Born in 1901, Margaret Sloss grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in a close-knit family in which she was one of eight children. Her father, Thomas, instilled into each of his children the belief in “hard work, education, discipline, [and] moral values.” In 1910, Thomas moved the family to Ames, Iowa where he accepted a job as the superintendent of buildings, grounds, and construction at Iowa State. Sloss grew up in a house on Pammel Drive, directly across from the veterinary clinic on campus. At the clinic, she enjoyed watching the operations and made a friend in Dad Gray, the caretaker of the clinic. He allowed her to tag along with him when he received a call, and he encouraged her interest in veterinary medicine.
After attending high school, in 1919 Sloss decided to stay in Ames and attend Iowa State. She joined the sorority Alpha Delta Pi and was involved in women’s athletics and drama. She earned two letters each in tennis, basketball, and field hockey. In 1923 she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in zoology. That same year, E. A. Benbrook of the College of Veterinary Medicine hired her as a technician in the pathology laboratory. Two years later, Sloss quit her position in the pathology laboratory to attend medical school. She petitioned to take a physics course from the University of Iowa Medical School in 1925, but the school denied her request. Eventually she took the physics course, but the denial stung her desire to attend medical school, and she moved back to Ames the following year and rejoined the staff at the pathology laboratory. In 1929 she was promoted to assistant in veterinary pathology.
Shortly after her promotion, Sloss began her master’s work in veterinary anatomy at Iowa State. At the end of her master’s research, she applied to the PhD program in veterinary medicine. Initially, Iowa State denied her admission to the program because she was a woman. Undeterred, Sloss researched the admissions process at land-grant institutions and discovered that the grant of land upon which Iowa State was founded stipulated that “persons applying for admission from Iowa could not be refused on the basis of sex.” The school reversed its decision, and Margaret Sloss became the first woman in the history of Iowa State to receive a Doctor’s of Veterinary Medicine in 1938.
After attaining her DVM, Sloss continued to work in the pathology laboratory. She was renown for her laboratory skills, and she authored or co-authored numerous articles and books. She also designed and taught a class for the wives of senior veterinary students. Despite her award-winning career at Iowa State, it took over forty years for her to become a full professor. She became an instructor in 1941 and an assistant professor in 1943. She held the rank of assistant professor for fifteen years, until 1958 when she became an associate professor. Finally, she became a full professor in 1965 at the age of sixty-four.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Sloss’s life was her activism for women, especially in the field of veterinary medicine. She believed that women should “compete equally with men” for admission to the program on the basis of their grade point average and not on their biological sex. She was motivated and curious, relying on her sense of humor to break down the barriers against women in the sciences. She not only knew she was breaking barriers, “she felt the necessity to break them.” Above all , she became convinced that women needed equal treatment to men, and she worked tirelessly to promote the admission of women to the College of Veterinary Medicine. She founded the Women’s Veterinary Medical Association in 1947 and served two terms as its president.
Women’s groups across the country recognized her achievements, and she received numerous awards. She attended the Women’s Centennial Congress in New York City at the request of Carrie Chapman Catt. In 1940, she was listed as one of one hundred women in the United States who successfully followed a career unheard of for women in 1840. She was invited to attend a luncheon at the White House for women in science given my Eleanor Roosevelt. Finally, she received one of the most prestigious awards in the field of veterinary medicine. At a meeting of the “Veterinary Circle,” she was cited as the veterinarian who had made the “most significant contribution to the profession” at the American Veterinary Medicine Association in Toronto, Canada.
In 1972, Sloss retired from her position at Iowa State at the age of seventy. Her career at Iowa State spanned over five decades. In 1978, the university honored her years of service by naming her the parade marshal of the Veishea parade. The next year, 1979, she died. Three years later in 1981, the new Iowa State women’s center was named in her honor. Today, the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center is a beacon of “equity on the Iowa State University campus for women.”