Eustis, Dorothy (1886–1946)

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Eustis, Dorothy (1886–1946)

American philanthropist who introduced "Seeing Eye" dogs to America. Born Dorothy Leib Harrison on May 30, 1886, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died on September 8, 1946, in New York City; the youngest of six children, three boys and three girls, of Charles Custis Harrison (owner of a sugar refinery and provost of the University of Pennsylvania) and Ellen Nixon (Waln) Harrison; attended the Agnes Irwin School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Rathgowrie School, Eastbourne, England; married Walter Abbott Wood (a businessman and a New York state senator), on October 6, 1906 (died 1915); married George Morris Eustis, on June 23, 1923 (divorced); children: (first marriage) two sons.

Born Dorothy Leib Harrison on May 30, 1886, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dorothy Eustis was the youngest of six children of Charles Custis Harrison, provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and Ellen Waln Harrison . She was raised in a well-off environment and educated at private schools in her home city and in England. Married at the age of 20, she settled near Hoosick Falls, New York, where she and her husband Walter Wood operated an experimental dairy farm under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture. It was on the farm that Eu-stis first recognized the innate intelligence, gentleness, and loyalty of her German shepherd dog, Hans, and began to consider the possibilities of selectively breeding German shepherds in order to develop these qualities more widely.

After the death of her husband in 1915, Eustis continued the work of the dairy farm for two years, then moved to Radnor, Pennsylvania. In 1921, she relocated to Vevey, Switzerland, where she established an experimental breeding kennel. With her second husband, George Morris Eustis, whom she married in 1923, and an American horse breeder and trainer, Elliott S. ("Jack") Humphrey, she began a research and experimental program that ultimately developed a superior strain of German shepherds. The dogs were exceptionally intelligent, alert, obedient, and gentle, and were initially trained for police and army duty in Switzerland.

In 1927, George Eustis discovered a training center in Pottsdam, Germany, that was successfully training dogs to serve as guides for blind veterans. Intrigued by the program, Dorothy wrote an article about it called "The Seeing Eye," which was published in the Saturday Evening Post. The piece brought an inquiry from Morris S. Frank, a blind insurance salesman from Tennessee, who was interested in obtaining a dog for himself. In response to his request, Eustis reoriented her work and began training guide dogs to assist the blind. Her first trained dog, Buddy, was given to Frank, who traveled to Switzerland to pick up the dog and learn how to use him. The publicity surrounding his return to Tennessee with a guide dog sparked further inquiries from the blind community in the United States.

In 1929, divorced from her husband, Eustis left Switzerland to solicit funds and sponsors for a training center in the United States. Incorporated as The Seeing Eye, she founded the first facility in Morristown, New Jersey, then, in 1932, moved to a more permanent location on a 56-acre estate she purchased in Whippany, New Jersey. She served as president of the school until 1940, training many of the dogs herself and donating much of her personal fortune to the project. From 1929 to 1933, she also headed up L'Oeil qui Voit, a Swiss school that trained guide dogs as well as instructors.

In recognition of her work, Eustis was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1933, and a gold medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences in 1936. At the time of her death in 1946, The Seeing Eye had provided over 1,300 guide dogs to the blind.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts