The Legacy of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge

 

 

By Joan Harrigan

 

Geraldine R. Dodge and Ernest Loeb must have made an odd sight in the German Shepherd Dog benching area at the 1937 Westminster Kennel Club Show. She was the niece of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and the wife of Marcellus Hartley Dodge, heir to two fortunes and the head of Remington Arms. He was a 25-year-old Jewish refugee from pre-war Germany. Mrs. Dodge would have been dressed appropriately for a wealthy breeder-owner at a prestigious show, with her dogs impeccably groomed and presented by her kennel staff. Loeb’s clothes were worn, and both he and his dog, Brando von Heidelbeerberg, were in need of grooming.

 

But what a dog! Mrs. Dodge thought that this refugee dog was one of the best she’d seen. She took the situation in hand, making sure that proper attire was obtained for Loeb and instructing her own staff to help him groom Brando. Her recognition of a kindred spirit, eye for quality and kindness helped Loeb and his dog go Best of Breed over 86 other entries. This win launched the career of the man who would become known as “Mr. German Shepherd.” Loeb risked his life many times as he crossed the border into Nazi Germany to secure quality German Shepherd Dogs for buyers in the U.S., and the stock he imported is behind many of the top lines today.

 

American Royalty, Based on Accomplishment

 

Such philanthropy was an intrinsic part of Mrs. Dodge’s character. She was the youngest daughter of William Avery Rockefeller, Jr., was the younger brother of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and one of the founders of Standard Oil. When Ethel Geraldine Rockefeller, married Marcellus Dodge, her personal worth, estimated at more than $100,000,000, exceeded that of her husband. Together, they were considered the wealthiest newlywed couple in the country.

 

While their marriage linked important families, “Marcy” Dodge and his wife “Gerrie” had different interests and lived rather separate lives.  His home, Hartley Farms, in Harding Township, N.J., was a vast estate that also housed a summer camp for less fortunate children.  Though his expanded Federal home would have been considered a mansion by most, Mr. Dodge called it “the Cottage,” and it was too rustic for his wife’s taste.

 

Giralda – Mrs. Dodge’s Vision

 

Geraldine R. Dodge acquired adjoining land in Madison for her own estate, Giralda Farms, with a grander home, built in the Medieval Spanish Gothic style. She lived there, or in her 5th Avenue New York home, while her husband remained at Hartley Farms. The main houses at Giralda and Hartley Farms were connected by a private path, with gates at either end. At Hartley Farms, Mr. Dodge kept thoroughbred hunters and polo ponies. At Giralda, Mrs. Dodge pursued her interest in purebred dogs. They had only one child, a son named for his father. When Marcellus Dodge, Jr. died in a 1930 car accident in France, just after his graduation from Princeton, his parents contributed $800,000 to build Madison, N.J.’s town hall in his memory.

 

Though best known for her German Shepherd Dogs and English Cocker Spaniels, Mrs. Dodge’s Giralda kennels housed a variety of purebreds.  She wrote both “The German Shepherd Dog in America” and “The English Cocker Spaniel in America,” and was a sought-after dog show judge.  Her assignments spanned the country, and also included shows in Canada and Europe.  She was the first woman invited to judge at Westminster, where she judged Best in Show in 1933, putting up the Airedale, Ch. Warland Protector of Shelterock.

 

Committed to the Welfare of All Dogs

While Mrs. Dodge shared her husband’s philanthropic interest in environmental causes and land preservation, she was also an avid patron of the arts and animal welfare.  She was an early supporter of the Seeing Eye, founded in Morristown, N.J. in 1929.  Ten years later, she formed St. Hubert’s Giralda, named for the patron saint of dogs and hunting. Intended as a shelter for homeless animals, the organization took years to coalesce, as Mrs. Dodge studied the practices of the existing animal welfare groups.  In 1958, the shelter moved to offices in a Madison storefront, and housed its strays at a kennel in Green Village, N.J. , as Mrs. Dodge arranged for it to provide the animal control needs of four nearby towns.

 

In 1962, the shelter relocated to a converted barn on a portion of the Giralda estate, which remains its home today. St. Hubert’s Giralda, now St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center, became a model for future shelters. Mrs. Dodge appointed her own kennel director, Edwin Sayres, its president, and continued her personal involvement. When the shelter had a surplus of dogs, Mrs. Dodge was prone to visit, taking home an elderly stray with little hope of placement to live out his life in the luxury of her estate.

 

Today, St. Hubert’s has shelters at Giralda and in North Branch, N.J., as well as a training school serving more than 3,000 dogs each year. It has a pet-therapy program, in cooperation with The Delta Society, as well as an educational outreach program for children.

 

Today, when the concern of fanciers is over- rather than under-vaccination, it is easy to forget that there was a time before vaccines existed, or when their use was far from universal.  In addition to her humane efforts, Mrs. Dodge also worked with the N.J. Board of Health to start a licensing program for dogs that would require vaccination against rabies.

 

Mrs. Dodge’s Legacy

In the world of purebred dogs, Mrs. Dodge’s contribution was her influence as a breeder, judge, author and driving force of the Morris & Essex Dog Show.  Yes, there was a Morris & Essex Kennel Club, named for two of New Jersey’s counties. But the show was Mrs. Dodge’s own creation, and the reflection of her taste and style.

 

Sports Illustrated covered the show in 1956, its penultimate year. The article attributes the show’s origins to Mrs. Dodge’s annoyance with “the management of dog shows. Too many of them, she felt, were beset with inconveniences irksome to beast and man.” Her aim was a show that combined “efficiency, comfort and beauty.” In an era of benched shows, Morris & Essex had one judge for each breed, and allowed handlers and dogs to enjoy the grounds while not showing.

 

Morris & Essex was never held at Giralda – Mrs. Dodge valued her peace and privacy too highly. Instead, the show grounds were the polo fields of Marcellus Dodge’s Hartley Farms. And there, for thirty years, as many as 50,000 spectators, with half of the entire force of N.J. State Troopers to direct traffic, enjoyed the largest, and one of the most prestigious, dog shows in the country.

 

Morris & Essex ended in 1957, when Mrs. Dodge, then 75, could no longer plan and oversee it.

 

Marcellus Dodge died on December 25, 1963, at home at Hartley Farms.  Geraldine R. Dodge died ten years later, at age 91. The “rustic” house at Hartley Farms was preserved as a working farm, and is today occupied by Dodge’s descendents, with parts of the estate protected by a conservation trust and a portion developed as smaller estate properties.

 

Mrs. Dodge’s elegant mansion at Giralda has been razed, though a portion of the estate is preserved as the home of the shelter she established.  Her will endowed St. Hubert’s with her enormous collection of animal art, as well as $2,400,000, which to this day provides income to cover the organization’s operating expenses.

 

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, established the year after her death, funds educational, cultural, social and environmental programs and is familiar to anyone who has listened to public broadcasting.

 

Her legacy to the purebred dog fancy are the dogs she bred and owned, her support of others, such as Ernest Loeb, who had their own talents to contribute, and the tradition of a different kind of dog show, now entrusted to a new generation of the Morris & Essex Kennel Club.

 

Sources: This article was based on material provided by St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, as well as the magazine articles “The Dogs’ Dog Show” (Sports Illustrated, May 21, 1956) and “Historic Hartley Farms” by Larry Bataille (Country Roads, reproduced on the Hartley Farms website). Special thanks to Billy Gorodner, Morris & Essex historian, for the story of Mrs. Dodge and Ernest Loeb, which was related to him by Kerrin Winter-Churchill.

 

 

 

Morris & Essex History

 

E-Newsletter