Ivy Green – The Birthplace of Helen Keller (Tuscumbia, AL)


Ivy Green

July 18, 2015 (by Jimmy) – As anyone who has been reading this blog knows, I am a big history buff. So when I come across a bit of history in which I have no knowledge other than “I’ve heard the name and maybe a little about what he or she did,” it is unusual. Today was one of those days. Angela and I visited the birthplace of Helen Keller, and going in all I knew was that she was blind and couldn’t hear. I had heard of the movie The Miracle Worker but had never watched it, so the pun of the situation is that I was going to this historical site pretty much blind.


Entrance Sign to Ivy Green

What I learned … Helen Keller was born Jun 27, 1880, a normal child. She was a direct descendant of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams. She was also a descendant of Alexander Spottswood, an early Colonial Governor of Virginia. Her dad ran the Northern Alabamian Newspaper, was an attorney, a farmer, and a Captain in the Confererate Calvalry. This tells me that they were probably upper middle class.


Top Left – Her dad, Top Right – Her mom, Bottom Left – age 7, Bottom Right – Teenager, Middle – Helen and Anne

As an infant (19 months old) she developed a fever which took away her sight and hearing. The parents didn’t know what to do with her, and five years later they hired a teacher, 20-year-old Anne Sullivan, to come live with them and try to teach Helen. I’m sure teaching someone that can’t see or can’t hear would be difficult. but teaching someone that can’t do either, what a daunting task.


Front yard

At the time Anne showed up, Helen was a wild child. I’m sure her parents, not knowing any way to communicate with her, left her to understand the world on her own. So here’s a 20-year-old trying to teach a 7-year-old who doesn’t know how to see or hear, how to communicate. Oh, yeah, and there were no text books; this had never been tried before.


Parlor Room

The biggest breakthrough came when Anne ran water over Helen’s hand at the pump and spelled the word “water” in her other hand. Helen finally realized that Anne was trying to communicate with her. Later that night Anne wrote in her journal, “She has learned that everything has a name and the manual alphabet is the key to everything she wants to know”.


The pump where Helen learned her first word “water”.

This led to an extraordinary life. Helen published 12 books, travelled the world speaking on behalf of the blind, and was the first deaf and blind person to receive a college degree (Radcliffe 1904). She was awarded the “Presidential Medal of Freedom,” one of the two highest civilian honors, in 1964. In the Capital building in Washington D.C. each state is allowed two statues of people that represent their state. Helen Keller is one of those statues (the other is Joseph Wheeler – a Civil War General). She is on the tails side of the Alabama state quarter, a stamp, a hospital, and several roads are also named after her.  Helen died June 1, 1968, just shy of her 88th birthday.


Helen Keller Statue in the Capital in Washington DC

So in relation to the visit to the birthplace of Helen Keller, I came away with a feeling that we shouldn’t look at the negatives in life and say, “Why me?” but we should focus on the positives and say, “Why not”, or in following your dreams, “Why not now?”  The following are a few more pictures of the day.


Helen at age 24 (about the time she graduated from Radcliffe)


Her childhood bedroom


Anne’s bed on the other side of the room


Jimmy Learning


Angela by statue in Commemorations Room


Garden Area with bust of Helen in the center.

Until later… Later

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