Dr. Patricia O'Connor
Dr. Patricia O'Connor Halloran made history when she took the position of the staff veterinarian of the Staten Island Zoo, New York, 1942; she became the first full-time woman zoo veterinarian (and, quite possibly, the first women zoo veterinarian) in America. She began her zoo work at a time when opportunities for career-orients women were limited. Between 1930 and 1939, only 0.8 percent of graduates of American and Canadian veterinary schools were women (the figure increased to more than 60 percent by the 1990's). At her husband's suggestion she continued to use her maiden name O'Connor as her professional name.
For nearly three decades until her retirement in 1970, she wore many hats to keep the zoo going, especially during war years. She was de facto curator of education, as well as the curator of mammals and birds. A superb organizer, she helped found several organizations, including the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV). Dr. O'Connor became the AAZV's first president from 1946 to 1957, and took up the presidency again in 1965. Her brainchild grew into an internationally recognized organization.
Among her many accomplishments was the authorship of the 465-page volume, A Bibliography of References to Diseases of Wild Mammals and Birds, which was published in 1955. It informed readers where they could find authoritative articles on subjects ranging from arthritis in a dolphin to the osteology of the great auk, and extinct bird species. Still much esteemed, this publication is a world first, at least within the English-speaking world, and most probably throughout the whole world.
At a time when a zoo veterinarian represented rarity (as of 1955, there were only six staff zoo veterinarians across the country), she was a pioneer and a unique professional. Not only was she an accomplished general practitioner of veterinary medicine, but also an educator and an organized and creator of organizations. After leaving the zoo field, her mind stayed keen; she was known to correct memories of those who were decades younger. Dr. O'Connor died on 8 July (2003) at the age of 88.
Written by Ken Kawata, General Curator, Staten Island Zoo