Much of the material on the early history of the College has been excerpted from Veterinary Medicine in Michigan, a book written by Charles Cleon Morrill and published by MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979.
Veterinary science has existed at MSU from the very start of the university, which was established in 1855 as the nation's first agricultural college. The first published four-year agricultural curriculum listed animal physiology in the third year and "veterinary" in the fourth.
However, there was no veterinarian on the faculty until 1883. The few practitioners in the state provided the required veterinary instruction when they could.
In 1883, Dr. Edward A. A. Grange was recruited to teach a full-year course designed to enlighten prospective stockmen, not to train practitioners. With his arrival, veterinary science took on the standing of a department within the Division of Agriculture.
Edwin Willits, then president of the university, had some ideas about the future of the fledgling department. In his address to the State Board of Agriculture in 1885, he reported:
The Veterinary Department, recently established, promises to become of prime importance in consequence of the large interests engaged in stock raising, and the prevalence of communicable diseases among animals. With eighteen states at this hour quarantined against the stock of other states in consequence of these diseases, it is important that we should have men educated specially in veterinary science, that we have in considerable numbers persons skilled in the diseases of domestic animals, and that we no longer depend upon the limited acquirements of the old fashioned "horse doctor."
The last Legislature, with commendable liberality, has afforded the college the means to erect a building especially devoted to that science, with a museum and lecture room, with operating rooms and dissecting tables, with manikin and skeletons and all the apparatus needed to illustrate the subject as fully as the best medical colleges illustrate the subjects of the diseases of the human body. All students in the agricultural course receive instruction in this science, and their interest in the lectures fully indicates their appreciation of their importance.
It is worthy of consideration whether a short special course of two years in that and agriculture combined, with the requirement of an advanced antecedent general education, might not meet a popular demand; a course that would be above "quackery" and still within reach of many who cannot devote four full years to get what they want; a course that would send out men who could write a prescription without misspelling, and indite a common business communication in good English.
Over the next several years, there was growing pressure to establish a program to train veterinarians. Stockmen, who looked to the university for aid in reducing losses from disease, were especially strong advocates of a veterinary school. At their urging, in 1907, the state legislature finally authorized the establishment of a department of veterinary science.
Nevertheless, it was not until 1910 that the State Board of Agriculture officially organized the Veterinary Division and selected its head, Dr. Richard P. Lyman. He was a graduate of Massachusetts Agricultural College and Harvard Veterinary School. He had practiced for 17 years and taught for several years at the Kansas City Veterinary College. He arrived in September 1910 and was paid a yearly salary of $2,500.
As the academic year progressed, the teaching force was expanded to a faculty of four, and needed equipment was obtained. Soon, Dean Lyman was recommending that the course be lengthened to include the entire sophomore, junior, and senior years. The Veterinary Division was well on its way.