|Table of Contents|
Story of My Life, by Helen Keller
Part III: Chapter III. Education
was 6.30 when I reached Tuscumbia. I found Mrs. Keller and Mr. James Keller
waiting for me. They said somebody had met every train for two days. The drive
from the station to the house, a distance of one mile, was very lovely and
restful. I was surprised to find Mrs. Keller a very young-looking woman, not
much older than myself, I should think. Captain Keller met us in the yard and
gave me a cheery welcome and a hearty handshake. My first question was,
"Where is Helen?" I tried with all my might to control the eagerness
that made me tremble so that I could hardly walk. As we approached the house I
saw a child standing in the doorway, and Captain Keller said, "There she
is. She has known all day that some one was expected, and she has been wild ever
since her mother went to the station for you." I had scarcely put my foot
on the steps, when she rushed toward me with such force that she would have
thrown me backward if Captain Keller had not been behind me. She felt my face
and dress and my bag, which she took out of my hand and tried to open. It did
not open easily, and she felt carefully to see if there was a keyhole. Finding
that there was, she turned to me, making the sign of turning a key and pointing
to the bag. Her mother interfered at this point and showed Helen by signs that
she must not touch the bag. Her face flushed, and when her mother attempted to
take the bag from her, she grew very angry. I attracted her attention by showing
her my watch and letting her hold it in her hand. Instantly the tempest
subsided, and we went upstairs together. Here I opened the bag, and she went
through it eagerly, probably expecting to find something to eat. Friends had
probably brought her candy in their bags, and she expected to find some in mine.
I made her understand, by pointing to a trunk in the hall and to myself and
nodding my head, that I had a trunk, and then made the sign that she had used
for eating, and nodded again. She understood in a flash and ran downstairs to
tell her mother, by means of emphatic signs, that there was some candy in a
trunk for her. She returned in a few minutes and helped me put away my things.
It was too comical to see her put on my bonnet and cock her head first on one
side, then on the other, and look in the mirror, just as if she could see.
Somehow I had expected to see a pale, delicate child--I suppose I got the idea
from Dr. Howe's description of Laura Bridgman when she came to the Institution.
But there's nothing pale or delicate about Helen. She is large, strong, and
ruddy, and as unrestrained in her movements as a young colt. She has none of
those nervous habits that are so noticeable and so distressing in blind
children. Her body is well formed and vigorous, and Mrs. Keller says she has not
been ill a day since the illness that deprived her of her sight and hearing. She
has a fine head, and it is set on her shoulders just right. Her face is hard to
describe. It is intelligent, but lacks mobility, or soul, or something. Her
mouth is large and finely shaped. You see at a glance that she is blind. One eye
is larger than the other, and protrudes noticeably. She rarely smiles; indeed, I
have seen her smile only once or twice since I came. She is unresponsive and
even impatient of caresses from any one except her mother. She is very
quick-tempered and wilful, and nobody, except her brother James, has attempted
to control her. The greatest problem I shall have to solve is how to discipline
and control her without breaking her spirit. I shall go rather slowly at first
and try to win her love. I shall not attempt to conquer her by force alone; but
I shall insist on reasonable obedience from the start. One thing that impresses
everybody is Helen's tireless activity. She is never still a moment. She is
here, there, and everywhere. Her hands are in everything; but nothing holds her
attention for long. Dear child, her restless spirit gropes in the dark. Her
untaught, unsatisfied hands destroy whatever they touch because they do not know
what else to do with things.
