Dorothy Harrison Eustis bigraphy, stories - Philanthropist and founder of The Seeing Eye

Dorothy Harrison Eustis : biography

30 May 1886 - 8 September 1946

Dorothy Leib Harrison Wood Eustis (May 30, 1886 – September 8, 1946) was an American dog breeder and philanthropist, who founded The Seeing Eye, the first guide-dog school for the blind in the United States.

In 1927, Eustis was 41 years old and living in Switzerland where she bred German Shepherds as police dogs when she wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post, a popular weekly magazine. The piece described a German guide-dog training school for blind veterans of the first World War and sparked a flood of mail, including a letter from a 20-year-old blind man named Morris Frank, The New York Times, Nov. 24, 1980 who promised to help set up a similar school in the United States if Eustis would train him to use a guide dog. Eustis invited Frank to Switzerland, where he spent five weeks learning to work with Buddy, the first of his six guide dogs (all named Buddy)., The New York Times, Sept. 10, 1946 A year later, in December 1928, Eustis and Frank launched The Seeing Eye in Frank’s hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.

Eustis’ legacy has been long-lasting. Her work helped spawn guide-dog schools in the United States and around the world, and also paved the way for using service animals to help people with all kinds of disabilities. Because The Seeing Eye refused to see its students as charity cases, Eustis is also credited with helping to change public attitudes toward the disabled and contributing to the disability rights movement that began in the 1970s.Ascarelli, Miriam, Independent Vision: Dorothy Harrison Eustis and the Story of the Seeing Eye, Purdue U. Press, 2010, p. 118

The Seeing Eye

For the first three years of its existence, The Seeing Eye had no permanent facility, so trainers traveled to different cities to hold their classes. That changed in 1931, when Eustis purchased a ten-bedroom mansion in Whippany, New Jersey that had enough room to house students while they were learning to work with their dogs. The school relocated to a newly constructed, and more user-friendly facility in Morristown in 1966.

Eustis continued to play an active role in the affairs of The Seeing Eye until 1940, when she resigned as president and took on the role of honorary president and a member of the board of trustees. By then she had also become increasingly more devoted to Christian Science, and had begun a Christian Science healing practice. (Although she grew up in the Episcopal Church, she became a Christian Scientist around 1926.Ascarelli, Miriam, Independent Vision: Dorothy Harrison Eustis and the Story of the Seeing Eye, Purdue U. Press, 2010, p.106) Eustis continued the practice until 1945,p.110 the year before she died.

Eustis died in her New York City home on Sept. 8, 1946., New York Times, Sept. 10, 1946 She was 60 years old.

Widowhood and remarriage

A turning point in Eustis’ life came Oct. 8, 1915, when husband Walter died of complications from typhoid fever, making her a 29-year-old widow with two young children, ages 1 and 8.’’Senator Walter A. Wood Jr. obituary. Oct 8, 1915 (newspaper unknown), Hoosick Township Historical Society archives She returned to Philadelphia in 1917, and married a second time on June 23, 1923,"Mrs. George Morris Eustis and her sons’’, The Evening Bulletin-Philadelphia June 23, 1923 this time to George Eustis, a polo player 13 years her junior and the stepson of the pianist Josef Hofmann. Shortly after their wedding, the couple began renting Hofmann’s chalet on Mt. Pèlerin in the Swiss Alps and started breeding German shepherds and training them to work as police dogs. To help them with their project, they hired Elliot ‘’Jack’’ Humphrey, a self-taught geneticist and animal trainer. Humphrey would later be instrumental in developing the method for training dogs, as well as students, at The Seeing Eye., The New York Times, June 11, 1981

The Saturday Evening Post article

On Nov. 5,1927, The Saturday Evening Post published the article that would change Eustis' life. Written in the first person, the story chronicled Eustis' observations at a school outside of Berlin that trained German war veterans who had been blinded by mustard gas in World War I. Soon the publishing company was forwarding her piles of letters from readers who wanted to know more. One stood out from the rest. It was from Morris Frank, the young man from Nashville Tenn.

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