The Cary Legacy
Charles Allen Cary has been dead for 83 years, and while graduates of the College of Veterinary Medicine know his name, the details of his monumental achievements in public health and veterinary education are—sadly but inevitably—fading.
A new biography of the founding dean of Auburn’s veterinary medical program, authored by retired staff member Sam Hendrix, will help ensure that Dr. Cary’s standing in Auburn history is not forgotten.
Dean Calvin Johnson and the College of Veterinary Medicine, working with Montgomery publisher The Donnell Group, are bringing the biography to life in the form of a 400-page book, The Cary Legacy: Dr. Charles Allen Cary, Father of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn and in the South, which will be available to those attending Annual Conference in October.
Hendrix, who worked at the college from 1995 until his retirement in 2013—with the veterinary magazine before 15 years as development director—spent countless hours over the past two-and-a-half years researching and writing Dr. Cary’s story. In The Cary Legacy, readers travel with Dr. Cary into 1892 Auburn, a tiny college town in an economically struggling state, and follow his journey of relentlessly building a fledgling veterinary science program into a veterinary medicine degreed profession and school.
In this biography is the story of early veterinary medicine in Alabama, with Dr. Cary, as Alabama’s first state veterinarian, battling grave public health issues including Texas tick fever, bovine tuberculosis, and hog cholera. The veterinary medicine foundation upon which Auburn and the South leans was built by Dr. Cary. As such, The Cary Legacy provides a critical link toward teaching a new generation of students our heritage, providing alumni a depth of knowledge that will endear to loftier heights their Auburn degrees, and reminding all veterinary professionals the pivotal role Auburn veterinary medicine has in ensuring public health.
Auburn Veterinarian had a conversation with author Sam Hendrix about this book and about the towering figure at the heart of his research.
AV: What prompted you to write about Dr. Cary?
Hendrix: Mary Ellen and I were at the Cary House for the Christmas Tour of Homes in December 2015. We met with Sid James [College of Human Sciences’ Executive Director of the Cary Center], and she asked, since I had all this time on my hands now, might I be interested in writing a biography of Dr. and Mrs. Cary. I started the research the following Monday.
AV: So it was, “Hey, you’re not busy. How about writing a book?”
Hendrix: Pretty much. I had just published a history of our church congregation and was ready for my next project. The timing was perfect. More than that, I have for several years now taken a real interest in Auburn’s history—city and university—and my years at the college gave me opportunity to learn about Dr. Cary in bits and pieces.
AV: Who taught you about Dr. Cary?
Hendrix: The first I heard of Dr. Cary was when I came to Auburn in 1981 and worked for Kaye Lovvorn at The Auburn Alumnews. She had an appreciation for the people in Auburn’s past who paved the way for those who followed, and that rubbed off on me.
But my real introduction to Dr. Cary was in spending time with Gary Beard, who was for several years the assistant dean here. Gary brought me to the college from Samford Hall in 1995, and he is deeply interested in the college’s history. He told me all kinds of stories about Dr. Cary. I don’t know how many of them were true, or completely accurate, but those conversations with Gary certainly gave me a picture of Dr. Cary.
I’ve been reading the columns in the magazine by Dr. Vaughan for many years, and he so often writes about early veterinary medicine and early public health practices. Inevitably, he brings up Dr. Cary, because he was central to those things in early Auburn. I quote Dr. Vaughan in a couple of key places in the book. He spells out Dr. Cary’s role and his achievements exceptionally well.
AV: Talk about the research you’ve done for The Cary Legacy. What sources did you use?
Hendrix: Sid James loaned me five or six boxes of Cary family memorabilia that had been stored in the attic of the Cary House probably since Emma Cary [Dr. Cary’s widow] put them there. Mrs. Cary and their daughter, Alice Cary Pick Gibson, who died in 2006, had a great sense of their family’s heritage and never threw out anything important. I’m thankful for that. I spent a few weeks going through all those things.
The Carys’ granddaughter-in-law, Fran Dillard, also had family memorabilia and she allowed me to borrow those. The family has been generous to the college for many years, and I appreciate Fran trusting me with those things that are so important to their family.
