In 2022, only ten percent of the students who apply for veterinary school will be accepted. Now, imagine how much harder it was in 1944 when there were fewer veterinary schools to apply to. The chances decreased significantly for women. And for Black women, that percentage was almost immeasurable. And yet—Alfreda Johnson Webb defied the odds and graduated from the Tuskegee Institute (now University) School of Veterinary Medicine in 1949. Her dogged persistence in pursuing the career of her dreams—at a time when this was out of reach for women, especially Black women—is why she is my biggest hero.
There are times when I become anxiety-ridden and overwhelmed academically. Studying doesn’t come easy for me, so to become a veterinarian, I have to make a conscious choice to forego parties, athletic events, and even club participation to stay on top of my academic coursework in college. Remembering Webb’s story and how she had to fight racism, gender discrimination, and stereotypes of women’s intellect in a time where there wasn’t a #metoo or #blacklivesmatter movement helps me realize how easy I have it. It helps me recover my determination and keeps me focused on my dream.
That she actually realized her dream against all odds is reason enough to look to Webb as inspiration and a role model, but what I love most about her is that she didn’t stop once she became a veterinarian. She set new goals for herself that were just as challenging, and she worked tirelessly to achieve them even as she married and had a family. Passionate about learning, she became a college professor, then turned around and earned a master’s degree in anatomy from Michigan State University in 1950. She became known in the field for her work in histology, cytology, and embryology, In1981, she was part of the planning committee that created the North Carolina State University School of Veterinary Medicine. Webb’s insight and intellect changed the field of veterinary medicine for the better, but she didn’t stop there. In 1972, she became the first African American woman to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Like Webb, I want to do meaningful work in the field of veterinary medicine, specifically striking out into new territory to explore the neuroscience of human-animal bonds and the positive effect pets have on emotional wellbeing. It’s a new field of study and often, when I tell people about my dream, I’m met with questioning looks: Why would you take the hard path when it’s much easier to just open a clinic? Rather than get annoyed, I smile. I remember Alfreda Johnson Webb and think, WHY NOT?