Elinor’s Story

The tiny little woman with the big sense of humor…

Elinor McGrath was born around 1888 (exact dates unknown) in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Today animal crazy little girls dream about and even plan to become veterinarians but one hundred years ago there were no women veterinarians. Elinor however, had a spirit and concern for animals that propelled her to become one of the very first. She made her way to the Chicago Veterinary College and in 1907 was the first woman admitted to the school.

Chicago Veterinary College about 1906 Photo Credit: E.R.Snyder

There were two other pioneering women veterinarians at this point in history. Dr. Mignon Nicholson graduated from the McKillip Veterinary College in 1903 but there are no records of her practicing veterinary medicine.

Another early pioneer, Dr. Florence Kimball, graduated from Cornell just a few months after Elinor in 1910 and practiced veterinary medicine for a little while in Massachusetts before entering the nursing profession where she spent most her career.

In the early 20th century horses were still the main mode of transportation and while Ford Motor Company started selling the model T in 1908 most Americans were still getting around by horse and buggy into the 1920’s. Caring for horses and livestock had always been a male profession and when Elinor entered the Chicago Veterinary College many of her fellow students were upset about her presence. In later years Elinor recounted a story to another woman veterinarian telling her that “it got so rough I offered to the Dean that I should leave the college but he said “well you better not because you’ll make a better veterinarian than any of ‘em.”

Elinor graduated to become Elinor McGrath DVM in April of 1910 and she set up a small animal practice on Indiana Avenue on Chicago’s South Side. Besides being a compassionate animal doctor Elinor acknowledged the intimate role of animals in our lives.

She founded the first pet cemetery in Chicago and was known for having a holiday tree in her clinic that was decorated with gifts for the animals in her care.

When she married a fellow veterinarian she was even treated to an animal parade including a dogcart pulling her new husband. She participated in the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair contributing to wider public understanding of veterinary science and was appointed assistant Illinois state veterinarian in 1939.

Elinor moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas in the 1950’s and passed away in 1963. Dr. McGrath’s was established to tell Elinor’s story and stand as a tribute to her life’s work in caring for animals. We’ve established the Elinor McGrath Scholarship Program to continue her legacy.