Beyond family-owned items, I made heavy use of the library, the internet, and of a handful of books about old Auburn, old veterinary medicine. I found an early history of the veterinary program at Iowa State in the AU Library. It was written by the first or second dean of that school and provided a good picture of Dr. Cary’s time in vet school in Iowa.
I discovered a few books on veterinary history. One was by an author named Smithkors. Another was a two-volume set by two veterinarians named Merillat and Campbell. Volume one of their work was one of the most fascinating books I’d ever read. It’s called Veterinary Military History and it came out in 1935, the year Dr. Cary died.
I used old Gloms, old university catalogs. Old newspapers. Records of the state veterinarian. Old AVMA journals. The old Orange and Blue and Plainsman papers were a help. I went to the library in search of books about cattle health and hog health in the early part of the 20th century. There on the shelves, I found copies that actually belonged to Dr. Cary.
AV: This book is 400 pages or so. What did you find to write about that takes that length?
Hendrix: Well, we are talking about a man’s life story. And this man accomplished a great deal in a variety of areas. This book is reasonably chronological, but I found that it worked best for me to compartmentalize Dr. Cary’s story into chapters that focus on specific activities. So I have chapters about his time at Iowa State, his family heritage, his work at the University of Missouri, his trip to Germany to work in Dr. Koch’s lab, his work with the Alabama VMA. With Texas fever. Hog cholera. Tuberculosis. His work with the Board of Examiners. One chapter is a review of his annual reports as state veterinarian—which sounds dry, but when you look at the subjects he addresses from year to year, the numbers he reports, you see the changing face of public health in the early years of the 20th century.
AV: Did Dr. Cary leave any writings that you were able to use?
Hendrix: To my knowledge, he didn’t keep a diary. Well, he kept a diary during his trip to Europe just before he came to Auburn. There’s a section from that diary in the book, and it’s one of the few “first-person” accounts that survive from him. At one point, he’s describing the scene in Germany, and the teetotaler Dr. Cary writes, “Beer, beer, beer . . . everywhere is beer.”
He authored Experiment Station bulletins about Texas fever, hog cholera and tuberculosis. Calvin Johnson told me a few years ago that he had gone back and read through those bulletins and had found them really interesting. I remembered that conversation and found those writings by Dr. Cary. His bulletins spell out how he approached his work on those diseases.
Dr. Cary also wrote the recaps of his annual conferences, what he called “short courses,” for the AVMA Journal. When you read in the journals about the programs that were held at Auburn, that’s Dr. Cary’s writing. He had a distinct writing style. And when it came to diagnosis, he was thorough.
AV: Who reviewed your manuscript?
Hendrix: Well, I’m married to the world’s best editor, so Mary Ellen has gone through the chapters and the page proofs. But before her, I asked a half-dozen folks if they’d read it, and they all agreed. Gary Beard was the first. Dr. Vaughan read it. They were not going to allow for any great omissions.
We have known Dr. Leah Atkins for years, and she graciously agreed to read my manuscript. Leah got her Ph.D. in history at Auburn. She taught here, at Samford, and at UAB, and was for many years the director of Auburn’s Center for the Arts and Humanities at Pebble Hill. She wrote histories of Birmingham, women at Auburn, and Alabama Power Company; and she co-authored a history of the State of Alabama. Leah guided me toward reconfiguring my manuscript to reflect the Chicago Manual of Style. That may sound picky, but it was the advice that made a difference.
Henry Baker, who was director of the Scott-R itchey Research Center, also agreed to read the book. He took the longest with it of anybody, several months. When we finally met, he asked me who my audience was. I told him it was, for the most part, the graduates and students of the College of Veterinary Medicine. He told me, based on his reading the full manuscript, that I needed to focus on Dr. Cary.
Another reader who helped me a great deal was Dr. Dwight Wolfe, recently retired from the Large Animal Hospital. I particularly wanted Dr. Baker and Dr. Wolfe to read those sections on Texas fever, hog cholera and tuberculosis, to make sure I, an English major, was not making any glaring errors related to the science and medicine involved in Dr. Cary’s work. They both made helpful corrections to the original document.
