Since its commemorative reincarnation a decade ago, the Morris and Essex Kennel Club dog show has become a modern classic with a serious nod to its traditional roots. A new book just published, The Golden Age of Dog Shows: Morris & Essex Kennel Club, 1927-1957, not only celebrates those roots but raises funds to help keep the tradition alive. With a forward by William Secord, famed canine fine art historian and gallery owner, this photo-filled book promises not to disappoint.
Last month, as part of Women’s History Month, I included M&E’s founder, Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, as my nominee for important women in history. You can read the tribute below, which first appeared in my weekly column Lisa Unleashed published in The Newtown Bee on March 13, 2015:
Since 1995 U.S. Presidents have passed resolutions declaring March as Women’s History Month. According to womenshistorymonth.gov the celebration is a “tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.” Nature and the planet are two pretty broad categories when singling out individuals who have made an impact. Dogs are also part of nature and the canine-human bond is felt all over the planet. As such, I’d like to contribute my nominations of one woman whose commitment to ‘dogs’ have “proved invaluable to society.”
Many have called Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge the “First Lady of Dogdom” of the 20th century. Daughter of William Rockefeller Jr., as well as John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s niece, she along with her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, heir to the Remington Arms fortune, founded the Morris & Essex Kennel Club in the 1920s. When they married in 1907 at the Fifth Avenue mansion of her father in Manhattan, the newspapers called them “the richest couple in the world.”
Morris & Essex Dog Show
With this vast wealth each year from 1927 to 1957 Mrs. Dodge hosted the famed Morris & Essex dog show for thousands of dogs. Dozens of tents decorated the polo field of their vast estate “Giralda Farms” in Madison, New Jersey as top breeders and handlers came to exhibit their purebred dogs. For decades it was not only a valuable place to come study dogs but also a stop on the social scene. It was a special show, with Mrs. Dodge offering sterling trophies, lavish flower decorations, and the famed boxed lunch for all the exhibitors in attendance.
M&E had become the most prestigious dog show in the country, more important to some breeders and fanciers, than even Westminster, with around 4,000 dogs of all breeds in attendance. A win at M&E was a stamp of approval of a well-bred dog. For breeders, it was a paradise to come and see fine examples of dogs to study and watch as one was determining how a great dog or bitch might fit into a breeding program to improve their line. As a dog breeder herself, Mrs. Dodge understood the importance of a gathering place to see many well-bred dogs in action together to further the sport of purebred dogs. Show fanciers in the sport had large kennels and many litters of great dogs planned for the show ring also made their way into American homes as pets. But like all good breeders, the welfare of all dogs, whether we bred them or not, whether purebred or not, was equally important. Mrs. Dodge, herself a Best-in-Show judge at Westminster, also saw to it that those dogs less fortunate than her prized pups did not stay in that station of life for long.
St. Hubert’s Giralda – Founded in 1939 as a non-profit shelter, Mrs. Dodge wanted to not only advanced the study of breeding dogs but also to care for those injured and lost in her community. In addition, the shelter named after the patron of lost animals, at one time offered animal control services to six towns in Morris County, New Jersey. Today, the organization she founded in her backyard, is known as St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center and its expanded mission states its, “dedication to the humane treatment of animals. Its services to the community include pet adoption and animal rescue, animal assisted therapy, humane education, dog training, and pet loss support.
In 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, St. Hubert’s agreed to take in the first of many airlifts of displaced dogs from Louisiana. As part of a team from AKC, who had funded the airlift through disaster donations, I waited at St. Hubert’s before heading to the airport to unload dogs. At one point I found myself face-to-face with some of the remaining artifacts from Mrs. Dodge’s life with dogs in a meeting room. As I glanced at trophies, books and other ephemera, I was struck by her depth of care and compassion for all dogs from show dogs to just those that needed to survive.
Many people today, including some dog show people, have no idea who Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge was, or her dedication to the welfare of all dogs. It’s heartwarming that nearly 50 years after the last Morris & Essex Dog Show, her legacy of St. Hubert’s Giralda lives on by helping a plane load of dogs who had lost their way after a devastating hurricane. Or also in 2005, the first ‘revived’ Morris & Essex dog show, held once every 5 years, would be established to keep her vision alive on the dog show front as well. This is the legacy of a great woman in history who has advanced man’s best friend and their care which in my opinion “have proved invaluable to society.”