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Helen Keller
A Role Model for the World

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Helen Keller - A Role Model for the World
By Rochelle Caviness - July 29, 2002

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 on a small estate known locally as Ivy Green. When she was 19 months old, Helen suffered from a febrile illness that left her both deaf and blind. Her parents, Captain Arthur Henley Keller and Kate Adams, mistakenly believing that by spoiling her they were helping her, effectively turned Helen into an unmanageable monster. However, Helen's life changed dramatically, shortly before her seventh birthday, when Anne Mansfield Sullivan was hired to be Helen's teacher.

In an unbelievable short period, Annie Sullivan, who was herself visually impaired, tamed the wild Helen and opened up the world of knowledge for this gifted child. A willing sponge, Helen soon learned to 'speak and hear' using sign language and to read and write using braille. Helen also knew how to use a typewriter. She also learned how to write freehanded. Helen was an apt pupil who went on to become the first deaf-blind person to go to college. She graduated, cum laude, from Radcliffe College in 1904. She spent the rest of her life, until her death in 1968, working as an advocate for the blind and deaf-blind around the world.

Helen Keller's courage and indomitable spirit stands as an inspiration to blind and deaf-blind individuals the world over. Each year thousands of people make the pilgrimage to her birthplace in Tuscumbia, Alabama to see for themselves, the house where Helen was born and the well-pump at which the miracle occurred when Annie Sullivan at last broke through Helen's darkness by teaching her the signed letters w-a-t-e-r meant water. Making this connection was the turning point of Helen's life as it enabled her, for the first time, to begin to comprehend the world around her. Ivy Green is open to public, and guided tours are offered of the main house where Helen grew up. The tour guides are outstanding treasure troves of information on the house, and Helen's life, and they will help to bring Helen's world to life for you. Here you will also find a small museum containing various artifacts that belonged to Helen, including her first braille writer. You can also see the smaller cottage next to the house where Helen was actually born, and the famous well-pump where 'the miracle' occurred. More information about Helen Keller's birthplace and home, including operating hours and admission costs, can be found online at or by calling (256) 383-4066.

The Helen Keller Festival

The Helen Keller Festival is held each June, and consists of a hodgepodge of events ranging from a golf tournament to a parade. Musical entertainment is plentiful, and educational opportunities abound. In 2002 the festival was held June 27-30, and the Grand Marshall of the parade was none other than Tuck Tinsley III, President of the American Printing House for the Blind.

This fun filled event is attended by thousands of people each year, many of which are return visitors!

The Miracle Worker

Besides the festival itself, several other events are held in Tuscumbia, over the summer, tied into the celebration of Helen Keller's life and work. Including a staged production of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker. This story chronicles the events surrounding the miracle at the well-pump and Annie Sullivan heroic efforts to awaken Helen's intellect. 2002 marked the 41st annual production of The Miracle Worker at Ivy Green. This play is staged, outdoors, on the grounds of Ivy Green and it is held every weekend throughout June through mid-July.

This inspirational play is a 'must-see' for the entire family. However, you might want to bring seat cushions. Seating is on bleachers, or folding metal chairs, and as the play last two hours you may find that a little extra padding comes in very handy! Even without the padding, this play is worth the 'effort' not just for its inspirational message, but also because it gives you a chance to see a phenomenal cast in action.

Helen Keller Art Show of Alabama

Another event that coincides with the Helen Keller Festival is the Helen Keller Art Show of Alabama held at The Tennessee Valley Art Center which is located almost directly across the street from Ivy Green. This art show highlights various works of art created by visually impaired and blind students from schools throughout Alabama.

More Information

In addition to the contact information listed above, you can also learn more about touring Ivy Green and other nearby attractions, by contacting the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau at 1-800-344-0783. They can also be found online at:

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