How Helen Keller celebrated her birthday

What we can learn about how Helen Keller celebrated her birthday from journals kept by Nella Braddy Henney.

Nella Braddy Henney signs to Helen Keller while Polly Thompson looks on.

June 27th is Helen Keller’s birthday. Thanks to Nella Braddy Henney, a prolific journaler and friend to Keller, we can get an idea of how Keller’s birthday was celebrated over the years.

Braddy Henney was Helen Keller’s friend, literary agent, and power of attorney.  She first met Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller, and Polly Thomson in 1924, when she came to the Sullivan-Keller-Thomson household to write Sullivan’s biography. 

Here are some highlights:

1954 on Foss Mountain

In 1954, Braddy Henney wrote that Polly Thomson arrived at the Henney’s Foss Mountain house “with lavish supplies” to celebrate Helen Keller’s birthday. Included among the goods was “a turkey and ham already cooked, two bottles of champagne and several bottles of Scotch and Bourbon, some fine cheeses, several packages of after-dinner mints and a bottle of home-canned plums.” Braddy Henney notes that there were “many other things that [she] overlooked in the rush.” 

A feast in 1957

In 1957, they had another feast of “shrimp cocktail, roast beef, string beans, ice cream with fresh strawberries, other viands, red wine, champagne later” to honor Keller’s birthday. That year, Braddy Henney noted that “Helen spent the birthday afternoon in an old wrapper in the kitchen wrapping strawberries and snapping beans for dinner.” Braddy Henney noted that Keller’s 77th birthday was much quieter than her 75th. She wrote that while it was a “relief,” she thought that outgoing Polly may have felt “a little sad about it.”

Memories in 1960

In 1960, Braddy Henney commented that “memories old and new crowded so thick as to hamper the mind in dealing with present problems.” 

Braddy Henney’s journaling also allows us to learn about how Keller’s relationships evolved over the years. It is notable to compare, for example, the tone of Braddy Henney’s recollection of the 1957 feast to a more somber, memorial 1960 birthday. 

Nella Braddy Henney’s journals have been digitized and are available on the Internet Archive. Descriptions from 1957 and 1960 are found in Braddy Henney’s “summer journals. Joyce Blue has transcribed and these journal entries in Summers on Foss

Suggested citation

Coit, Susanna. “How Helen Keller celebrated her birthday.” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. June 27, 2017.

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