And David Hayes ’67 who told me about Dr. Cary’s work with the Alabama Board of Veterinary Examiners. Turned out, Dr. Cary had practically established it. David had been involved with this board for many years, and a few years earlier he had written its history. He generously gave me his manuscript, from which I built practically an entire chapter on Dr. Cary’s role with the Board of Veterinary Examiners.
AV: Of those readers you mentioned, five of the seven are graduates of the College. How did they, as veterinary alumni, react to this book on Dr. Cary?
Hendrix: Enthusiastically. The thing is, because they are graduates, because they came to Auburn first as veterinary students and took part in the classes, the labs, clinics, ambulatory trips, study groups, the bond that comes from this shared experience of enduring a veterinary education at Auburn, they knew first-hand the program that had come about because of the work Dr. Cary had done long before them. And that’s something all 6,500 or so graduates share, whether they finished in the 1940s or walked out of Auburn Arena with their diplomas this past May. They all have Dr. Cary in common as their founding dean. Their college still bears his stamp.
AV: What was it about Dr. Cary that makes him worthy?
Hendrix: The listing of his achievements speaks to this man, his focus, his work ethic, his spirit of taking his education and using it for the greater good.
Let’s start with this: he put himself in position—with his education, his time at Missouri, his time in Dr. Koch’s lab in Germany, his working in Iowa and South Dakota—to use his education to fight some very serious diseases.
He launched the veterinary science program at Auburn. He re-started a dead-in-the-water Alabama VMA and served as its secretary for the rest of his life. He was adept at dealing with politicians to the point that he won approval for milk and meat inspection protocols in Montgomery, the first city in the country to adopt such measures. He continued to press that, and his recommendations became the law in Alabama. He essentially began the Extension Service in Alabama by coordinating Farmers’ Institutes throughout the state for several years. This went on until the actual Extension System was in place.
Dr. Cary got the Alabama Legislature to approve his Sanitary Act of 1907, which among other things declared him state veterinarian, a work he had been doing without the title for several years. That title gave him legal authority to get things done in terms of public health measures. At the same time, the API Board of Trustees approved his plan to convert the veterinary science program into the degree-granting College of Veterinary Medicine. And, of course, they named him the first dean.
He had begun having his students involved in free Saturday clinics for farmers almost as soon as he arrived in 1892, a practice he had been a part of as a student in Iowa. That concept of students being involved hands-on with cases is still going on in clinical rotations and ambulatory calls.
Dr. Cary launched the student chapter of the AVMA at Auburn to get his students connected with organized veterinary medicine and to allow them to learn the value of teamwork. He served his entire professional life as a member of AVMA, a member of many committees and as president during 1920.
Think of Dr. Cary’s roles in the big three diseases he addressed: Texas fever, hog cholera and tuberculosis. He was working toward solutions to these life-and-death problems simultaneously. But in terms of Texas fever, he led the state’s effort—in collaboration with veterinary inspectors from the Bureau of Animal Industry—to figure out how to get rid of the tick that was bringing disease to Southern cattle. That effort was a years-long process of building dipping vats at thousands of locations in Alabama and requiring farmers to have their cattle run through twice a month. That’s work enough to get that done, but throughout the entire time, Dr. Cary and other veterinarians had to put up with farmers who did not trust these people in authority. Vats would be built one day and blown up by dynamite that night. Inspectors were threatened. Some were killed. You had to have some moxie to be a veterinarian in those days. After many years of back-and-forth progress and decline, the state was eventually cleared of the ticks, it was removed from the federal quarantine, and cattlemen could sell their cattle in more lucrative out-of-state markets. Dr. Cary’s work, along with that of many others, helped to build the cattle industry in Alabama.
