Digital Commonwealth

Helen Keller Collection

Perkins School for the Blind

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The photographs in this collection span the life of Helen Keller, from her early childhood to her years at Perkins School for the Blind and beyond. Photos of her years with Anne Sullivan Macy and Polly Thomson are included. There are special sections from her adult life as Advocate and Traveler, and Activities in the Arts. The section of photos on Martha's Vineyard with Eleanor Roosevelt highlights one of the many notable people with whom Keller had a personal friendship.

Historical Background
Helen Keller was born a healthy baby on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama to retired army Captain Arthur Keller and his second wife, Kate. She had a younger brother, Phillips Brooks, and a sister, Mildred. When she was nineteen months old, she became very ill with a high fever. Doctors at the time diagnosed this as "brain fever" or "brain congestion," but experts today believe that she most likely suffered from scarlet fever or meningitis.

Keller developed her own system of hand gestures to communicate with her family, and by the time she was seven she had nearly 60 such gestures. Nonetheless, she was frequently frustrated by the inability to express herself. When Anne Sullivan arrived to teach her in 1887, Keller quickly learned to use sign language, as well as to read braille and raised type, to write in block letters, and to speak and read lips.

After homeschooling had run its course, Anne decided that Helen would benefit from the resources of a school, and Helen went on to study at Perkins School for the Blind for four years, beginning in 1888. She then spent one year at the Cambridge School for Young Ladies to prepare for Radcliffe College. In 1904, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe and became the first person with deafblindness to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Helen Keller was a prolific writer, publishing 14 books and numerous articles. She traveled across the globe, tirelessly advocating for important social issues, such as women's suffrage and rights for people who are blind or deafblind. She received numerous awards throughout her life for her humanitarian efforts. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest American honor.

Keller had many friends who were celebrities, including Alexander Graham Bell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, and Martha Graham, who all appear in this collection. She died in 1968, after a life full of finding her place "to feel at home in the great world."

Additional Information:
More information about Hellen Keller is available on the Perkins History Museum section of perkins.org.

Visit perkins.org/archives for more information about the Perkins Archives.

Rights and Permissions: Use of the images from the collection of Perkins School for the Blind requires written permission. For more information, please visit perkins.org/image-licensing or contact the Archivist at archives@perkins.org​

Note: Some of the images have been enhanced to improve visibility, such as brightness and contrast or to remove dust and scratches.

Locations in this Collection: