Novak (novak) wrote,

  • Location:
  • Mood:
  • Music:

Personal: Still Ill; AP Story on a Newly-Discovered Photo of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Just back from Raynor Library. Having a tough time focusing tonight as I prep for tomorrow's Theology Through the Centuries sessions, where we'll be talking about some of the aspects of the history of Trinitarian theology, Trinitarian experience of God, and the like. The bug that had me down the other week, which I called a flu but may have just been a severe cold, has still been with me in a lighter way and has been stronger in my throat in an unpleasant fashion over the last 24 hours. I felt nasty with it after dinner and passed out on the couch, completely forgetting about a 7pm appointment with a student. So I was horrified when I awoke and remembered that. But I'm still feeling scattered in general. Yuck.

More interestingly, I did see this news story earlier, which I thought I'd note. I was very fond of a biography I read of Helen Keller when I was in junior high, and so this story and photograph caught my eye. I think I was somehow already attracted to the drama of the-student-who-becomes-a-teacher, and in her case the heroic odds that she overcame obviously hightened that natural drama. I never thought of it until this moment, but maybe this early reading and her being a kind of hero to me might have played a part in why I was so attracted to the work I did through the Office for Students with Disabilities when I was a student at Notre Dame, and in particular my long association with Lori, the first blind student at Notre Dame, for whom I became her constant helper in her theology, philosophy and history courses. Although I didn't in any way specialize in teaching students with disabilities, I really consider that experience a very formative one on my path to teaching professionally....

Rare Photo Shows Helen Keller, Teacher

BOSTON (March 5) - Researchers have uncovered a rare photograph of a young Helen Keller with her teacher Anne Sullivan, nearly 120 years after it was taken on Cape Cod and tucked inside a family album.

Helen Keller, left, and her teacher, Anne Sullivan
New England Historic Genealogical Society-Boston / AP
The newly discovered photo shows Helen Keller when she was 8 years old, left, holding hands with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, during a summer vacation in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod in 1888. Keller became deaf and blind before the age of 2.

The photograph, shot in July 1888 in Brewster, shows an 8-year-old Helen sitting outside in a light-colored dress, holding Sullivan's hand and cradling one of her beloved dolls.

Experts on Keller's life believe it could be the earliest photo of the two women together and the only one showing the blind and deaf child with a doll — the first word Sullivan spelled for Keller after they met in 1887 — according to the New England Historic Genealogical Society, which now has the photo.

"It's really one of the best images I've seen in a long, long time," said Helen Selsdon, an archivist at the American Federation for the Blind, where Keller worked for more than 40 years. "This is just a huge visual addition to the history of Helen and Annie."

For more than a century, though, the photograph was hidden in an album that belonged to the family of Thaxter Spencer, an 87-year-old man in Waltham.

Spencer's mother, Hope Thaxter Parks, often stayed at the Elijah Cobb House on Cape Cod during the summer as a child. In July 1888, she played with Keller, whose family had traveled from Tuscumbia, Ala., to vacation in Massachusetts.

Spencer, who doesn't know which of his relatives took the picture, told the society that his mother, four years younger than Helen, remembered Helen exploring her face with her hands.

In June, Spencer donated a large collection of photo albums, letters, diaries and other heirlooms to the genealogical society, which preserves artifacts from New England families for future research.

"I never thought much about it," Spencer said in a statement released by the society. "It just seemed like something no one would find very interesting." Spencer has recently been hospitalized and could not be reached for comment.

It wasn't until recently that staff at the society realized the photograph's significance.

D. Brenton Simons, the society's president and CEO, said the photograph offers a glimpse of what was a very important time in Keller's life.

Sullivan was hired in 1887 to teach Keller, who had been left blind and deaf after an illness at the age of 1 1/2. With her new teacher, Keller learned language from words spelled manually into her hand. Not quite 7, the girl went from an angry, frustrated child without a way to communicate to an eager scholar.

While "doll" was the first word spelled into her hand, Helen finally comprehended the meaning of language a few weeks later with the word "water," as famously depicted in the film "The Miracle Worker." Sullivan stayed at her side until her death in 1936, and Keller became a world-famous author and humanitarian. She died in 1968.

Jan Seymour-Ford, a research librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, which both Sullivan and Keller attended, said she was moved to see how deeply connected the women were, even in 1888.

"The way Anne is gazing so intently at Helen, I think it's a beautiful portrait of the devotion that lasted between these two women all of Anne's life," Seymour-Ford said.

Selsdon said the photograph is valuable because it shows many elements of Keller's childhood: that devotion, Sullivan's push to teach Helen outdoors and Helen's attachment to her baby dolls, one of which was given to her upon Sullivan's arrival as her teacher.

"It's a beautiful composition," she said. "It's not even the individual elements. It's the fact that it has all of the components."
Tags: friends-notre dame era, notre dame, personal, students, teaching

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.