With hog cholera, Dr. Cary saw great opportunity in Alabama for raising hogs. Hogs represented the most important food animal of that time. But disease was wiping out millions of dollars’ worth of hogs every year. There was a solution—the anti-hog cholera serum. But manufacturing it took money and a facility and labor. Dr. Cary called for state funding for a serum plant for several years; and, finally, in 1915, he received $25,000 to build this plant. It stood about where the Harrison School of Pharmacy building now sits until the 1960s or so.
AV: And he initiated the “short courses.”
Hendrix: Yes. He began what we know today as Annual Conference by having meetings of the Alabama VMA on campus, where practitioners could meet to learn the latest in veterinary medicine and public health. Of course, his students were always involved in these meetings, and eventually Dr. Cary brought some of the biggest names in American veterinary medicine to Auburn, teaching practitioners, teaching his students, and pretty much putting Auburn veterinary medicine on the map.
This was during an era when these folks had to take a week away from their own work to catch a train to Auburn. It was a significant commitment on the part of these national-caliber veterinary leaders to come to middle-of-nowhere east Alabama in the early years of the 20th century. But they came because of Dr. Cary and the program he was building here. The caliber of people Dr. Cary brought to Auburn to instruct his students in those early days is testament to his seriousness in building a veterinary school on par with the finest in the country. The book details who they were.
AV: In researching the life of Dr. Cary, what surprises did you find?
Hendrix: Many in the CVM family may have heard of Dr. Cary’s unsurpassed work ethic, but I believe they will be amazed when they read the actual details of the schedule Dr. Cary kept, the standards he demanded and aspired to, the roles he juggled, and the vision he had for what veterinary medicine could accomplish in society. The book includes a photos section reflecting Dr. Cary’s life in veterinary medicine.
On the non-veterinary side, it may surprise people to learn he was superintendent of Sunday school at the Auburn Presbyterian Church for many years. In that role, I assume he taught Bible classes or at least made sure teachers were in place every week. Given all he had going on professionally, I find it astounding that he served for a time on the Auburn City School Board. He was a founding member of the board of today’s AuburnBank, the one begun by Shell Toomer in 1907. Dr. Cary also, in his early days as a member of the Lupton Conversation Club, presented talks about novelists or poets, reminding us of the well-rounded education he had.
AV: What do you think graduates will gain from reading The Cary Legacy?
Hendrix: This book should reinforce to Auburn graduates that their college has a unique heritage among our nation’s veterinary colleges. Dr. Cary was born at a time when American veterinary education was in its infancy. Horrible diseases were killing food animals and jeopardizing farmers’ ability to make a living. Some of the diseases were a threat to man. There’s always been a mystery as to why Dr. Cary agreed to come to Auburn. He was a Midwesterner and he could have built his career most anywhere. He was already in good standing in South Dakota. But he must have believed President Broun was building something special at the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College when he agreed to come here.
In another sense, though, it’s no mystery why he came to Auburn. President Broun pretty much gave him a blank slate—though not a blank check—to teach veterinary science, to build that program toward school status, to work toward solving the public health problems that were so huge at the time. He would be the man at Auburn and in the state for veterinary and public health work. President Broun’s invitation was pretty much to come and see what you can do. There were few graduated veterinarians in Alabama and throughout the Deep South then. Dr. Cary in Auburn was in position to call a lot of shots, and I’m sure that appealed to him.
AV: What do you think current or future veterinary students will learn from reading about Dr. Cary?
Hendrix: I hope current students will gain a deeper sense of the history of their school. I hope the graduates who read this book will consider getting copies to give to young people who talk with them about going into veterinary medicine. Reading about the range of Dr. Cary’s works will give a future veterinarian some insight into the breadth and the potential of the profession.
This book is not only about Dr. Cary. It’s the story of early veterinary medicine in America. It’s the story of the AVMA and the Alabama VMA. It’s a ringing endorsement for organized veterinary medicine and state and local associations. It’s the story of how public health battles against what surely seemed insurmountable obstacles were won through unceasing efforts of Dr. Cary and others. And, of course, it’s the story of how the College of Veterinary Medicine came about.
