Found: A Rare Photo of Helen Keller


"Doll" is the first word Anne Sullivan (right) spelled to Helen Keller. Courtesy of the New England Historic Genealogical Society hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the New England Historic Genealogical Society

Me, I can't hear Helen Keller's name without tearing up. As a toddler, Keller was left blind and deaf after a bout with what might have been meningitis. She lived in isolation until Anne Sullivan, a teacher, gave her the gift of language. And then she flew through life, sometimes literally.

Now a newly discovered photo from 1888 shows Helen, at age eight, on a family vacation in Cape Cod. She's sitting with Sullivan, holding Sullivan's hand and a doll. Experts say it could be the earliest photo of the two together, and the only one showing the child with a doll. "Doll," as the AP reports, is the first word Sullivan spelled to Keller.

Special thanks to the New England Historic Genealogical Society for sharing the photo.



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That's so crazy. This very morning I was reading the story of Keller and Sullivan to our son and wondering what pictures of the two survive. No joke.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 10:01 AM | 3-6-2008

Sarah, Would you care to share the title of the book you were reading with your son? I have three young children and would also love to share Keller and Sullivan's story with them. Thanks.

Sent by Rich Charbonneau | 10:27 AM | 3-6-2008

Wasn't water the first word Keller spelled for Sullivan? The caption of that photo says it was doll. Don't tell me the play/movie is wrong!?

Sent by ileen | 11:36 AM | 3-6-2008

I recently read the story of Helen Keller to my third grade class. I was so excited to hear this morning that a photo had been found. I showed my students and they were excited. Thanks NPR!!!

Sent by Khaleelah Hudson | 12:10 PM | 3-6-2008

@ileen: "water" was the first word Sullivan spelled for Keller that Keller actually understood. We had the same convo over instant message during the show today!

Sent by Tricia, NPR | 1:06 PM | 3-6-2008

So then she wasn't really spelling doll to Sullivan, just mimicking hand motions. Glad to know I'm thinking like NPR staff!

Sent by ileen | 3:12 PM | 3-6-2008

There's a book called A Children's Book of Heroes, edited by William Bennett of all people, that my kid got for a Christmas present last year. The Helen Keller story is just one of several in the book.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 5:41 PM | 3-6-2008

ileen: sullivan spelled doll to Keller before she understood. Sullivan spelled lots of words, and eventually, Keller had water and Sullivan spelled water and she first understood that water had a name, that everything had a name. now I'm crying!

Sent by amy | 6:54 PM | 3-6-2008

keller's triumphant story is outstanding...but what if she hadn't had such a wonderful, dedicated teacher??? so, i promise this is my last tid-bit...since you probably have a large audience of young people, i pass on the info. that a new charter school will be opening in 2009 in nyc for the benefit of low-income (grades 5-8) children...there will be a very intense application process and the starting salary will be about $125,000. the purpose of the school which will first be headed by a past yale school grad who taught for few years under "teach for america" will be to test out the growing body of research that suggests that higher salaries would attract much better teachers! i'm all for giving ALL kids the best opportunities and helping them to achieve important skills...if interested, contact

Sent by jayn | 8:48 AM | 3-7-2008

I recently read the Miracle worker and Saw two movies when my friend told me about this I couldnt believe my ears. THNX NPR.

Sent by Sarah | 12:37 PM | 3-7-2008

I'm a speech-language pathologist. Maybe this conversation will inspire others to join our field!

Sent by Elana | 1:22 PM | 3-8-2008

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