A Groundbreaker From Early On
Kathy Calhoun spent the early part of her life in Phoenix, Illinois, a village in Cook County, Illinois, about 19 miles south of the Chicago Loop in the Chicagoland area, where she attended school through the eighth grade. When it came time for high school, Kathy was in the first group of black students to be bused to Thornridge High School in a nearby suburb for the purpose of integrating the school. Despite a very different school situation and culture from what she knew, Kathy, being Kathy, rose to the occasion and was quick to find a place in this previously all-white school.
As Kathy tells it, “Many Thornridge High School extra-curricular activities had Scottish names and themes. The school had a performing team called the ‘Lassies.” I tried out and was accepted as a member of the Lassies, but I was not one of the Scottish dancers, I was a bagpiper! I can play the bagpipes, I have a kilt, the hat—the whole regalia.”
After graduating from Thornridge High School, Kathy went on to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she majored in biology, with a split minor in chemistry and physics, with the full intent of going on to veterinary school.
According to Kathy, “Back in the day, if you wanted to go to vet school it would be in your state, and it was a good idea to go to undergrad at the same school. In that time period, and they made no bones about it and I have no idea how they came up with these numbers, the University of Illinois veterinary school took 81 students in a class and zero to 12 women.”
Not only did a student have to have stellar grades but you also had to have an ‘appropriate’ background which generally meant you should come from a farming community, or, in Kathy’s words, “be able to shoe a horse and milk a cow.” However, since those skills were not on her resume, as she says it, “vet school was not in the cards.”
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