Unique Helen Keller Photograph Donated to NEHGS

Helen Keller and Anne SullivanA member of New England Historic Genealogical Society recently donated a family collection of photo albums, diaries, and other items dating back to the 1880s, and among the photographs in the collection was this beautiful photograph of Helen Keller with her teacher and longtime companion, Anne Sullivan. What a treasure! Just goes to show how important it is to preserve those family collections. Thanks to NEHGS for sharing it with us!

Below is the NEHGS release:


The New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston has released a recently discovered photograph of Helen Keller when she was just eight years old.

The photograph, taken in July 1888 in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, shows eight-year-old Helen Keller seated next to her teacher, Anne Sullivan, as they hold hands. Ms. Sullivan taught young Helen sign language by fingerspelling into the palm of her hand. A large doll rests on Keller’s lap. When Sullivan arrived at the Keller household to teach Helen, she gave her a doll as a present. Although Keller had many dolls throughout her childhood, this is believed to be the first known photograph of Helen Keller with one of her dolls.

Both Keller and Sullivan indicated later in their journals that “DOLL” was the first word Keller learned in sign language, in March 1887. This photograph was taken about sixteen months later.

An NEHGS staff member discovered the photograph while combing through a large photography collection recently donated by Thaxter P. Spencer, 87, of Waltham, MA.

Talking about the photograph, Spencer said, “When my mother was a little girl, she and her family stayed at the Elijah Cobb House on Cape Cod. One of the guests that summer was Helen Keller. My mother remembered having her face ‘explored’ by Helen, who then commented that “she had a good face.’”

Spencer, an NEHGS member for more than 50 years, doesn’t know which family member actually took the photo, but says it has remained in the album since then. As far as he knows, it has never been seen by anyone outside his family. “I never thought much about it,” he added. “It just seemed like something no one would find very interesting.”

The photograph offers a view of a rarely known part of Keller’s life: her summer vacations on Cape Cod. During several summers, Keller traveled with Sullivan from her home in Tuscumbia, Alabama to the popular seaside town of Brewster, where she played with many local children and learned to float and swim. Spencer’s mother, Hope Thaxter Parks, four years younger than Helen, was one of those children.

Spencer recently donated his large family collection, which includes about 15 photo albums dating from the 1880s through the early 1900s, as well as scores of journals, diaries, papers, and other items, to NEHGS, where it will become a permanent part of the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

“When we talk about our individual family histories, we invariably must include local or regional history too,” said D. Brenton Simons, NEHGS President and CEO. “This image of Helen Keller serves as a wonderful example of how one person’s family history really can be part of a larger, more significant story.”

NEHGS’ research library and archive is an 8-story facility that houses more than 12 million books, journals, manuscripts, photographs, microfilms, documents, records, and artifacts that date back more than four centuries. The award-winning web site www.NewEnglandAncestors.org offers access to more than 110 million names in 2,400 searchable databases. NEHGS has more than 20,000 members nationally.

Tom Champoux, Director of Marketing
[email protected]

5 thoughts on “Unique Helen Keller Photograph Donated to NEHGS

  1. Pingback: DeafPulse.com - the one-stop pulse for all Deaf-related news and blogs.

  2. Pingback: DeafPulse.com - the one-stop pulse for all Deaf-related news and blogs.

  3. Pingback: Unique Helen Keller Photograph Donated to NEHGS | Helen Keller

  4. What a treasured picture of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. So much to be learned from these great pictures of life in the past.

    Thanks for sharing

  5. Great picture of Helen with Teacher. I’ve always both of these fine ladies. Thanks for sharing this picture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *