Helen Keller Photograph Collection

Samuel P. Hayes Research Library
Perkins School for the Blind
175 N. Beacon Street
Watertown, MA 02472


Perkins School for the Blind

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This collection includes photographs from the Helen Keller Photograph Collection (AG62) detailing the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy, as well as Nella Braddy Henney, and Polly Thomson.  It spans the time from Annie Sullivan’s arrival at the Keller household, through the end of Helen Keller’s life, and documents Keller’s years as a student at Perkins School for the Blind, her friendships with celebrities, such as Charlie Chaplin, Alexander Graham Bell, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and her participation in world affairs.  It also includes such events as the dedication of the Keller-Sullivan building at Perkins School for the Blind, Henney’s friendship with Sullivan and Keller, and Keller and Sullivan’s time on the lecture circuit, including their short time on the vaudeville circuit.  Other special memorabilia include a copy of a brochure advertising the silent film, Deliverance.

1 linear foot
Biographical/Historical notes: 

Anne Sullivan was born in April 1866, in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, the oldest child of Irish immigrants, Thomas and Alice Sullivan. At the age of five, Anne contracted trachoma, a painful disease, which resulted in severe vision loss.  After her mother’s death when Anne was eight years old, her father was unable to care for his children and abandoned them.  Anne and her brother Jimmy were sent to the Tewksbury Almshouse, where Jimmy died after three months.  While at the Almshouse, Anne underwent a series of eye operations, in the hope of treating her trachoma.  Later in her life, an eye operation successfully restored enough of her vision to enable her to read print, but nonetheless her eyes would plague her for the rest of her life.  

In 1880, Sullivan was able to finally attend school.  At age thirteen, despite being uneducated and illiterate upon entering, she quickly rose to the top of her class at the  Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind (now called Perkins School for the Blind), graduating as valedictorian of her class in June 1886.  A few short months later, she was sent by Michael Anagnos to Tuscumbia, Alabama to teach the young Helen Keller, whose parents had contacted Perkins in search of a teacher for their daughter.

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. Helen had a younger brother, Phillips Brooks, two older half brothers 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.

Helen 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 fingerspell, as well as to read braille and raised type, and to write in block letters.

After a year and a half of homeschooling, Sullivan decided that Keller would benefit from the resources of a school, and Keller went on to study at Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind (now called Perkins School for the Blind) for on and off four years, beginning in 1888. She then spent one year at the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York 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, all of whom appear in this collection.  She died in 1968, fulfilling her childhood yearning “to feel at home in the great world.”

Sources of information: 

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Anne Sullivan. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. http://www.perkins.org/history/people/anne-sullivan

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Helen Keller. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. http://www.perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller and http://www.perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller/faq

See also Keller-Related Information and Photo Collection in Perkins Archive Collection.

Credit line/Citation: 
Helen Keller Photo Collection. Perkins School for the Blind.
Container List: 

Box 1

Folder 1 : Anne Sullivan (later Anne Sullivan Macy), alone [1880s, 1930s], 16 photographs, many duplicates.

Folder 2 : Helen Keller as a child, with others [1890s] 7 photographs, some duplicates.

Folder 3 : Helen Keller as a child, with Anne Sullivan Macy [1880s-1890s] 13 photographs, a reproduction negative and photomechanical reproductions, many duplicates. 

Folder 4 : Helen Keller as a child, alone, or with her dog (Lioness) [1880s-1890s], 12 photographs, some duplicates. 

Folder 5 : Helen Keller with Edith Thomas, Thomas Stringer and Elizabeth Robbins [ca. 1890, ca. 1950], 8 photographs, many duplicates.  [See also the Students with Deafblindness Photo Collection for more photographs and research.]

Folder 6 :  Helen Keller as an adolescent, alone [ca. 1899]  7 photographs

Folder 7 : Helen Keller as a young adult [1900s-1910s],  9 items, includes photographs, postcards and publications. Includes one photograph of Helen Keller with Phiz, a Boston Terrier, who was a gift from her Radcliffe classmates, with the inscription, “To Dr. Bridgman From Helen Keller” in Keller’s handwriting, dated March 1905. Also included is a graduation photo of Keller from Radcliffe, dressed in her cap and gown. 

Folder 8 : Helen Keller as a young adult, with others [ca. 1925 - 1930]  5 items, photographs and newspaper clippings. Includes: a photograph of Helen Keller with Alexander Graham Bell; a newspaper clipping with photograph of Helen visiting Luther Burbank, the famous Plant Wizard; newspaper clipping shows Helen meeting the Indian poet, sage, and educationalist, Sir Rabindranath Tagore; photograph of Helen with her mother, Kate Keller, and teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy.

Folder 9 : Helen Keller, with Anne Sullivan Macy, Polly Thomson, and Charlie Chaplin [ca. 1919], 2 photographs and 1 negative taken when the three women were in California to film Deliverance.

