: The only student awarded a D.V.M. degree from the University of South Carolina was Thomas Jefferson Kinard from Edgefield, SC in 1890. He received the degree with “honor and distinction”. I guess he also graduated at “the top of his class” too!
Also “at the bottom of his class”!
Okay, jokes aside, Dr. Kinard went on to become a successful practitioner located at Ninety-Six, South Carolina.
Author’s Aside: the town of Ninety-Six was an early and strategic pioneer town…and fort… so named because early settlers thought it was 96 miles from Keowee, a major Cherokee settlement and stronghold that hindered westward white expansion. Fort Ninety-Six was built to protect the white settlers from the angry Cherokee and was latter used by the British during the Revolutionary War to successfully fend off American Patriots in the first land battle in a Southern State.
So, What happened to destroy this fledging Agricultural and Veterinary College in Columbia?
In a word: Politics!
Compared with almost every other country in the world, America was a class free nation, but this meant … as it means today… not that there weren’t different social and economic classes; but rather that class lines weren’t rigid and hereditary. Anyone, in theory, could move up the ladder based on how they presented themselves and on their achievements. Of course, as we are constantly reminded, in these early years of our new nation, blacks, women, and just about anyone not of northern European descent were excluded or hindered. (but not anymore!)
Anyhow, class resentment and discrimination, or "class warfare" was an especially hot issue in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s .
The lot and life of early factory workers, miners, and hardscrabble farmers was truly pathetic. Share croppers, tenant farmers, and rural black families barely scratched out a living and were at the mercy not only of unforgiving Nature but of rich land owning farmers, sheriffs, swindlers, and municipal governments that treated them like peasants of old.
The golden rule didn’t apply to the white trash poor and the colored.
As a nation, we were competing with other nations of the world to “industrialize” and as you know, we were quite successful in this frenzy of modernization as one invention after the other was introduced; a great majority of them invented in the U.S.
The only problem with this big race toward modernization was that government often favored big business, big steel, the railroads, and big oil. And in agriculture, with high world-wide demand for our food, barreled beef, and timber products, it was frequently the case that big operators were favored in politics.
All this economic growth led to millions of jobs and opportunities for establishing financial security, creating thousands of small businesses that supported and supplied the larger businesses and so forth.
And despite the human downside aspects of a pro-business government, our policies of this era and a lot of luck and hard work allowed us to become one of the most prosperous and free nations on Earth, so count me as an enthusiastic capitalist.
But still, when all was said and done, there were lots of farmers supporting big families on poor pieces of land and barely making it.
And, in addition to too little or too much rain, erosion,
stagnant farm prices, taxes, a high death and disability rate, and all the other potential disasters of farming, there were devastating crop and animal diseases and parasites ever ready to destroy everything.
Meanwhile, back at the University of South Carolina:
In the 1880’s while Professors McBryde, Whitney, Bolton and Dr. Niles we busy trying to develop a first class Agriculture College and Veterinary School, there were others trying to stop them.
One man…also from Edgefield like our State’s only veterinary graduate… railed hard against the agricultural program at the University of South Carolina: His name was Ben Tillman, then a State Senator with aspirations of becoming governor.
State Senator Tillman criticized the new agricultural and veterinary program … as well as the entire university… that as a State supported college…it catered to the upper social crust and “NOT TO THE POOR FARMER AND THE COMMON MAN WHO NEEDED IT MOST OF ALL”
Author's aside: You may remember that in the introduction part of this page, that the College Land Grant Act was politically popular because it was supposed to offer university level opportunities "to the common man".
Ben Tillman further claimed that President McBryde was diverting funds meant for the agricultural experiment stations and using them to booster the university’s classes in the Fine Arts!
Which definitely seemed to favor the uppity.
This powerful senator wanted an agricultural college designed for poor farm boys…not gentlemen farmers. He wanted to have a college that took better advantage of the federal funds available associated with the new Hatch Act.
Did he have less lofty personal or power struggle motives? Was he simply playing the class resentment issue for his own cynical political gain? Did he want his own friends and political supporters running the school? If this class struggle issue was a legitimate problem, why couldn’t it be solved without destroying the school? Life and politics are never neat: I have no idea what really happened behind the scenes…if anything… but the result was the closure of the ag school in Columbia and the opening of a new ag school in Fort Hill.
This new school was to be named after Congressman Thomas G. Clemson who changed his will to leave the bulk of his estate in Fort Hill (the town as well as the University is now called Clemson) to be used to start an agricultural school and scientific institution dedicated to alleviating the hardships and sufferings of the poor farmer.
