The New Photograph of Helen Keller

New England Historical Genealogical Society
Have you all seen this beautiful, just-discovered 1988 photograph  of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan?
I saw it on AOL this morning and couldn’t take my eyes off it. Before I knew it, tears were running down my cheeks. I wasn’t sad. Just moved. Her story has always moved me.
The first movie I saw as a “big girl” (ie with a girlfriend instead of a parent) was West Side Story in 1961 (at the Strand theater in Plainfield, New Jersey). How I loved that movie! A few months later, my friend and I sat in the same theater to watch The Miracle Worker. Before the lights went out, I remember saying to my friend in my best eleven-year-old drama queen voice, “I’ll never love this movie as much as West Side Story!” A few hours of sobbing later, I had to admit I was wrong.
So many people of my generation were introduced to Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan through the Oscar-winning performances of Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft. Then we went on to read some of Keller’s eleven books and to marvel at all she’d achieved in an era when there were few resources for people as profoundly handicapped as she was. Few resources, and even less understanding.
When her picture popped up on my screen this morning, I was in the midst of my frantic push toward my book deadline. It stopped me cold, and gave me time to reflect on what’s important (people, teachers, strength, love, tolerance) and what’s not (my little book, in the grand scheme of things). It put my rheumatoid arthritis–funny-looking joints, controllable pain, scary drugs–in perspective. It filled me with wonder that people can overcome so much.
Now, I have to go back to work, but I’m reinspired. We all have our limitations and our gifts, and it’s up to us to do the best we can with the latter in spite of the former. My “little book” will never measure up to the achievements of someone like Helen Keller or Anne Sullivan, but I plan to make it the very best it can be.


  1. Margo on March 6, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Diane, I was deeply touched by this photo when I saw it 1st thing this a.m. As a young girl I saw the movie THE MIRACLE WORKER and knew at the time it would remain with me forever. The endearing story touched so many of my emotions at the time, but what stayed with me more than anything was the tremendous determination, dedication and bravery of 2 inspiring people. Their story will remain in my heart always.

  2. Julie on March 6, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    I saw this last night, too, but couldn’t get it to enlarge this big. I had much the same reaction–entranced. It would probably be similar to the discovery of a new photo of Anne Frank. These are the girls who were our heroes when we were growing up, and we feel like we “know” them.
    I am fascinated by the position of Helen Keller’s back in this photo. She is obviously so engaged in what is happening around her, she is leaning into it.
    One of my two POVs in my WIP is deaf. It has been difficult to write a deaf POV–hard to imagine writing both. When I try to imagine being deaf or blind, I feel claustrophobic–when I imagine both, I am almost frantic. But, I guess for Helen Keller, it was simply her world, and she was in it.

  3. brenda on March 6, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    I still love Patty Duke so much. She was excellent in that movie.
    I purchased a book at Christmas about Helen Keller for the granddaughters…Intriguing…

  4. Margo on March 7, 2008 at 8:21 am

    My mother saw the photo also and we both decided to see if the movie is available on DVD so we can buy it and watch again.
    Would you believe it’s snowing again where I live?…wind and bitter temps by tonite. Who would have quessed with Spring only 2 wks away! (-:

  5. Liz on March 7, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Yes, this photo stopped me, too. I am always grateful when there is a moment or event that makes me look at the priorities in life. We all get so wrapped up in our own lives and I try to remember that I’m just a microscopic blip in the overall picture. Whatever problems I have, I am incredibly blessed and need to focus more on the good things. It cost me $48 to fill my car with gas the other day and I was grateful that I don’t have to choose between that and groceries.

  6. brenda on March 7, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Margo, We are supposed to get 2-5 inches tomorrow. Can’t believe it. I am going to stay in, put on the gas logs, grade papers, and enjoy…
    Will read too.

  7. Anne on March 9, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    What a wonderful photo! It’s very active and I love the body language. NEHGS has some amazing material and it’s such a treat to see this photo from their collection.

  8. Hope on April 9, 2008 at 1:11 am

    Hey, Diane. Come to Alabama, and I’ll take you to the childhood home of Helen Keller. It’s located in Tuscumbia in the NW corner of the State. We go by there everytime we go to Memphis to see our son.

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