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UFAW marks International Women's day on 8th March Dame Olga Uvarov

7 March 2019

Dame Olga Uvarov DSc HonCBiol FRCVS (1910-2001)

The orphan who fled the Bolshevicks and went on to become a pioneer in the field of animal welfare

She was given a Red Cross label marked ‘Orphan No 7’ to hang round her neck, and was told to pack a basket with a change of clothes… 

Dame Olga Uvarov DSc HonCBiol FIBiol FRCVS (1910-2001)

Olga Uvarov was born in Russia in 1910 to a prosperous family.  Her parents, Nikolas and Elena, as well as her three brothers perished in the Revolution of 1917, when she was a young girl.  She survived the typhoid epidemic which was sweeping the country at the time and was rescued and brought to England by her uncle, Sir Boris Uvarov.  Malnourished and suffering from malaria, she arrived in London in 1923. 

Olga’s interest in science was sparked by her uncle, who was an entomologist working at the Imperial Bureau of Entomology in London.  After schooling, she entered the Royal Veterinary College, London, in 1930 and qualified in 1934, having also won the college’s bronze medals for Histology and Physiology.  This was an incredible achievement for a woman with Russian as a first language at a time when women students were rare - there were only thirty-five registered women veterinarians in 1934.

Initially, Olga worked in mixed practice before running her own veterinary practice which she purchased in 1944.  She went on to rise to the highest level in her profession, being voted President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1976-1977 (the first female president of the RCVS). She worked for many years in the pharmaceutical industry and was keenly interested in animal welfare and the ethics of animal use. She served on UFAW's Council from 1983-1986, was elected an Honorary Life Member of the charity, and became Vice-President from 1986-1992.  During this time, UFAW was instrumental in advancing animal welfare for companion, wild, zoo, farm and laboratory animals - you can read more about UFAW’s history here.  In her later years, Olga was much in demand as a member of parliamentary and other committees concerned with veterinary matters, and as a speaker at international veterinary symposia. She also wrote over 40 scientific papers on veterinary pharmacology and therapeutics.

Dame Olga died aged 91 at her home in Middlesex on the 29th of August 2001. She is remembered fondly by UFAW for her sharp intellect and her long and very loyal support.

Dame Olga not only made a real and lasting impact in animal welfare, but also led the way for the generations of women scientists and veterinarians to come.  Examples include Dr Rebecca Meagher who won UFAW’s Young Animal Welfare Scientist of the Year award in 2018 for her outstanding contribution to animal welfare , Dr Rachel Tanner, who was awarded a 3Rs Liaison Group Studentship in 2012 to carry out a project concerned with a vaccine for cattle TB ) and Professor Georgia Mason who was awarded a UFAW 3Rs award for her study into the welfare of laboratory primates and indicators of poor welfare.

Thanks to women like these and also to the support of people who share the charity’s concern for the welfare of animals, UFAW has already made a real and lasting difference to millions of animals – from the mouse to the elephant.  Please help us to continue their legacy by reading their stories and donating to UFAW.  Large or small, your donation means a great deal to the lives of many animals and is vital in helping us continue - you can make a donation or become a member here.    Thank you.

Photo credit:  National Portrait Gallery