A Cyclone Who Changed the World: Frederick D. Patterson

It’s African-American History Month and it’s past time that we featured Frederick Douglas Patterson (’23 and ’27) – an alumnus who had a significant and continuing impact on educational funding and college attainment. He is most known for his work with the Tuskegee Institute (now University) and as the founder of the United Negro College Fund (now UNCF).

Portrait of Frederick D. Patterson (RS 21/7/19)

Portrait of Frederick D. Patterson (RS 21/7/19)

His list of accomplishments is lengthy, so only a few are included here:

  • 1923: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State College
  • 1927: Master of Science, Iowa State College
  • 1928: Appointed Head of Veterinary Division at Tuskegee Institute
  • 1932: Doctorate in Veterinary Pathology, Cornell University
  • 1935: President of Tuskegee Institute (age 34!)
  • 1944: Founded the United Negro College Fund
  • 1953: President of the Phelps Stokes Fund
  • 1970: Director of the College Endowment Funding Plan
  • 1987: Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

His leadership and vision has impacted historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), education for African-Americans, and veterinary medicine. By 1948, schools of Veterinary Medicine had only graduated 70 African-American students. By 2000, the majority (70%) of the 2000 practicing African-American veterinarians had graduated from Tuskegee University in the veterinary school founded (1945) while Patterson was president. (Adams, 2009)

Letter from the President of Bennett College supporting Patterson's nomination for a Distinguished Achievement Citation. (RS 27/7/19)

Letter from the President of Bennett College supporting Patterson’s nomination for a Distinguished Achievement Citation. (RS 27/7/19) (click for more)

At Iowa State

Dr. Patterson (1901-1988) was inspired to come to Iowa State University (then College) after working with veterinary medicine alumnus Dr. Edward B. Evans. Patterson had a love of animals and an interest in science, so veterinary medicine was a natural fit.

In the veterinary program, I did not feel odd being a part of the group of students working in the veterinary clinic although I was the only black person there. The absence of animosity encouraged me to see veterinary medicine as a field in which I could practice without being hampered by the racial stereotypes and obstacles that would confront me as a medical doctor, for example. I found the teachers of Iowa State helpful whenever I approached them. Educationally, it was a fine experience. (Patterson, Chronicles of Faith)

Class of 1923. Frederick D. Patterson at lower right. (University Photographs RS 21/6/D)

Class of 1923. Frederick D. Patterson at lower right. (University Photographs RS 21/6/D)

He mentions in his autobiography, Chronicles of Faith, that at ISU he was assigned the care of a boxing kangaroo while it recuperated from eye surgery!

The kangaroo and I had a good time shadow-boxing with each other during the two weeks he was with us before he returned to the show. I didn’t hit him in his eye and he didn’t hit me in mine.

Iowa State University is proud to have played a role in Dr. Patterson’s education. We are grateful for his work and are inspired by his accomplishments.

If you’d like to learn more about him and the veterinary medicine program, we have the following resources available in the University Library Special Collections Department:

  • Frederick D. Patterson Collection (RS 21/7/19)
  • Frederick D. Patterson. Chronicles of Faith, ed. Martia Graham Goodson. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1991. Call# LC2851 T817 P28 1991. (e-book version available here)
  • College of Veterinary Medicine (record groups RS 14)

Resources from elsewhere:

  • UNCF: biographical information and a timeline
  • Tuskegee University: “Legacy of Leadership” page on Patterson
  • The Library of Congress: Frederick D. Patterson Papers, MSS 77597.
  • Eugene Adams, “A Historical Overview of African American Veterinarians in the United States, 1889-2000,” Journal of Veterinarian Medical Education 2 31, no. 4 (2004). PDF

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