Dorothy Lilian Blair was born on September 19, 1890, in Webster Groves, Missouri to Edmund Hugh Blair and Grace Preston Abbott Blair. She grew up in Alton, Illinois and attended Mount Holyoke College, where, after graduation in 1914, she was an Assistant in the Art and Archaeology Department at the College until 1916. Subsequently, Blair was Secretary to the Director of The Cleveland Museum of Art from 1917 to 1921, an Assistant Curator in the Department of Oriental Art at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1921 to 1922, and Assistant Director and Curator of European Art and Prints at the John Herron Art Institute from 1922 to 1926.
In 1927, Blair traveled to Japan as a special student in the Department of Archaeology, College of Literature, Kyoto Imperial University, which led to an interest in Japanese art, culture, and life and ultimately in Japanese glass. Returning to the States in 1928, Blair served as Assistant Curator of Oriental Art at The Toledo Museum of Art. She soon realized there was little Asian glass in American museums and decided to study East Asian glass. From 1937 to 1941, she enrolled in a two-year graduate program as a part-time postgraduate student at the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan to study the written Japanese language, and she made research trips to Japan until the outbreak of World War II. Unable to complete her studies due to the war, Blair continued to work at The Toledo Museum of Art until her semi-retirement in 1952. In 1952, Blair became an Assistant Director at the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies in Okayama, Japan. In 1954, Blair began an independent study of glass in East Asia, and in 1956, she returned to the University of Michigan to resume her part-time postgraduate study in the written Japanese language.
Blair's interest in Japanese glass and knowledge of the written Japanese language brought her in contact with The Corning Museum of Glass in 1958, which appointed her a Research Fellow. As a Research Fellow, she traveled to Japan and Korea to study the development of Japanese glass. By 1961, Blair returned to Corning, New York to dedicate her time to the preparation of her book, A History of Glass in Japan, published concurrently by Kodansha International Ltd. of Tokyo and The Corning Museum of Glass in 1973.
As a result of her research, Blair was regarded as the leading Western authority on Japanese glass of her time. The remaining years of her life were spent as a Japanese language translator and consultant for The Corning Museum of Glass. Dorothy Blair died on March 16, 1989, in Corning, New York at age ninety-eight.