June 10, 2021, by Kathryn Steenson
Cataloguing Connie: Part 1
Connie Ford – veterinarian, poet, supporter of the arts, traveller, political activist, correspondent, sailor – left behind an enormous personal and literary archive.
We are pleased to announce the completion of the Connie Ford catalogue which is now open to view on our website. Over the next few months our blogs will highlight specific aspects of her life.
Born in London in 1912 as the youngest of three daughters, Connie Ford was one of the first women in the UK to graduate as a vet from Royal Veterinary College in 1933. She encountered some problems getting work, often due to employers not believing a woman could carry out veterinary work, and ended up setting up her own practice in London. Her jobs included working for ex-dancer Ninette Aastral who had a menagerie of over 80 animals, mostly monkeys. Connie notes that she was proud to be the first person in the UK to ‘whelp a capuchin’ (CF 4/2/10, CF 4/2/32). She moved to the Midlands in 1943 to work at the Government’s Veterinary Investigation Service and was based at Sutton Bonington for many years. Her work as a specialist in the infertility of cattle led to her being awarded her MBE in 1970.
Connie also became President of the East Midlands Branch of the British Veterinary Association in 1966, and her pride in this honour is evident from the studio photographs she commissioned and titled ‘Mm. President’. After her retirement in 1972, Connie researched and wrote the biography ‘Aleen Cust, Veterinary Surgeon’ about Britain’s first female veterinarian. Although Aleen Cust trained and practised as a vet from the 1890s, she was not allowed as a woman to sit the exams to be officially registered. Connie clearly felt a kinship with the efforts Aleen Cust put into pursuing her dream and recognised the difficulties of succeeding in what was seen at that time as a career for men.
Connie worked hard to gather all the information for the biography and funded several trips to Ireland herself, as well as corresponding with many people for snippets of Aleen Cust’s life (CF 2/3, CF 2/4). The book was published in 1990 and Connie was awarded the J.T. Edwards Memorial Medal presented in recognition of her “indefatigable work writing up Aleen Cust’s biography” in 1992 (CF 4/11/24-25, CF 5/2/174).
Throughout her career Connie Ford kept in touch with many people from her Veterinary College days as well as others that she met from the veterinary community (CF 4/2). This correspondence spans many decades of change in the 20th century, not just for veterinary practices. Connie died in 1998 and left a bequest to The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Trust, which offers Connie Ford Retraining Grants for the development and delivery of retraining courses for UK veterinary surgeons.
The Papers of Connie Ford catalogue is available here, and the collection can be viewed in the Manuscripts & Special Collections Reading Room by appointment. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book and let us know which documents you would like to see.
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