Well, the Hon. Congressman died in 1988 and his friend Mr. Tillman became Governor of South Carolina winning election on promises of building a new school in Congressman Clemson’s honor as well as promises to take down the perceived highbrows in Columbia.
In the end, The University of South Carolina survived…barely…but over the course of the late 1880’s lost the agricultural program, the engineering-mechanical program, and the pharmacy school.
Author’s Aside: Just in case you’re “not from here”, the University of South Carolina is now a thriving, reputable, huge, and highly honored institution of higher learning. But as you’ve just read, for a while there at the turn of the century it's existence was precarious.
What happened to President McBryde, Professor Bolton, and Professor-Veterinarian Niles of the University of South Carolina?
After being forced to leave The University of South Carolina, he went on to become President of the Virgina Polytechnic Institute where he developed an outstanding Agricultural College. If he had stayed at the University of South Carolina under favorable conditions, there’s every reason to believe that this State would now have one of the oldest and maybe the best veterinary schools in the South. Then again, if that had happened, then perhaps there never would have been a Clemson University.
Professor Bolton, Dr. Niles, and President MvBryde’s son who recently graduated from the ag program eventually ended up working together for the Bureau of Animal Industry along with Dr. Marion Dorset solving in the early 1900’s the most devastating livestock disease known to man; Hog Cholera !
Author’s Aside: Perhaps God was once again working in mysterious ways; maybe the Hog Cholera epidemic might have taken untold more years to solve if not for the participation of the 3 men from South Carolina.
Author’s Aside: Famous Harvard University also had a similar agriculture-veterinary program in the 1880’s that failed to survive.
It took 4 years of hard work, to include convict labor, to clear the trees and build the initial campus buildings on the shores of the Seneca River, but The Clemson Agricultural and Mechanical College was ready for it’s first students on July 6th, 1893
Author's Aside: During the time of the American Revolution, the largest human settlement (town) in our country was not Boston, Philadelphia, or Charleston ... it was the Cherokee Settlement on the shores of the Seneca River where Clemson University sits today.
The only trouble (at first) was a lack of professors! All the political battles over the funding of state colleges and the destruction of the agricultural program in Columbia made would be professors gun shy. Despite a curriculum promising veterinary science as part of the agriculture program, it was several years before a veterinarian was on staff.
The first veterinarian hired was Dr. W.E.A. Wyman, who received his veterinary degree from the McKillip Veterinary College in Chicago…a private veterinary school concentrating on equine medicine that didn’t survive the transition to the “horseless carriage”. He also became the first staff member of the SC Agricultural Experiment Station with a veterinary degree.
So, the Veterinary Sciences Department of Clemson Agricultural College dates back to 1896, headed by Dr. Wyman. For a while there he was the Dean and Chair of the department as well as the sole professor and head janitor. Later, he was allowed an assistant and the Veterinary Sciences Department was changed to Veterinary Science Division.
Humor aside, judging from the course description, it appears that ag students received a lot of practical experience:
“…a clinic is held once a week for a whole afternoon. To this clinic an abundance of sick and lame animals are brought. The students in this way personally observe the various diseases and are taught in a practical manner the putting up of medicine and their administration. The senior students are also required to operate and prescribe.”
The facilities included the “Veterinary Operating House”, a commodious frame building with stalls for large animal patients, a pharmacy, a dissecting room and blacksmith shop.
For reasons unknown to me, Dr Wyman left around 1898 (maybe to join in the Spanish American War?) and was replaced by a G.E. Nesom who greatly expanded the program offerings. By 1901 the college catalogue listed ten major courses under the department of veterinary sciences:
Anatomy and Histology
Materia Medica and Therapeutics
Physiological Chemistry and Microscopy
Pathology and Pharmacy
Veterinary Surgery and Horseshoeing
Sporadic Animal Diseases
Contagious Animal Diseases and Meat Inspection
This was pretty impressive training for a 4 year B.S. degree in agriculture and was probably better than many of the private veterinary colleges offering veterinary degrees at the time.
In fact, the Clemson University Department of Veterinary Sciences came quite close to morphing into a full fledged Veterinary School.
By 1901, post graduate work for those “young men found proficient” may receive special instruction designed for a preparatory course to entrance into a regular veterinary college.
One such lad was Alonza Sheck Shealy, Clemson Ag grad of 1899 who came back sporting a DVM degree and becoming assistant in the veterinary science department in 1901.
Also in 1901, the State legislature authorized the College to employ a veterinarian for livestock disease investigation and inspection.
Also in 1901-1902; a college veterinary board of trustees was formed to include as a member Mr. Tillman, now a U.S. Senator!
