What is a Class Composite? Why Do They Matter?
A class composite is a group graduation photo. You may have one of your own from your own high school, college, or university graduation. Class composite photos began to appear in the late nineteenth century and continue to be produced today.
A common phrase we all know: “…a picture tells a thousand words…” is one that very much applies to class composites. For veterinary medicine and other professions such as human medicine, law, nursing, engineering, etc., these visual pieces served a number of interesting purposes. First and foremost, composites served and continue to serve as an important keepsake and record of one’s time as a student. Beyond that, and the increasing consumption of and access to photography in the late nineteenth century aside, composite photos for professions like veterinary medicine served as an important visual example of the growth and transformation of a professional, scientific discipline.
In the late nineteenth century, when these composites begin to appear, the OVC had been established for about twenty years. Moreover, the first professional organization in Ontario, the Ontario Veterinary Association (OVA), had been established in 1874. One of the main objectives of the OVA’s leadership was to establish the veterinary profession in a more formal manner and to distance formally trained veterinarians from their informally-trained peers. These individuals were known by many names, but one of the most common terms of the time was “farrier”. Moreover, veterinarians were in the very early stages of taking on more visual, government public health and livestock roles in meat and dairy inspection.
There is much that could be debated about the nature and comprehensiveness of the veterinary curriculum at the OVC and other veterinary schools in this period. These composites serve as a powerful, visual example of the numerous trained individuals coming out the OVC to provide competent service and care to animals in Canada and abroad. Moreover, they very well may have served as an example to potential clients, encouraging them to seek the services of a formally trained veterinarian as opposed to one who had received little or no instruction.
Why Collect the OVC’s Class Composites?
The Barker Veterinary Museum strives to document the history of veterinary education in Canada. The history of the OVC’s students is significant part of that history and class composites are often the only published photographs of students. We feel that it is important to document this part of the college’s and indeed the nation’s past.
Class composites are also a resource for genealogical research. The Barker Veterinary Museum receives frequent requests for information on past graduates from people discovering their family history. Pictures of graduates can often aid in the identification of graduates for families and other researchers.