Perkins celebrates Helen Keller Library milestone

The library's 125th anniversary highlights the deep connection between Perkins and history's most famous deafblind person

Two people unveil a large painting of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.

The photo from Perkins' archives reproduced as an oil painting depicts Helen Keller (left) touching Anne Sullivan's lips to feel the vibration of her words as she reads aloud.

October 11, 2018

In 1892, Helen Keller, history’s most famous deafblind person, wrote a letter to her mother.

Having discovered her passion for reading in the preceding years while studying at Perkins School for the Blind, where she had grown enamored with the school’s embossed book library, Keller wanted to know why her hometown of Tuscumbia, Alabama, didn’t have a place for people with disabilities to read.

Her mother didn’t have an answer. She was inspired, however, and, with other women in her community, she decided to fill the void identified by a young Helen and formed the state’s first chartered library. That library today bears Keller’s name. And just this past Sunday, the Helen Keller Library commemorated its 125th anniversary.

“Helen loved art, books, reading and all great literature,” said Tammie Collins, Librarian, in a statement announcing the milestone. “It is fitting that we celebrate the library she encouraged into being, and that artwork and poems inspired by her life are part of the celebration.”

Given Perkins’ important role in this history, representatives from the school were invited down to Tuscumbia to take part in the event as well. On hand as a guest speaker, Perkins President Dave Power lauded the organization for keeping Keller’s work and memory alive today.

“Clearly, Helen Keller is as important today as she has ever been,” he said. 

Power went on to explain how Keller’s ideals are still held by Perkins today, both on campus and around the world. Namely, he talked about Perkins’ Deafblind Program, its efforts to train special educators around the world through initiatives like Perkins International Academy and its newly launched transition programs designed to prepare young adults for life after school.

Most poignantly, though, in introducing one of four books he brought as gifts, he explained why Perkins’ work, and indeed, Keller’s story, is so personal to him.

“‘Listen for the Bus’ is a picture book about a day in the life of a young boy starting kindergarten who happens to be deafblind. This boy is my son, David,” he said. “David has changed the lives of many people, including his young parents depicted in this book.”

In addition to the four books gifted by Power, Perkins opened its archives to the library, enabling renowned portrait artist Martha Carpenter to reproduce a photo of Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, as an oil painting.

In the picture, Sullivan, known the world over as “the miracle worker,” holds open a book and reads aloud to Keller. Keller, seated besides her, touches Sullivan's lips with her left hand to feel the vibrations of Sullivan's words, vibrations that continue to reverberate throughout the world to this day.