Excerpted from "A Legacy and A Promise," a book about Penn Veterinary Medicine's first 100 years, written by John E. Martin, V'42; it was published in 1984, the School's Centennial.
The Veterinary Medical Alumni Society was organized on June 17, 1887, the day the first class graduated from the Veterinary Department. This was the first organization of its kind in America. At the first meeting, the graduates were favored with a banquet held in the amphitheatre of the original Veterinary Department Building. This was hosted by Dean Rush Shippen Huidekoper and Dr. William Zuill, professor of surgical pathology and obstetrics. Prior to the dinner, and the organizational meeting, the graduates had received their diplomas at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. At the business meeting a constitution and a code of professional ethics were adopted. The code of ethics created problems from the outset. Later minutes of a Society meeting state that it "created jealousy and controversy among the members and for a time threatened the life of the organization." It was soon dropped.
During the next thirteen years the Alumni Society met regularly on the afternoon of Commencement Day. The minutes of these early meetings were lost, but later documents indicate that during the last three or four years of the nineteenth century attendance was poor.
In 1901, Dr. Clarence J. Marshall, professor of medicine and president of the Society, convened a meeting for the purpose of establishing "a permanent Alumni Society of the Veterinary Department of the University of Pennsylvania." Dues were set at $1.00 per year, and by 1903 there were thirty active members. In 1912, a resolution was passed to amalgamate the Veterinary Medical Alumni Society with the General Alumni Society of the University of Pennsylvania.
During most of the early years the Society met in June, but from 1914 until 1918 meetings were held in conjunction with the Penn Annual Conference, in January. The Society met in various locations, and in addition to a sumptuous banquet there were usually baseball games and track competitions. In 1904 the meeting was held at Washington Park, on the Delaware River, and featured a plank-shad dinner and a moonlight boat excursion on the river. In 1906 and 1907 the group met at The Orchard, home of the Philadelphia Athletic Club, in Essington, Pennsylvania. At the 1906 meeting alumni were presented with a copy of the class yearbook called The Class Record, a forerunner of the Scalpel. In other years the Society met at the H.K. Mulford Vaccine and Antitoxin Farm in Glenolden, a Philadelphia suburb. In 1909 the group met for the first time in the newly completed quadrangle building.
During the 1920s the Society was involved in an ambitious project to raise funds for an endowment that would establish a number of chairs, and which would enable the School to meet all of its operational costs without seeking financial aid from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The University itself initiated a forty-five million dollar fund drive but the School of Veterinary Medicine was informed that it would not be included in this and that it should solicit its own funds. Some money did accumulate in a Veterinary School Endowment Fund but never a sufficient amount to establish chairs or to make the School self-sufficient. In a 1932 meeting of the Alumni Society it was reported that the fund had a total of $179,243.93. About $150,000 of this total represented an endowment that had been set-up by Mr. Joshua B. Lippincott and Mr. Joseph Gillingham, two early benefactors of the School.
At different meetings the Society expressed concern about the lack of research being done at the School. In 1932, it was estimated that in order to conduct more research, and to improve graduate training, an additional $90,000 was needed in the Veterinary School's annual budget. There was discussion about creating a special research fund but this never developed.
An important committee of the Society was the Departmental Committee (now the Liaison Committee) which each year surveyed the overall program and facilities of the School and submitted recommendations. In 1935 this Committee was greatly disturbed by a report of the Educational Committee of the AVMA in which the school had been surveyed and placed in a position secondary to veterinary schools at Cornell University, Kansas State University and Ohio State University. The Committee believed that this was the result of a mistake in evaluation and registered a strong protest. Apparently this was successful because in 1936 the School was placed in a Class A rating which was equivalent to the schools named above.
Beginning in 1915, and continuing each year up to the present, it has been the custom for the dean to present a report on the affairs of the School to the Alumni Society. Included in the reports given by Deans Louis A. Klein and George A. Dick during the period 1915 to 1945 there are several common threads. For example, the reports make it evident that the School was always in a precarious financial position. Despite this ongoing problem, both Dr. Klein and Dr. Dick continued to express optimism about the School's future, and the Alumni Society always gave evidence that it was solidly behind the School.
The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Alumni Society, in 1937, was celebrated with a banquet at the Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, attended by 341 persons. At the business meeting, held in June of 1937, the faculty presented a number of clinical demonstrations. These included presentations on strongylosis in the horse, newer autopsy techniques, fowl pox, the autonomic nervous system, and the actions of morphine and barium chloride.
In 1938 the C. J. Marshall Memorial Library Fund was established. This was created in memory of Dr. Marshall, former professor of medicine and one of the most illustrious of the early faculty members, who died in 1938. The drive for funds was spearheaded by Dr. Elias T. Booth, and through his efforts it continued to grow and was instrumental in the School being able to hire its first full-time librarian in 1942. In 1946 a plaque was placed in the library designating it as the C. J. Marshall Memorial Library. The last mention of this fund in the minutes of the Alumni Society occurs in 1947 when it was reported that $40,000 had been raised. This fund is still active and is used by the library to purchase books.
In the 1946 meeting, held in January, in conjunction with the Penn Annual Conference, Dr. Alfred Newton Richards, Vice President for Medical Affairs in the University, announced to the alumni that Dean George A. Dick was retiring, and introduced the newly elected dean, Dr. Raymond A. Kelser. The retirement of Dr. Dick was a particularly poignant moment in the history of the School. During his deanship the School was beset with serious financial problems, but Dr. Dick always conveyed a spirit of optimism and goodwill in his remarks to the Alumni Society. He always concluded his remarks with a heartfelt thanks for the support he received from the alumni, faculty and students.
Alumni Society minutes reveal a quickening of the pace after Dr. Kelser became dean. His reports speak of increased financial support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and from the University, the creation of new departments and courses, and additions to the faculty.
In 1952, following the death of Dr. Kelser, Acting Dean Mark A. Allam presented his first report to the Alumni Society. Throughout his years as dean the School underwent momentous changes which are reflected vividly in his Annual Reports. Dean Allam frequently called upon individual alumni and the Society for help and advice in orchestrating the revival of the School. Particularly significant was the response of alumni to the need for constructing a dormitory at New Bolton Center. This building, known as Alumni House, stands as a lasting memorial to the loyal and concerned support of alumni.