Things were progressing nicely, but then in1903, Dr. Nesom, head of the veterinary department and also now State Veterinarian; QUIT.
Author’s Aside: I don't have proof, but Dr. Nesom quitting apparently was a result of political manipulations by Ben Tillman again. He was a very powerful man to cross.
In 1904, Dr Nesom is replaced by Louis Amos Klein, V.M.D. as State Veterinarian, Research Veterinarian of the Experimental Station, Head of the Veterinary Science Department at the College, Head Teacher, and State Animal Inspection Officer!
Dr. Klein was a Pennsylvania Vet School graduate of 1897 and was already famous for his work in tick eradication in Texas.
At Clemson, he perfected a method of controlling calf scours and cooperated with the Bureau of Animal Industry USDA in research for eradicating ticks in South Carolina.
But, bigger opportunities awaited and he later left Clemson, in 1907 to become Dean of the Veterinary School in Pennsylvania and authored a number of text books and became a world authority on milk hygiene.
Unfortunately, with his departure, the push for a veterinary school in South Carolina was running out of steam.
Well, veterinary courses continued to be taught for many years as part of the general 4 year agriculture program at Clemson, and as time went on, less and less emphasis was placed on horses and more and more on livestock, animal bacteriology, especially dairy bacteriology and on contagious diseases.
One veterinarian after another came and went as either head of the department or assistant but with the exception of Robert Oliver Feeley who became assistant veterinarian in 1909 none seemed to stay long.
Old Doc Feeley died in 1954 and the Veterinary Science Division of Clemson College died with him.
While South Carolina and Clemson never succeeded in getting a veterinary college of it own, the Veterinary Division of the Ag School, The Agricultural Experimental Stations, The Clemson Livestock-Poultry Health Department, and the office of State Veterinarian grew in size and responsibility and with the exception of the Veterinary Division are still active today in their important role of investigating diseases and protecting our food supply.
The following official directive from 1905 is interesting:
“The professor of veterinary science at the college shall act as the state veterinarian and in this capacity will investigate outbreaks of contagious and infectious diseases among animals. Upon the written request of two reputable citizens of a community in which a supposed contagious disease exists, accompanied by a report stating the number of animals affected, , the symptoms, etc., the place is visited and an examination made of the animals and their surroundings, so that the prevention of its spread and for its eradication. When any unusual measures are met with, requiring laboratory investigation, they are taken up for consideration in the veterinary lab of the experiment station, the state veterinarian also being the experiment station veterinarian, having the laboratory at his disposal.”
Under the operation of this plan, many of the contagious animal diseases have been promptly discovered upon their entrance into the state and stamped out, so that the livestock in the state is as free from disease as in any state in the country.
Also from this period is a description of the facilities which proudly proclaimed to have a revolving operating table and electric lights!
By 1910 the veterinary inspection duties which included hog cholera and tick eradication were increasing and in addition to Doc Feeley being assigned as an assistant state veterinarian, and by 1912 a 3rd assistant state veterinarian, Dr William Forrest Burleigh, was employed.
As always, money was an issue; the state mandated that the state veterinarian control animal diseases to include the control of the cattle tick transmitting Texas Fever and the supervision of livestock shipments into the state, but that the cost…nearly $16,000 come out of the college budget.
By 1914 there were 4 assistant state veterinarians and because of U.S. Senator A.F. Lever (also a member of the Clemson Board of Trustees Veterinary Committee) there were now funds for each county to have an agricultural agent and other agricultural extension services. Federal veterinarians working for the Bureau of Animal Industry were brought to the state to help with the tick eradication program. Senator Lever was a big booster of agricultural services for South Carolina and might have helped start a veterinary school, but once again, for reasons unknown several veterinarians resigned at this time and any possible hopes were dashed. One other thing that might have hurt the chances of expanding the ag school veterinary division into a true veterinary school was that the State Veterinarian’s office was moved from Clemson to Columbia.
In 1921, much of the inspection work previously done at the Clemson campus was now being done at the newly created Clemson College Livestock Sanitary Department which is confusing because it was located NOT at Clemson College but in Columbia.
As I mentioned before, fairly extensive veterinary science courses continued to be taught as part of the 4 year agricultural program up until Dr. Feeley’s death in 1954, but any big push for starting a real veterinary program pretty much died during the time of the Great War what with all the conflicts and resignations of State and college veterinarians, the transferring of the state vet’s office to Columbia away from Clemson, and the following of a nation wide agricultural depression in the 20’s followed by the Great Depression of the 30’s.
I’m not sure what was going on in the halls of the state legislature, but without movers and shakers pushing for a program…without funding…without deals and votes; nothing gets done.