Europe's first woman veterinary surgeon

Agnes Sjöberg's interest in animals can be traced back to her childhood on her family's farm. In the 1890's her family established a school of animal husbandry in the estate's main building and little Agnes sat among the students and listened. At the age of ten she attended anatomy classes and studied the organs of slaughtered calves. She remembered having asked the teacher whether a girl could become a veterinary surgeon. She was told that it was an impossible idea.

At the beginning of the 20th century, women aspiring to higher education had to overcome numerous obstacles. Agnes Sjöberg is a good example of this. First she attended the Swedish- language girls school in Vaasa. Only after finishing a school of household management and having taken care of her family's household for three years, did her father let her enter upper secondary school. Sjöberg completed her matriculation examination as a private student in Kuopio's Swedish-language co-educational school in 1911.

Having practised her future profession under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon in Pori, Sjöberg left for Dresden, Germany, to study veterinary medicine. The confused rector of the College of Veterinary Medicine consented to admitting Sjöberg as the first female student of the school, among 300 male students: "After all, a female veterinary surgeon is well suited to handle small domestic animals". Sjöberg preferred horses. Her studies were hampered by her Finnish fellow students, about thirty men, who tried to remove her from the lecture room when organs considered of a delicate nature were being discussed. After a year Sjöberg transferred to the Veterinary College in Berlin.

During the First World War Sjöberg worked in animal clinics in Berlin and was preparing her doctoral dissertation. The German-language dissertation in the field of equine ophthalmology was approved by the University of Leipzig in 1918.

After the war, Sjöberg returned to Finland and worked as a municipal veterinary surgeon in western Finland. Between 1938 and 1955 she had her own practice in Seinäjoki. She also made study trips abroad and continued her research, for example, by spending 18 months in Vienna studying parasites.

Agnes Sjöberg also raised two sons as a single mother.

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1 Agnes Sjöberg and a microscope. From her autobiography.

2, 3 Agnes Sjöberg at work in the early 1920s. Photos: Museum of veterinary science.