Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University

By Dr. Tom Vaughan ’55 | Dean Emeritus

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.