Folder 10 : Helen Keller, as a young adult, with Anne Sullivan Macy [n.d.], 2 photographs

Folder 11 : Helen Keller, as a middle-aged woman, alone [ca. 1932], 3 photographs.

Box 2

Folder 12 : Helen Keller, visiting blinded veterans during and after World War 2 [ca. 1944]  4 photographs. One photograph also has soldiers Corp. Peter K .Lucas and Ralph E. Dickerson.

Folder 13 : Helen Keller, middle-aged, with others. [1918, 1921,1931, n. d.],  8 photographs.  Has a second photograph of Helen meeting with Sir Rabindranath Tagore, two photographs of their time in California, and two copies of the photograph of Helen Keller tries the new Visagraph at the 1931 World Conference of Work for the Blind, in New York.  Several men look on as she tries the new device, including inventor, Mr. Robert Naumburg. 

Folder 14 : Helen Keller in her later life, alone or with her dog [1950s]  7 photographs and postcards. Includes photograph later used as an image for the 1980 World Conference for the Blind.  Also includes one photograph of Helen Keller with her Akita dog, Kamikaze.

Folder 15 : Helen Keller in her later life, with others/Public Events  [1950s], 9 photographs. Banquet at Perkins featuring Dr. Waterhouse, the then-director, Helen Keller accepting the gift of a Perkins Brailler from Dr. Waterhouse, with young children, at the White House, with Perkins student Linda Reynolds, dancing with a serviceman, and Martha’s Vinyard with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Folder 16 :  Helen Keller late in life [ca.1961], 4 color photographs.  Features two photographs from Helen’s 1961 visit to Martha’s Vineyard, and two portraits reading a braille book.

Folder 17 : Anne Sullivan, with biographer Nella Braddy Henney, and others. [late 1920s-1930s], 7 photographs, some duplicates. 

Folder 18 : Tewksbury Almshouse: Keller-Sullivan Macy statue unveiling ceremony [1985] 13 color photographs. Photographs of the Almshouse, various speakers, and the unveiling of the memorial, a statue replicating the famous scene by the water pump. 

Folder 19 : Ivy Green, Perkins and Brewster, MA Home [n.d., 1936, 1987], 10 photographs, many duplicates. Two postcards of Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace, and many images of Brewster, MA home that belonged to Mrs. Sophia Hopkins, a house matron at Perkins, where Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan summered.

Folder 20 : Slide and Misc. [n.d., 1887, 1901] 4 black and white slides, and one image of newspaper headline “Obstacles to Helen Keller’s Marrying" for Doubleday & Co. publication.  Slides include Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, Anne Sullivan.

Folder 21 : Pamphlets/Publications [n. d., 1920, 1987]  5 items.  Includes pamphlet from Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy’s first lecture tour, on the subject, “The Heart and the Hand, or the right use of our senses.”  Also one for the release of the film Deliverance, billing Keller as "the 8th Wonder of the World".  Third pamphlet is from Perkins School for the Blind, dated 1987, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Sullivan’s arrival in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Folder 22 : Formal portrait [n. d.], 1 color photograph. Later in life with blue dress, reading a large braille volume.

Folder 23 : Keller/Thomson with geese [n. d.], 3 black and white photographs. Helen Keller and Polly Thomson at edge of water feeding large geese. Note on envelope reads: Japan? California?

Folder 24 : With blinded WWII veteran, [1944], 1 black and white photograph (reproduction, original in collection). Helen Keller and Polly Thomson at the bedside of a soldier blinded during the second World War.  In addition to the officer in the bed, another stands directly to the side of Keller.  The photograph has the following inscription: "To Nella, who has eyes to read our hearts and the meaning of the supreme experience we are living through.  Helen Keller";, and is also signed by Polly Thomson.

Folder 25 : Braddy Henney photographs, [1938, n. d.], 12 photographs and 3 documents. Photographs from Forest Hills, and misc. images of Keller and Sullivan.

Folder 26 : Boat trip [1951], 10 photographs. Keller and Polly Thomson on boat trip with unidentified family.

Folder 27 : Reproduction prints [n. d.],18 photographs, misc. prints spanning Keller lifetime.

Folder 28 : Misc, [n. d.], 3 photographs. Keller and Sullivan in dollshop, and Keller and Polly Thomson on telephone.

Folder 29 : Louis Betts painting [1953], 1 photograph and 1 letter. Photograph of painting made by Louis Betts of Keller-Sullivan portrait with Keller’s hand on Sullivan’s lips.

Folder 30 : Tewksbury Almshouse statue dedication [1985, 1992], 25 color photographs, one letter. Statue of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan by Mico Kaufman titled “Water” outside of the Tewksbury Almshouse.

Subject Headings: 

Keller, Helen, 1880-1968.
Henney, Nella Braddy, 1894-
Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind.
Perkins School for the Blind.
Perkins School for the Blind. Dept. for Deaf-Blind Children.
Perkins School for the Blind--History.
Sullivan, Annie, 1866-1936.
Thomson, Polly.

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