A Giant of Higher Ed
Founder of the United Negro College Fund. President of Tuskegee Institute for 20 years. Driving force behind the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson’s career had numerous trajectories. And that career’s roots date back to veterinary medicine and Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Dr. Patterson should definitely be considered a giant of higher education, right next to other education pioneers of the day,” said Brian Bridges, vice president of research and member engagement of the United Negro College Fund. “He is one of those unsung heroes of the 20th Century who should be celebrated because his contributions literally changed two fields for the better – the postsecondary education landscape and America’s World War II efforts.”
Patterson earned his DVM (’23) and master’s degree in veterinary pathology (’27) from Iowa State. Born in Washington, D.C., Patterson attended Prairie View Normal School where he came in contact with Dr. Edward B. Evans, who also graduated from Iowa State and the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Evans became a mentor to Patterson and encouraged him to enroll at Iowa State to earn a veterinary degree. And even though Patterson was only African-American in the school during his tenure, he wrote years later that his experience in Ames was a positive one.
“In the veterinary program, I did not feel odd being a part of the group of students working in the veterinary clinic although I was the only black person there,” Patterson wrote in his autobiography, Chronicles of Faith. “The absence of animosity encouraged me to see veterinary medicine as a field in which I could practice without being hampered by the racial stereotypes and obstacles that would confront me as a medical doctor, for example. I found the teachers of Iowa State helpful whenever I approached them. Educationally, it was a fine experience.”
After graduating from Iowa State, Patterson became the director of agriculture at Virginia State College before moving to the Tuskegee Institute where his brilliant career moved forward.
He became Tuskegee’s president age 34 in 1935 and for the next 20 years transformed Tuskegee into a full-fledged university with graduate programs that continue to this day. In addition to spearheading Tuskegee’s engineering and commercial aviation programs, Patterson founded the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1944.
That same year, he founded the United Negro College Fund, a philanthropic organization that funds scholarships for black students for 37 private, historically black colleges and universities. The organization has raised almost $5 billion for scholarships since then.
“I do not believe the UNCF would exist today, or if it did, it would not have the same lengthy and impactful legacy – one that spans almost 75 years – that it does today without Dr. Patterson’s leadership,” Bridges said.
Patterson’s legacy continues at Tuskegee, Iowa State and the United Negro College Fund where the Frederick Douglass Patterson Research Institute is the nation’s foremost research institution looking at educational issues facing African-Americans from preschool to adulthood.
“Dr. Patterson’s accomplishments and his dedication to providing educational opportunities to disenfranchised populations, particularly African Americans, make him a figure worthy of celebration in American history,” Bridges said.
Award and Scholarship to Bear Patterson’s Name
In recognition of the legacy and achievements of Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson (DVM ’23), the College of Veterinary Medicine has created new scholarships in his honor.
The Frederick Douglass Patterson Diversity and Inclusion Award will be awarded annually to the CVM faculty and/or staff who have advanced the college’s mission of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Frederick Douglass Patterson Scholarship was created to honor the personal merits and attributes of Patterson, who served as president of the Tuskegee Institute and is the founder of the United Negro College Fund. Scholarships will be awarded to current and incoming DVM students.