COLLEGE STATION, March 7, 2006 – You may not be familiar with the name of Sonja Lee, but perhaps you should be. She is a small part of Texas history.
Lee became the first woman ever in Texas to get a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Texas A&M University, earning her diploma in 1966. And because Texas A&M has the state’s only veterinary college, that means she is still the first female Aggie veterinarian in the state’s history.
“I knew I was the first woman ever to graduate with a veterinary medical degree from Texas A&M, but to be honest, it wasn’t that big a deal to me,” Lee says from her Lubbock office.
“I was more concerned with graduating and completing the courses. The courses were not easy then, and I’m sure they aren’t any easier today.”
Lee said times were different then. Texas A&M, once an all-male military school, did not allow women to attend until 1963.
“I was the only woman in the vet school, but you could walk across campus in the mid-60s and not see very many women at all in any of the buildings,” she recalls.
It does show how times have changed. Today, about 70 percent of the students in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences are women.
Lee, a native of Corpus Christi, says fellow students and her professors were highly supportive of her while attending school, but some other Texans were not.
“I got some letters that were pretty bad, mostly saying that a woman had no business trying to be a veterinarian,” she recalls. “One letter said I was part of a communist conspiracy or something like that. But it didn’t bother me very much.”
Once she graduated and started treating animals, Lee said some of her clients who walked through the door were surprised to see a woman wearing a white lab coat.
“A few pet owners let me know that they did prefer that a man treat their animals,” she says. “But most of my clients were nice about it. They kept coming back to me, so I guess they believed I knew what I was doing.”
Lee was a classmate of current College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Dean H. Richard Adams.
“Sonja adapted well to an all-male environment and excelled in her studies, thereby setting the stage for other women to follow in her footsteps,” says Adams. “In 2001, she received the Outstanding Alumni Award from our college.”
Lee says she is not that surprised that so many women today want to be veterinarians. Now celebrating its 90th anniversary, the veterinary college uses a highly competitive admissions process and only about 125 students are admitted each year.
“I guess it’s just taken a while for women to be accepted into veterinary medicine, but in other fields, too,” Lee believes.
“It used to be rare to see a female medical doctor, and now they are everywhere. The same is true in law school and dental school and even business. Women are accepted now in every field of endeavor.”
What has changed since she got her diploma 40 years ago?
“Technology, for one thing,” she believes.
“The medical equipment we use today has really improved since 1966, and there are many more medicines available. Also, the amount of money people are willing to spend on their pets has changed dramatically since then. Plus, pet insurance is fairly common today, and it certainly wasn’t in 1966.”
With decades of experience behind her, Lee says she has no intention of retiring. She still enjoys going to her clinic every day and meeting with people and their pets.
“There are really no two days in vet medicine that are alike,” she says.
“So there are new challenges every day. And what’s funny is that now, some of my clients are grandchildren of my first clients. Every now and then someone will say, ‘You know, my grandma says she brought her cat to you years ago.’
“It’s been a rewarding career and a fun career. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”