Helen Keller: Women’s history that shouldn’t fade

There’s a story out about a rare and, perhaps, one of the best photographs of Helen Keller as a child with her teacher Anne Sullivan. As with many treasured photos, it was tucked in another family’s album. The photograph is now in the care of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, a place for pouring over old documents, photographs and microfiche. Perhaps, you can see Helen’s photo if you ever go there.

Not long ago, I read that Helen Keller is becoming one of those people who those under a certain age don’t know about. Not because she’s not important, but because of how quickly time passes. Other people who are more recent start taking their place. If people do know about Helen, it’s the sound bite version. “Oh, she was the blind and deaf girl who learned to finger spell water.” This is a reminder about the need for history months. It gets us to dust off the stories, and point out the places of interest where we can wander around in the lives of truely remarkable people who lived before us.

To wander around in Helen’s life, one place to head is Helen Keller’s birthplace, Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The house and grounds are still there to visit. As an interesting point, the house was not harmed by the damages of the Civil War and looks today as it did back then. Included in the tour are several of Helen’s belongings.

The fact that Helen was deaf and blind is remarkable, of course, but her life was much more than that. She also blazed trails for women’s education and voice in public life. Plus, she gave voice to the goodness and hope in people. A timeless message, perhaps?

Here’s a quote from Helen that fits the traveler’s life: Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than exposure.

Helen Keller, a Women’s History Month Gem

“I believe that life is given to us so we may grow in love, and I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of a flower-The Light in my darkness, The Voice in my silence.”
– Helen Keller.

I loved the quote that Neil Woodburn used in his gadling post on the cutting down of the chestnut tree at Anne Frank’s house. It pulled me right into the story, thus when I saw this quote on the website of Helen Keller’s birthplace, I wanted to share. Helen Keller is one of the women who should get a nod for Women’s History Month, I think.

A few years ago, I read that Helen Keller is not as familiar to kids today as she once was. When I was growing up, along with Anne Frank, Helen was on the top of the list of most admired females. After scarlet fever left her blind and deaf at the age of two, through the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan (my hero), Helen went on to earn a degree at Radcliffe College and toured the world as an inspirational speaker, an advocate for people living with handicaps and a well-known writer. As history has marched forward, it leaves remarkable people trailing behind, I suppose. Helen (and Anne’s story) is one that needs to be retold and retold.

When we went to Alabama a few years back, I wanted to head to Green Ivy, Helen’s birthplace in Tuscumbia. If you go there, you can walk the grounds and tour the house where Helen and Anne once lived. Most of the original furniture is still in the estate’s buildings, including the cottage where Anne lived with Helen.

June 20-24, Tuscumbia turns out for the Helen Keller Festival, a week long event of art, music, food and activities for kids to teach them about what it’s like to be blind and deaf. Each weekend in the summer, the play, “The Miracle Worker,” is performed at Ivy Green.