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Sloss, Margaret Wragg

Published onJul 30, 2021
Sloss, Margaret Wragg

(Oct. 8, 1901 – December 11, 1979)

Quick Facts

Sloss broke the last “men only” tradition in the college’s divisional curricula when she became the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), a degree earned by 930 men before her. She also received a BS in zoology 1923, MS veterinary anatomy 1932, and her DVM 1938 from Iowa State College. Margaret Sloss worked at ISU as a technician, assistant, instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, professor and professor Emeritus by 1972.

This photo from 1956 shows Margaret Sloss working in room 15, the first photography lab in the department of veterinary pathology of the old Veterinary Quadrangle on the Iowa State campus.

Margaret Sloss, nicknamed “Toot” by her family, came to Ames at age nine. In order to support his eight children, her father had taken a position as superintendent of buildings on the ISC campus. The mischievous girl had the run of the campus and knew many people there. Her energies were applied to drama, tennis, hockey, basketball and the YWCA.

Sloss planned to be a high school teacher but, upon receiving her BS degree, ended up as a histopathology lab technician in the College of Vet Med. Except for a year studying medicine at U of I in 1925, she remained at ISU the rest of her career. Here she taught pathology and made impressive scientific contributions.

Sloss broke the last “men only” tradition in the college’s divisional curricula when she became the first woman to receive the DVM, a degree earned by 930 men before her. The accomplishment was difficult despite Dean Charles Stange’s encouragement. The struggle began when she was denied admission to the master’s program. Her recourse was to utilize federal regulations forbidding admission discrimination based on gender in land grant colleges. Although finally admitted to the program, she was barred from some courses and had to take tutorials, a special treatment for women she did not appreciate.

"Yes, I was the first woman to graduate from Iowa State in veterinary medicine, and Dr. M. Lois Calhoun graduated the year after I did.  Perhaps neither one of us is a very good judge of how prejudiced people were as far as women in the profession is (sic) concerned.  We went on the assumption that we were medically and scientifically minded and would rather be in veterinary medicine than in human medicine."

Letter from Dr. Margaret Sloss to Mrs. Charles May, 1963 

Hurt by unfair and derogatory prejudices against women in science, she queried “What man wouldn’t bitterly resent being automatically classes as ‘queer’ by all his fellow men simply because he practiced the profession of law – or medicine?” She dealt with the question by working patiently and persistently to establish an equitable admissions policy for women. Always she was guided by a motto on one of the little pieces of paper she was known for keeping around her: “Don’t sit down in the meadow and wait for the cow to back up and be milked – go after the cow!”

Her general approach was to educate rather than harangue. When asked why women would choose the veterinary profession, she explained that is was simply “a natural expression of their interest in animals in conjunction with their medical and scientific inclinations intelligently.” She continued, “It is my contention that success in the veterinary profession depends, as it does in all other professions, primarily on the individual’s temperamental fitness and ability for the job considerably more than on gender.”

Sloss was known for her personal qualities of motivation, curiosity, perseverance, forthright temperament, and sustaining sense of humor. She was skilled in histologic techniques, parasitology, and stain preparation with a keen eye for detail, accuracy, and clarity. Efficient and hard-working, she was well organized and helpful to others – once even rescuing some guinea pigs that her neighbors were mistreating. She pioneered the development of photomicrographic techniques, beginning with her master’s degree. This interest was carried to her hobby of snapping photos of subjects such as cloth fabric, animal tissue, and cake batter through the microscope’s lenses.

Sloss’s work was not limited to the campus lab and classroom. She was author and co-author of numerous articles and books. She provided lab services to an Ames clinic and the city’s sanitation department. She taught a class for wives of senior veterinary students on her own time. In 1948, she helped found the Women’s Veterinary Medical Association and served two terms as president.

Two events brought Sloss national recognition. In 1940, Carrie Chapman Catt invited her to the annual Women’s Centennial Congress in New York City. She was cited there as “one of the 100 women in the U.S. who … have successfully followed careers unheard of [for women] 100 years ago.” In 1944, Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to the White House for a luncheon honoring women of science. For some reason, Sloss did not attend either event.

Sloss in her lab in 1960.

Both Sloss’s professional work and her direct advocacy contributed to an improved status for women in veterinary medicine. When she received her doctorate, less than 20 women had the degree in the U.S. By 1953, when she received the Most Significant Contribution award, she was among 150 other women veterinarians.

It was a lonely road. Only one other woman was admitted to the ISU program in the decade following Sloss. It was another decade until another woman was added to the staff. And, although rising to the top of her professions, Sloss was not made a full professor until she was 64 years old.

To further recognize Dr. Sloss and her achievements, Iowa State University named the Margaret Sloss Women's Center in her honor in 1981.

Dr. Sloss passed away December 11, 1979.  She is interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

Selections of text republished with permission from Iowans who made a difference: 150 years of agricultural progress by Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley, published by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, 1996.

Selected Sources

Margaret W. (Margaret Wragg) Sloss Papers, RS 14/7/51, University Archives, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.

People of Distinction online exhibition:

Iowa Department of Human Rights, Sloss entry:

20th Century Women at Iowa State, online exhibition:

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