The first female veterinary surgeon to be recognised by the Royal College of
Veterinary Surgeons was Irish and was born 150 years ago on February 7th. By her achievement, Aleen Cust not only overcame barriers of tradition and sexism but she courageously opened up a career path for women that had been previously closed to them, writes Pauline Murphy.
This year marks the centenary of women winning the right to vote after a long battle for equal rights by the Suffragette movement. Although not recognised in the same vein as the Suffragettes, Aleen Cust made her own mark on the history of women’s struggle for equal recognition when she became the first female to qualify as a veterinary surgeon in Ireland and Britain.
This trailblazer was born 150 years ago on the 7th of February 1868 at Cordangan Manor on the outskirts of Tipperary town. Aleen Isobel Cust was the daughter of Leopold Cust who served as land agent for the Smith-Barry family and for the first ten years of her life Aleen enjoyed a childhood spent on the banks of the River Ara where she developed a grá for nature.
In March 1878 Aleen’s idyllic childhood in Tipperary came to a cruel end when her father died suddenly and the family moved to England.
Aleen first enrolled in medical school to study nursing, but she had a greater empathy with animals and decided – much against her family’s wishes – to quit nursing and head to Edinburgh to enroll at the Royal Veterinarian College.