Viola Eid (1910-1940)

Viola Eid,1932 Concordia graduate with her seeing eye dog A promising scholar and person of faith, Viola Eid accomplished much both as a Concordia student and in the years following her graduation. In addition to her academic achievements, her life serves as inspiration for people dealing with blindness or other disabilities.

Viola Eid was born in October 1910 in Walhalla, North Dakota, the oldest child and only daughter of Joseph and Anna Eid.  Plagued with what was assumed to be meningitis at the age of eighteen months, she proved to be a fighter early on in life.  She experienced multiple health issues throughout her childhood, each of which contributed to the loss of her eyesight around the age of sixteen. [1]

Eid’s health problems did not, however, temper her curiosity. As a child she was adventurous to the point of mischievousness. Once her younger siblings were born, though her curiosity persisted, Eid quickly assumed a more mature role within her family.  She turned to her religious faith and curiosity about the world to keep her occupied when she was not needed to help care for her brothers. Increasing complications with Eid’s eyesight caused her father to begin to doubt her ability to retain her vision.  In September 1925 Joseph Eid enrolled his daughter in the North Dakota State School for the Blind at Bathgate.  The initial transition to Bathgate was difficult for Eid and her family, especially her mother, but the School for the Blind allowed Eid to find a much needed support system.  At Bathgate, her inquisitive nature served her well and she excelled in academics. She graduated with highest honors in 1928. [2] 

Eid then determined to enroll at Concordia College to study education. She began at the college in the fall of 1928 and soon became actively engaged in campus life. A member of the Sock & Buskin and French clubs as well as the Alpha Zeta Phi literary society, she also participated in several religious organizations on campus, such as Mission Crusaders. Her academic excellence continued into her college career, making her the recipient of many awards including the Dr. O. J. Hagen Award, the N. J. Gould Wickey Prize, and induction into the Alpha Society, Concordia’s honor society.

Eid also received honors at her graduation from Concordia.  Until 1949, the college’s institutional practice was for students to elect a valedictorian from the top five academically achieving males in the graduating class and a salutatorian from the top five academically achieving females. Though Eid’s hard work earned her top marks and she had the highest academic rank of her entire class, male or female, she was awarded the salutatorian honor because of the gender role conventions of the time. [3]

Even after her college graduation, Eid remained a model of hard work and stoicism to which other students could aspire.  Her successes were regularly reported in the Concordian student newspaper, including her continued scholastic achievements. In 1932 she received a scholarship to attend the Perkins Institution for the Blind at Harvard University to pursue a master’s degree in education for blind children. Her academic accomplishments also earned her the 1932-1933 Captain Charles W. Brown Memorial Medal bestowed upon her by the American Foundation for the Blind. Following her studies at the Perkins Institution, Eid attended the Lutheran Bible Institute in Minneapolis. [4] Her academic achievements despite her disability made her a role model for others.

In the 1930s, Eid became interested in obtaining a seeing eye dog and submitted an application to the Seeing Eye, a program in New Jersey that trained seeing eye dogs for those who needed them.  The Seeing Eye, established in 1929, was the first institution in the United States to train seeing eye dogs and their blind masters. [5] In 1940 Eid’s application for a Seeing Eye dog was approved. She and her father then traveled to New Jersey, and she was subsequently matched with a dog named Rin, who quickly became an integral part of her life and the life of the Eid family. All throughout her hometown of Walhalla and the surrounding region, news of Rin and Eid’s relationship spread. Rin was the first seeing eye dog in North Dakota, so the pair were the topic of many conversations in the media and in people’s homes.

Their relationship was short-lived, though, for soon after Rin joined the family Eid fell extremely ill.  She contracted tuberculosis, an illness that limited her mobility and ultimately resulted in her death.  In her final weeks of life, Eid continued to maintain a positive, faith-filled outlook on life and refused to give in to a fear of death. At the age of thirty, Viola Eid passed away in her home.

Authors: Jazzy Lara and Layne Cole

[1] Frida R. Nilsen, Eyes of Understanding: A Biography (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1947), 2-16.
[2] Nilsen, 13-24; “Recordings Made for Blind Telling Story of Viola Eid,” November 23, 1952, Viola Eid, Biography Files Collection, Concordia College Archives.
“Eid ‘32, Gets First Seeing Eye Dog in N.D.,” Concordian, October 31, 1940, 1; Engelhardt, On Firm Foundation Grounded (Moorhead: Concordia College, 1991), 144.
“Viola Eid, ‘32, Is Awarded Medal,” Concordian, November 24, 1933, 1. Margaret Nordlie,  review of Eyes of Understanding, by Frida Nilsen,  Alumni Magazine 52, no. 2  (1948): 10-11.
[5] Gerald Fisherman, “When Your Eyes Have a Wet Nose: The Evolution of the Use of Guide Dogs and Establishing The Seeing Eye,” Survey of Ophthalmology 48, no. 4, (2003): 455.