Jan. 29 marks the 94th anniversary of The Seeing Eye, the world’s oldest, most sustainable guide dog training school in the United States. Co-founded by Morris Frank and Dorothy Harrison Eustis, The Seeing Eye’s lasting success is the result of tireless pioneers whose courage, empathy and ambition laid the groundwork for making the entire world accessible to the blind.
Morris Frank with his beloved guide dog Buddy
Photos courtesy of The Seeing Eye
In 1929, while training military and police dogs in Switzerland, American Dorothy Eustis became curious about a European teaching center working with German Shepherds to serve as guides for blinded soldiers. Eustis made the journey to Potsdam, Germany, to see for herself. After three months of observation, Eustis penned an article titled “The Seeing Eye” in The Saturday Evening Post extolling the program’s success.
“It is little short of marvelous how a raw dog can be taken into the school and in four months be turned out a blind leader, and the miracle is that the dog so perfectly assimilates his instruction,” she wrote.
The widely circulated Post article reached Morris Frank, a 20-year-old Tennessee man who had been blinded by two separate childhood accidents. Frank composed a reply to Eustis, expressing his wish to have his own guide dog and to introduce a similar program in the United States.
Arrangements were made for Frank’s travel to Switzerland, where he was paired with Elliott Humphrey, a self-taught animal trainer who worked for Eustis, and Buddy, the female German Shepherd who would become the first seeing eye dog in the United States.
After five weeks of training, Frank and Buddy returned home to show the world what independence for the sightless could look like. With reporters in tow, Frank and Buddy gallantly made their way through a New York City intersection deemed so dangerous it was known as “Death Street.” Their triumphant crossing was succinctly summed up by Frank in a one-word telegram to Eustis: “Success.”
Together, Eustis, Humphrey and Frank set forth to establish The Seeing Eye, the first dog guide school in the United States. In the years that followed, Frank had six more German Shephard guide dogs, all named Buddy. The remainder of his life was dedicated to spreading the word that freedom is an option for blind people.
On a visit to the White House, Frank shared this philosophy: “To fight the tyranny the blind impose on themselves — self-pity — and to teach them how to see, with their minds.”
A copy of The Saturday Evening Post article and the first correspondence between Frank and Eustis may be viewed below: