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Helen Keller EAD

Helen Keller Archives

Collection Summary

Repository: American Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
Creator: Helen Keller, 1880 - 1968
Title: Helen Keller Archives
Date: 1885 - 1980
Quantity: One hundred forty-six cubic feet of processed material are contained in: 289 manuscript boxes, 3 flat file drawers, 70 drop-front boxes, 21 boxes containing photograph albums, and 4 negative boxes.
Abstract: Correspondence, legal and administrative documents, manuscripts, speeches, press clippings, scrapbooks, oversize material, photographs, negatives, photograph albums, artifacts, architectural drawings, audio recordings, film, and microfiche concerning the life of Helen Keller from 1880 to 1968. The collection contains her private correspondence and correspondence that was collected and generated by the American Foundation for the Blind, for whom she worked from 1924 until 1968.

Administrative Information

Provenance


Helen Keller bequeathed her personal papers, manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts to the American Foundation for the Blind in 1968. These were augmented by professional papers generated from 1924 through 1968 during Keller's employment at AFB.

Access to the Helen Keller Archives


The Helen Keller Archives are open for research by appointment to qualified scholars and researchers. Please contact the Archives for guidelines:

American Foundation for the Blind

2 Penn Plaza, Suite 1102

New York, NY 10121

(212) 502-7628

hkarchives@afb.net

Copyright Notice


The American Foundation for the Blind holds the intellectual and physical copyright to the Helen Keller Archives. Please contact AFB for permission to publish material from the Helen Keller Archives.

Preferred Citation


Please use the following citation: "Courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind, Helen Keller Archives."

Accruals


Donations are accessioned periodically into the collection.

Separated Material


Helen Keller's personal book collection comprising 283 titles is located in the archival storage facility.

Other major repositories housing Helen Keller materials are the Perkins School for the Blind and the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf.


Biography

Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880, the daughter of Captain Arthur H. Keller and Kate Adams Keller. Captain Keller was the owner of a struggling newspaper, the North Alabamian. Helen had two younger siblings, Mildred and Phillips Brooks Keller and two half brothers, James and Simpson, from her father's prior marriage.

In February 1882, at the age of nineteen months, before she had learned to speak, Helen Keller became blind and deaf as a result of a sudden illness, possibly scarlet fever or typhoid. Communication with the child became extremely difficult and she became uncontrollable. In 1886, the Keller family visited Alexander Graham Bell, who put them in touch with Michael Anagnos, the director of the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. Anagnos assigned Anne Sullivan, a recent Perkins' graduate and herself visually impaired, as a teacher for Helen.

Sullivan was just fourteen years Helen Keller's senior when she traveled to Tuscumbia, Alabama in March 1887 to teach the six-year-old child. Influenced by Anna Montessori, Anne Sullivan believed in fostering the abilities and needs of the individual child rather than instructing a child by rote in a traditional classroom environment. Sullivan rapidly helped Helen understand that the letters she continually signed into her hands created words with meanings. Helen's education began in 1888 and lasted until 1904. During these sixteen years she attended the Perkins School for the Blind, the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City, the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and finally Radcliffe College in Massachusetts, where she graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree. Keller was an excellent student. Her studies included politics, literature, and philosophy as well as French, German, Latin, and Greek.

Helen Keller published her first book in 1903, while a student at Radcliffe College. The Story of My Life was an enormous success and over the subsequent six decades it was translated into more than fifty languages. Following Keller's graduation in 1904, she and Anne moved into a house in Wrentham, Massachusetts, where they sought to support themselves through Keller's writing. They were joined there by Anne's future husband, John Albert Macy, who became Keller's editor. Between 1903 and 1955, Keller wrote fourteen books and hundreds of magazine articles and speeches. However, income from her written work was not enough to sustain her financially and periodically, from 1916 until 1922, Anne Sullivan Macy and Helen Keller toured the nation giving lectures and performing on the vaudeville circuit. The vaudeville act was in the form of questions posed by Anne to Helen on politics, blindness, and social issues.

By 1909 Keller had become a socialist and corresponded with figures such as Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, and Arturo Giovannitti. She supported the popular demand for workers' rights as well as rights for women. In 1914 she opposed U.S. entry into the First World War. Keller had a wide social circle that included artists, writers, actors, scientists, social reformers, and leading political figures. Close, long-term friends included her childhood mentors Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), as well as the artist Jo Davidson, actress Katharine Cornell, and Takeo Iwahashi, a leader of advocacy for the blind in Japan, who was himself blind.

It was as an advocate for the blind and deaf-blind that Keller found her preeminent vocation in life. Keller's advocacy work spanned six decades, from 1899 when she and Anne Sullivan Macy considered creating a school for deaf, mute, and blind children, to 1959 when she drafted a letter to Senator Lister Hill of Alabama, supporting a bill to create an International Center for Medical Health Research.

The bulk of those sixty years were spent as an advocate for the American Foundation for the Blind. She joined AFB in 1924. AFB was created as a private organization in 1921, originally deriving much of its support from private individuals. Fundraising on behalf of the blind began to shift in the early twentieth century, away from private, philanthropic care of the blind to state and ultimately federal funding. Keller, whose own education was paid for by Boston philanthropists, assisted AFB in soliciting state and federal authorities for funding as well as continuing to elicit support from private donors.

Throughout her career Keller spoke and wrote on blindness and deafness issues. She vociferously promoted the changing image of the blind as citizens with abilities rather than disabilities. She sought to ameliorate conditions for the blind through legislation and was a proponent of medical research and rehabilitation for blind veterans domestically as well as for the indigent blind abroad. Within the United States, her support of a government bill frequently brought ratification in the state or federal legislature, including the appropriation of funds for the Talking Book Program during the Roosevelt Administration in 1935.

Keller continued to fight for the blind and deaf-blind when she was well into her sixties and seventies, by which time she had campaigned for six decades and had traveled to thirty-nine countries, demanding government appropriations for blindness. Her trips abroad during the 1940s and 1950s were sponsored by the American Foundation for Overseas Blind and were endorsed by the United States Information Agency. Helen Keller died in 1968. Her legacy can be seen in the large number of services for blind children, rehabilitation centers, and girl and boy scout troops that were established in her name throughout the world. The complexities of her achievements as a woman who was both hugely reliant on others for information, but herself engaged in advocacy for the blind as well as cultural and political debate, continues to make her a relevant and fascinating figure in American history.


Chronology

1866 Anne Sullivan is born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts.
1876 Anne Sullivan Macy is sent to Tewksbury Almshouse, Massachusetts.
1880 Helen Keller is born in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
1880 Anne Sullivan goes to Perkins School for the Blind, Boston, Massachusetts.
1882 Helen Keller becomes blind and deaf.
1886 Captain Arthur Keller takes Helen to meet Alexander Graham Bell; Bell recommends contacting the Perkins School for the Blind for a teacher for Helen.
1887 Anne Sullivan arrives at the Keller house in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
1887 The Volta Bureau, now the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, is established.
1888 Sullivan brings Keller to Boston, Massachusetts.
1891 Keller sends Michael Anagnos "The Frost King."
1894 Keller and Sullivan travel to New York City, where Keller attends the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf.
1896 Captain Arthur Keller dies.
Keller converts to Swedenborgianism.
Keller begins to attend Cambridge School for Young Ladies, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1897 Keller and Sullivan leave the Cambridge School for Young Ladies and live with the family of Joseph E. Chamberlin in Wrentham, Massachusetts.
1900 Keller begins her studies at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1902 The Story of My Life appears in serialized form in The Ladies Home Journal.
1903 The Story of My Life is published in book form.
1904 Keller graduates cum laude from Radcliffe.
Keller and Sullivan move to Wrentham, Massachusetts.
1905 Anne Sullivan and John A. Macy marry.
1906 Massachusetts Commission for the Blind appoints Keller to their committee.
1908 The World I Live In is published.
1909 Keller joins the Socialist Party.
1910 The Song of the Stone Wall is published.
1913 John A. Macy leaves Anne Sullivan Macy and Keller and goes to Europe.
1914 Out of the Dark is published.
Polly Thomson moves in with Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy.
1916 Keller plans to elope with Peter Fagan.
1917 Wrentham, Massachusetts house is sold and a house in Forest Hills, New York City, is purchased.
1919 Film Deliverance is produced in Hollywood.
1919 - 1922 Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy perform on the vaudeville circuit.
1921 American Foundation for the Blind is founded.
Kate Adams Keller, Helen's mother, dies.
1924 Keller and Macy begin working at AFB.
1925 Lions Club becomes a champion for Helen Keller as "Knights of the Blind."
1927 Nella Braddy Henney, of Doubleday & Company, works with the Keller group.
My Religion is published.
1929 Midstream is published.
1930 Keller travels to England, Scotland, and Ireland.
1931 World Conference on Work for the Blind takes place in New York City.
1932 Keller travels to England, Scotland, Yugoslavia, and France.
John A. Macy dies.
1933 Keller travels to England and Scotland.
Keller book is burned in Nazi Germany.
Anne Sullivan Macy, written by Nella Braddy Henney, is published.
1935 Federal appropriation is authorized for production of Talking Books.
1936 Anne Sullivan Macy dies.
1937 Keller travels to Japan.
1938 Journal is published.
Forest Hills home is sold; Keller and Thomson move to Westport, Connecticut.
1943 - 1946 Keller visits military hospitals.
1946 Keller travels to England, France, Greece, Italy, and Ireland on behalf of American Foundation for Overseas Blind.
Keller's home in Westport, Connecticut burns down.
1948 Keller travels to Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
1951 Keller travels to South Africa.
1952 Keller travels to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and France.
Keller's speech at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Louis Braille.
1953 Documentary The Unconquered is released.
Keller travels to Brazil, Chile, Peru, Panama, and Mexico.
1954 Ivy Green, Keller's family home in Tuscumbia, Alabama, is listed on National Register of Historic Places.
1955 Keller travels to India, Pakistan, Burma (now Myanmar), Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan, and England.
Teacher is published.
Keller is awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1956 Keller travels to Scotland, Portugal, Spain, France, and Switzerland.
1957 Keller travels to Canada, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
1957 Thomson has a stroke.
1959 Stage production of The Miracle Worker makes its debut.
1960 Keller and Nella Braddy Henney have a falling-out.
Polly Thomson dies.
1961 Keller has a stroke.
1964 Keller is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Lyndon B. Johnson.
1968 Helen Keller dies.

Scope and Content Note

The Helen Keller Archives span the years 1878 - 1998, with the bulk of the material dating from 1885 - 1980. The collection is comprised of legal contracts; handwritten, typed, and braille correspondence; memoranda; speeches; reports; flyers; manuscripts; press clippings; scrapbooks; photographs, negatives, and photo albums; artifacts; audio recordings; film; and microfiche. One hundred forty-eight cubic feet of material are contained in 289 legal size manuscript boxes, 3 flat file drawers, 70 letter-size drop front boxes, 21 boxes containing photograph albums, and 4 boxes of negatives. Most of the materials are in good physical condition. Documents deemed especially important have been placed in Mylar. Press clippings and scrapbooks have been photocopied onto acid-free paper.

The Helen Keller Archives are a rich source of information on the history of visual impairment, women's history, literary history, and American culture in the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. Keller's long life (1880 - 1968) enables us to see sweeping changes in American society through the lens of physical disability and the changing status of women in society.

The bulk of the correspondence and documents originating from Helen Keller are typed. Keller was an excellent typist and typed her own letters. There is a paucity of documents written by her in braille. However, the collection contains twelve items handwritten by her, including a list of spelling words that she wrote when she was seven years old in 1887. The vast majority of the correspondence to her is either typed or handwritten and some was transcribed into braille. Her companions Anne Sullivan Macy and Polly Thomson manually signed the contents of documents to her.

There are eleven series in the collection, as well as seven subseries in Series 1. Three of the eleven series remain unprocessed. Series are as follows:


Series 1: General Correspondence

The seven subseries contained within Series 1 were created by grouping similar subject files together. The subseries are as follows:


Series 1: General Correspondence, Subseries 1: Legal and administrative

Correspondence, legal agreements, and financial documents related to the financial arrangements and legal and personal administration of Keller's life are contained in this subseries. Subject files are arranged in alphabetical order as follows: Birthplace, (AFB) Board of Trustees and Advisory Committee for Helen Keller's Affairs, Death, Health, Homes, Investments, Legal (including Will and estate), and Record Repositories. Items of interest include correspondence surrounding her three major homes in Wrentham, Massachusetts; Forest Hills, New York City; and Arcan Ridge, Connecticut; and the Board of Trustees, Will and estate, and Record Repository files that provide information on the acquisition, conservation, preservation, and appraisal of the Helen Keller Archives by AFB.


Series 1: General Correspondence, Subseries 2: Advocacy and work

This subseries contains correspondence, memoranda, and itineraries resulting from her work for the blind as a private individual, beginning in 1906, and then as an employee of AFB as of 1924. This series is rich in information for scholars of visual impairment and American cultural history. Subjects are as follows: Affiliations, Events, Legislation, and Travel. The Affiliations files document her work with AFB and her association with other leading blind and deaf-blind organizations as well as social, political, and literary organizations from 1890 onwards. The Events files describe her visits to military hospitals during World War II as well as dedications and functions that she attended during her work for the blind and deaf-blind. The Legislation files document her national work to implement change through legislation at the state and federal levels. Keller's travel to thirty-nine countries are documented in the Travel files that are contained in this subseries, including detailed itineraries and correspondence with various government and civic leaders.


Series 1: General Correspondence, Subseries 3: Individuals

This subseries contains the files of people who corresponded with Helen. The majority of these individuals were either well-known personalities or close friends of hers. Other correspondence from individuals is located in Series 1, Subseries 7, under General public and organizations and in Series 2, which is devoted to writing by and about Helen Keller. Key figures in Subseries 3, among many others, are as follows: Alexander Graham Bell, Pearl S. Buck, Genevieve Caulfield, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain), Calvin Coolidge, Jo Davidson, Eugene Debs, Albert Einstein, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Emma Goldman, John Hitz, Herbert Hoover, Laurence Hutton, Takeo Iwahashi, Lyndon Baines Johnson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Anne Sullivan Macy, Will Rogers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, and Woodrow Wilson.


Series 1: General Correspondence, Subseries 4: Media and entertainment

This subseries contains correspondence, transcripts, and flyers describing the audiovisual work in which she appeared or was the subject. Subjects include: Films, Plays, Radio programs, Television, and Vaudeville. The films include Deliverance, made in 1918 - 1919, starring Keller, and the documentary Helen Keller in Her Story, made in 1954. Additional materials include correspondence regarding film and theater productions of The Miracle Worker, 1957 - 1984; radio programs by and about Keller, 1931 - 1965, and a transcript of Anne Sullivan Macy's and Keller's vaudeville performances, circa 1920 - 1921.


Series 1: General Correspondence, Subseries 5: Commemorations

The subject files are as follows: Awards; Birthdays; Centennial Congress; Helen Keller Church Window; Helen Keller Clubs, Schools, etc.; Helen Keller Coin; Helen Keller Day; Medals; Helen Keller Memorial Fund for the Deaf; Helen Keller Memorial Hospital; Helen Keller Memorial Week; Helen Keller National Center for the Deaf-Blind; Helen Keller Quilt; Helen Keller Rose; Helen Keller Souvenirs; Helen Keller Stamp; Helen Keller Tulip; and Helen Keller Name.


Series 1: General Correspondence, Subseries 6: Select subjects

Miscellaneous subject files contained in this subseries are as follows: Birds, Christmas, Dance, Dogs, Dolls, Furs, Gifts [to and from Helen Keller], Hands, Handwriting, Jewels, Jokes about Helen Keller, Parks and Gardens, Poems and Quotations [favorites of Helen Keller], Portraits, Religion, Sculptures, Songs about Helen Keller, Transport, and Voice. Items of particular interest include correspondence surrounding her Swedenborgian faith (Religion) and the public use of Keller's voice (Voice).


Series 1: General Correspondence, Subseries 7: General public and organizations

Subseries 7 contains fan mail to Helen Keller and the American Foundation for the Blind, spanning the years 1893 to 1984. The correspondence in this subseries is arranged chronologically.


Series 2: Writing by and about Helen Keller

This series contains correspondence, manuscripts, and speeches. These materials are of particular interest to scholars of literary history. The subject files are organized in alphabetical order as follows: Bibliography, Biographer, Book Burning, Publishers, Speeches, Writing about Helen Keller, Writing by Helen Keller (other than speeches). Subject files of particular interest include Book Burning, which discusses the burning of Keller's books in Germany in 1933. The Publishers subject files, spanning the years 1895 to 1982 include correspondence with companies such as Century magazine and Doubleday & Company. Correspondents include Frank N. Doubleday, Richard W. Gilder, Robert Lutz, Anne Sullivan Macy, John A. Macy, Ken McCormick, and Walter Page. Discussion surrounds copyright, royalties, and foreign translations of Keller's work. Series 2 also includes drafts, manuscripts, and correspondence resulting from her books and articles; these are organized alphabetically by title. This series also includes four hundred seventy-five speeches that Keller made between 1902 and 1961 on topics such as faith, rehabilitation, blindness prevention, birth control, philosophy, and atomic energy.


Series 3: Oversize Print Material

Over forty-three items are contained in three flat file drawers. These include certificates, diplomas, proclamations, posters, scrolls, maps, plans, and oversize braille text. Examples include vaudeville stage plans (1920), Japanese calligraphic scrolls (circa 1937 and 1948), and diplomas from leading blind and deaf-blind institutions in Latin America (1953).


Series 4: Press Clippings

Ten cubic feet of press clippings are contained in twenty-four manuscript boxes. This series spans the years 1880 to 1986 and provides a detailed description of every aspect of Keller's life.


Series 5: Scrapbooks

These scrapbooks were donated to AFB by Rebecca Mack. Helen Keller met Rebecca Mack circa 1917. Over the years Mack, a fan of Keller's, accumulated a library of Helen Keller books and ephemera. This series is comprised of sixty-four composition-book-size scrapbooks. The materials span the years 1907 to 1967 and are filled with items related to Keller and materials on guide dogs that are unrelated to Helen Keller.


Series 6: Architectural Plans

Series 6 contains the architectural plans of Helen Keller's first and second Arcan Ridge homes in Westport, Connecticut. Keller's two homes were purpose built for her; as such, these plans will provide valuable information to architectural historians. These are not processed.


Series 7: Photographs, Negatives, and Photograph Albums

Series 7 includes over two thousand photographs, representing more than one thousand separate images. These images span the years 1881 to 1981 and are arranged as follows: Activity: Sport, AFB, Artifacts, Awards: Ceremony, Awards: Object, Children, Death, Dogs, Domestic Scenes, Events, Homes, Individuals, Lip Reading, Manual Reading, Media, Military, Paintings, Reading Braille, Sculpture, Shopping, Sound Vibration, Touching, Transport, Travel, and Writing. In addition, there are four boxes of negatives and twenty-one boxes containing a total of twenty-three photograph albums.


Series 8: Artifacts

There are over two hundred fifty artifacts in the Helen Keller Archives. They include sculptures, paintings, gifts from dignitaries across the globe, and awards. These are unprocessed.


Series 9: Audio Recordings

Twenty-five audio recordings spanning the years 1935 to 1979 are contained in Series 9. These vary from a wire recording of Keller reciting Psalm 23 at AFB's offices in Oyster Bay, Long Island (1949), to audiocassette tapes of Joseph P. Lash reading excerpts from his book Helen and Teacher to the Board of Trustees at AFB (1979).


Series 10: Film

Series 10 contains three films of Helen Keller, including a film reel of her visit to Japan in 1948.


Series 11: Microfiche

Microfiche of the collection was created in the 1970s and remains unprocessed.


Arrangement of the Helen Keller Archives

The Helen Keller Archives are an amalgam of materials accessioned on four separate occasions by Marguerite L. Levine, the archivist at the American Foundation for the Blind from 1960 to 1985. The accessions were as follows: (1) prior to 1960, four file drawers/cabinets of material were collected by AFB [no classification exists for this original batch of materials], (2) from 1960 to 1968, AFB continued to collect Helen Keller materials, (3) after 1968, braille materials were sent from her home at Arcan Ridge in Westport, Connecticut to AFB, (4) in 1971, materials were accessioned as a result of an outreach letter from AFB to friends and relatives of Keller.

Marguerite L. Levine organized the documents by subject matter, choosing to follow "the progress of life." As much as possible, these subject categories have been adhered to, with series and subseries designated to bring greater intellectual control to the collection.


Access Points

This collection is indexed using the following Library of Congress name and subject headings and the Art and Architecture Thesaurus of the Getty Research Institute

Persons:

Advani, Lal
Anagnostopoulos, Michael, 1837 - 1906
Bell, Alexander Graham, 1847 - 1922
Brooks, Van Wyck, 1886 - 1963
Buck, Pearl S. (Pearl Sydenstricker), 1892 - 1973
Clemens, Samuel Langhorne, 1835 - 1910
Coolidge, Calvin, 1872 - 1933
Cornell, Katharine, 1893 - 1974
Davidson, Jo, 1883 - 1952
Debs, Eugene V. (Eugene Victor), 1855 - 1926
Doubleday, Frank Nelson, 1862 - 1934
Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley
Goldman, Emma, 1869 - 1940
Hitz, John, 1828 - 1908
Hoover, Herbert, 1874 - 1964
Iwahashi, Takeo, 1898 - 1954
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908 - 1973
Keller, Helen, 1880 - 1968
Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917 - 1963
Macy, Anne Sullivan, 1866 - 1936
Macy, John Albert, 1877 - 1932
Page, Walter Hines, 1855 - 1918
Rogers, Will, 1879 - 1935
Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884 - 1962
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882 - 1945
Sanger, Margaret, 1879 - 1966
Twain, Mark, 1835 - 1910
Wilson, Woodrow, 1856 - 1924

Subjects:

Authors and publishers -- United States
Blind women
Blind-deaf
Blindness
Disabilities
Disability studies
Disability, human rights and society
Legislation -- United States -- History
Military hospitals, American
Publishers and publishing -- United States
Swedenborgians
Talking book
Teachers of the blind
Women's studies

Places:

Alabama
Australia
Connecticut
England
France
Germany
Japan
Massachusetts
New York
Puerto Rico
United States
Washington D.C.

Document types

architectural drawings
articles
artifacts
black-and-white photographs
braille
brochures
certificates
clippings
contracts
film
legal documents
letters
manuscripts
maps
memorandums
minutes
negatives
phonograph records
portraits
proclamations
programs
publications
schedules
scores
scrapbooks
sound recordings
speeches
stamps (exchange media)
telegrams
wills