(Excerpt from The Cary Legacy: “Starting Up a Veterinary Program”)
As he learned from his Iowa State days, Dr. Cary used Saturday clinics chiefly for instruction. In fact, the API Catalog from 1901-02 specifically stated that, “Free clinics are given every Saturday for the benefit of students in veterinary science.” Benefits to locals were secondary, though Dr. Cary recognized that having animals brought in from area farms was an excellent way for him and his team to ascertain the general health status of Alabama’s cows, horses, mules, and hogs.
Institutional records of Dr. Cary’s Saturday clinics in those early days of the program probably no longer exist, but one source offers insight into the events that took place. In the Auburn University Library’s Special Collections, two notebooks survive from the time, each page containing the handwritten notes of C. L. Jenkins, who either observed or took part in Saturday clinic proceedings. …Clarence Luther Jenkins…spent his Saturdays…fall of 1899 and the following winter of 1900 attending Dr. Cary’s Saturday clinics, taking notes on each case.
Jenkins’ notes include the names of the animal owners, where they were from, the type of animal brought, each animal’s age and presenting problem, and notes about the recommended treatment. Nowhere in the notebooks does he mention Dr. Cary or any other professor or fellow student. But during those weeks—a dozen Saturdays from September 23 through December 9 of 1899 and a like period from January to May of 1900—Jenkins recorded the activities.
Owners came from mostly local communities: Auburn, Opelika, Sandy Hill, Hatchechubbee, Ridge Grove, Chewacla, Motts Mill, Society Hill, Notasulga, Roxana, Loachapoka, Tuskegee, Gold Hill, Tallassee, Alliance, Salem, Floyd, Cusseta. The animals were common to rural areas of the time and place: horses, cows, mules, a few dogs. The injuries and illnesses were also what would be expected: bladder trouble, warts and tumors, lameness and dental problems in horses, lack of appetite, general lethargy. Some of the recommendations seem appropriate for medicine in the present time, with the various pharmaceuticals suggested. Other treatments sounded oddly elementary: “Remove the tumor with the knife.” “One of the stitches irritates the skin. Remove t he stitch.”
Jenkins’ records show that each Saturday differed in the nature of cases made available to students. The number of cases also varied, from two or three cases in the final two clinics of the year to fourteen and seventeen cases on a couple of Saturdays. The clinics seemed to average eight to ten cases per Saturday, and these included castrations.
There is no mention of the location of these clinics. While Dr. Cary kept some animals at the Experiment Station farm, located in the vicinity of today’s President’s Home and the Hill Dorms, an AU Archives photo from the period shows a group gathered for an examination of a horse, with one of the old veterinary buildings nearby. This photo suggests these Saturday clinics were held on the grounds outside the veterinary buildings in the area of campus where today sit Ramsay Hall and the Harbert Civil Engineering Center.
Years after he had launched them, Dr. Cary offered his perspective as to the value of Saturday clinics when the Orange and Blue ran a brief article written by him in its issue of March 31, 1909:
Some knowledge of veterinary science is of great value to every farmer. Therefore, any live course in agriculture should have in it some instruction in exterior anatomy; work in some parts of descriptive anatomy; some lessons on lamenesses, on the recognition of the more common diseases of farm animals, and along lines of hygiene, sanitation, and methods of preventing diseases. Up to this year the agricultural course was so arranged as to require all agricultural students to take up the above named lines in veterinary science. But the new arrangement requires only one-half as much as formerly, and gives the students in animal husbandry a chance to elect and take more than was previously required. The Saturday free clinic of the regular three-year course in veterinary medicine and surgery is open to the agricultural students for one or two years. This clinic gives the student opportunity to obtain practical instruction by seeing and taking part in the inspection, diagnosis, and treatment of many diseased animals. Students who have completed the four years’ agricultural course and have taken all the special work in veterinary medicine and surgery can finish the regular three-year course in veterinary medicine and surgery in two years.
Dr. Cary’s Saturday clinics served untold numbers of farmers and their animals over the years, and the clinical work was not limited to Saturdays. Farmers from near and far brought their injured or ailing animals to the Veterinary School for diagnosis and treatment on a regular basis…