School of Veterinary Medicine

In the late 1800s, when meat consumption by Americans was increasing, livestock illness was one of the biggest threats to the livelihoods of farmers. At the time, many of the United States’ veterinarians came from Europe, and there was an urgent need for home-grown doctors who could save sick animals.

A local farm manager, Horace Smith, led the effort to create a veterinary school in Philadelphia. He approached government leaders asking them to support a veterinary program, but they weren’t interested, so he contacted Penn clinical medicine professor William Pepper, who later became Penn’s Provost. Pepper presented the idea to the medical faculty, who passed a resolution in 1877 to establish a professorship in veterinary medicine. University Trustees approved the plan, and the University spent several years raising funds to start the veterinary program. 

School of Veterinary Medicine

University Archives

The Vet School’s first building, located at 36th and Pine streets, was constructed in 1884, and included an enclosed yard, box stalls for 20 horses and a blacksmith shop.

The Vet School’s first building, located at 36th and Pine streets, was constructed in 1884, and included an enclosed yard, box stalls for 20 horses and a blacksmith shop. The structure was demolished in 1901 to make room for the expanding School of Medicine. A new Vet School complex was erected in phases, with each of the four sides completed every two years from 1907 to 1913.

Designed in late medieval and early Renaissance English style by architects Cope and Stewardson, the Vet School was similar to some of the firm’s other campus buildings, including the Quad, the Law School and the Morgan Building. This 1909 photo shows how large animals were transported by horse-drawn ambulance to the hospital. The west wing of the building, with its wide entrance arch, allowed the ambulances to bring animals in for treatment.

In 1937, the school expanded with the opening of the Bolton Farm in Bucks County, but the University sold the property in 1952 and created the New Bolton Center in Chester County. The 1,000-acre Center, located more than 30 miles southwest of campus, is home to a fully equipped horse and farm animal hospital, classrooms, meeting rooms and research and diagnostic labs. The Vet School grew again on the West Philadelphia campus in 1963, with what’s now called the Rosenthal Building. And the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (now the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital) was completed in 1981. Penn Vet’s newest academic center, The Vernon and Shirley Hill Pavilion, opened in 2006.

For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.

Originally published on April 21, 2011