Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 023/Dr. W. M. Burson

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William M. Burson
BornMay 24, 1874
Carroll County, Ohio
DiedSeptember 1, 1960
Richmond, Georgia
Known forFederal Writers Project


William Mills Burson was a practicing veterinarian in Athens, Georgia during the Great Depression. Burson was interviewed by Grace McCune on June 29, 1939 as part of the Federal Writers Project.


Early Life[edit]

Burson was born May 24, 1874 in Carroll County, Ohio. Both of his parents died before he turned six years old. Being tossed from orphanage to orphanage, Burson attended many different small schools, and most of his childhood memories are of the violent and painful experiences that he endured from other schoolmates. While in grammar school, Burson worked on several farms where he was not paid in actual money, but in necessities such as clothing, food, and shelter.


Around the age of 17, after attending a small academy, Burson took two years off from school. During this time, he worked on other farms and in sawmills to save up money. Shortly thereafter, he reentered school, and started taking courses in business, with hopes to eventually become a bookkeeper. He completed a certification course, and started working in a library. However, when he discovered that most bookkeepers were only making about $5.00 a week, he began looking into other career options.

After saving his wages as a bookkeeper for two years, Burson entered the grocery business with one of his best friends. While working as a grocer, he was able to become financially and socially stable - gaining fair wages and establishing a kind and humble reputation among many of his customers. During this time, he also befriended the McKinley family. After he became the 25th President of the United States in March of 1897, William McKinley honored this friendship with Burson by recognizing him as a White House guest in 1898.


After various academic and business adventures, Burson decided to join the National Guard, where he would remain in active duty for 5 years. During this time, he was promoted from private to first lieutenant. In 1901, Burson began his first job for the federal government as a meat and livestock inspector. In this service he decided to attend veterinary school.

After graduating, Burson became an associate professor at the University of Georgia, where he taught Veterinary Medicine for four years. After this, he decided to practice large animal medicine on his own, traveling to different farms to care for livestock. A few years later, Burson opened up a small animal care facility and began seeing new patients in addition to large animal farm calls.


According to records taken from the Georgia Death Index, William Burson died on September 1, 1960 in Richmond, Georgia (cause of death unreported). He was 86 years old.

Social Pressures During the Great Depression[edit]

Some of the experiences recollected during Burson's interview reflect various social, economical, and political pressures involved with the great depression of the 1930s.

Office of President William McKinley[edit]

After opening up a law office in Canton, Ohio (where he commonly sat on his front porch talking to delegates) , William McKinley won a seat in congress in 1877. After serving in the Ways and Means Committee, and becoming the leading Republican tariff expert, McKinley was elected as the Governor of Ohio. [1] After becoming president, McKinley enacted one of the highest tariffs in history, made foreign policy the main focus of his administration, and engaged the United States in the 100-day war. [2] McKinley was assassinated during his second term in 1901.

Veterinary Training & Education[edit]

Founded in 1852, the first school of Veterinary Medicine was the Veterinary College of Philadelphia. In 1863, the American Veterinary Medical Association was also established.[3] Because the programs were so new around this time, it was generally difficult for students to enroll in veterinary medicine, and many could not do so without internal connections with administrators or program leaders. Most licensed veterinarians primarily treated livestock and medical care for household pets didn't become common until after World War II.[4]

Rise of the US Food and Drug Administration[edit]

Published in February of 1906, Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle exposed the harsh and unsanitary conditions of a meatpacking factory in Chicago. With vivid imagery and gripping detail, The Jungle caused an upset among many Americans resulting in various protests against the industry. After further investigation, the Pure Foods and Drug Act was passed on June 30, 1906.[5] These new laws established the Bureau of Chemistry as a regulatory federal agency, empowering it to set protocol and preside over many industrial industries.[6] This Bureau would later evolve into the Food and Drug Administration, regulating the processing and manufacturing of all food products and preservatives, as well as animal and human drugs. [7]


Folder 234: McCune, Hall, Booth (interviewers): W.M. Burson - Veterinarian, Poet, and Politician, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/03709/id/813

Leab, Daniel J. The Great Depression and the New Deal : a Thematic Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2010.

Butler, Jon. "FORUM: American Religion and the Great Depression." Church History 80, no. 3 (September 2011): 575-578. America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2016).

Crafts, Nicholas, and Peter Fearon, eds. The Great Depression of the 1930s: Lessons for Today. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Oxford Scholarship Online, 2013. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199663187.001.0001.

Scaliger, C. (2008, Jun 23). The great depression. The New American, 24, 34-38. Retrieved from: http://search.proquest.com/docview/218098277?accountid=14244

  1. “William McKinley.” Whitehouse.gov, December 30, 2014. https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/williammckinley.
  2. Ibid
  3. “The History of Veterinary Medicine.” Accessed March 22, 2016. http://www.encantopetclinic.com/news/the-history-of-veterinary-medicine/.
  4. Ibid
  5. Engs, R. C. The Progressive Era’s Health Reform Movement: A Historical Dictionary. Praeger, 2003. https://books.google.com/books?id=mNeGQRBgd_MC.
  6. Hickmann, M.A. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Nova Science Publishers, 2003. https://books.google.com/books?id=OzLZJuAKvIwC
  7. Carpenter, Daniel P.. "Pure Food and Drug Act (1906)." Major Acts of Congress. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (March 22, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407400257.html