helped me unpack my trunk when it came, and was delighted when she found the
doll the little girls sent her. I thought it a good opportunity to teach her her
first word. I spelled "d-o-l-l" slowly in her hand and pointed to the
doll and nodded my head, which seems to be her sign for possession. Whenever
anybody gives her anything, she points to it, then to herself, and nods her
head. She looked puzzled and felt my hand, and I repeated the letters. She
imitated them very well and pointed to the doll. Then I took the doll, meaning
to give it back to her when she had made the letters; but she thought I meant to
take it from her, and in an instant she was in a temper, and tried to seize the
doll. I shook my head and tried to form the letters with her fingers; but she
got more and more angry. I forced her into a chair and held her there until I
was nearly exhausted. Then it occurred to me that it was useless to continue the
struggle--I must do something to turn the current of her thoughts. I let her go,
but refused to give up the doll. I went downstairs and got some cake (she is
very fond of sweets). I showed Helen the cake and spelled "c-a-k-e" in
her hand, holding the cake toward her. Of course she wanted it and tried to take
it; but I spelled the word again and patted her hand. She made the letters
rapidly, and I gave her the cake, which she ate in a great hurry, thinking, I
suppose, that I might take it from her. Then I showed her the doll and spelled
the word again, holding the doll toward her as I held the cake. She made the
letters "d-o-l"' and I made the other "l" and gave her the
doll. She ran downstairs with it and could not be induced to return to my room
I gave her a sewing-card to do. I made the first row of vertical lines and let
her feel it and notice that there were several rows of little holes. She began
to work delightedly and finished the card in a few minutes, and did it very
neatly indeed. I thought I would try another word; so I spelled
"c-a-r-d." She made the "c-a," then stopped and thought, and
making the sign for eating and pointing downward she pushed me toward the door,
meaning that I must go downstairs for some cake. The two letters
"c-a," you see, had reminded her of Fridays "lesson"--not
that she had any idea that cake was the name of the thing, but it was simply a
matter of association, I suppose. I finished the word "c-a-k-e" and
obeyed her command. She was delighted. Then I spelled "d-o-l-l" and
began to hunt for it. She follows with her hands every motion you make, and she
knew that I was looking for the doll. She pointed down, meaning that the doll
was downstairs. I made the signs that she had used when she wished me to go for
the cake, and pushed her toward the door. She started forward, then hesitated a
moment, evidently debating within herself whether she would go or not. She
decided to send me instead. I shook my head and spelled "d-o-l-l" more
emphatically, and opened the door for her; but she obstinately refused to obey.
She had not finished the cake she was eating, and I took it away, indicating
that if she brought the doll I would give her back the cake. She stood perfectly
still for one long moment, her face crimson; then her desire for the cake
triumphed, and she ran downstairs and brought the doll, and of course I gave her
the cake, but could not persuade her to enter the room again.
was very troublesome when I began to write this morning. She kept coming up
behind me and putting her hand on the paper and into the ink-bottle. These blots
are her handiwork. Finally I remembered the kindergarten beads, and set her to
work stringing them. First I put on two wooden beads and one glass bead, then
made her feel of the string and the two boxes of beads. She nodded and began at
once to fill the string with wooden beads. I shook my head and took them all off
and made her feel of the two wooden beads and the one glass bead. She examined
them thoughtfully and began again. This time she put on the glass bead first and
the two wooden ones next. I took them off and showed her that the two wooden
ones must go on first, then the glass bead. She had no further trouble and
filled the string quickly, too quickly, in fact. She tied the ends together when
she had finished the string, and put the beads round her neck. I did not make
the knot large enough in the next string, and the beads came off as fast as she
put them on; but she solved the difficulty herself by putting the string through
a bead and tying it. I thought this very clever. She amused herself with the
beads until dinner-time, bringing the strings to me now and then for my
eyes are very much inflamed. I know this letter is very carelessly written. I
had a lot to say, and couldn't stop to think how to express things neatly.
Please do not show my letter to any one. If you want to, you may read it to my
had a battle royal with Helen this morning. Although I try very hard not to
force issues, I find it very difficult to avoid them.
table manners are appalling. She puts her hands in our plates and helps herself,
and when the dishes are passed, she grabs them and takes out whatever she wants.
This morning I would not let her put her hand in my plate. She persisted, and a
contest of wills followed. Naturally the family was much disturbed, and left the
room. I locked the dining-room door, and proceeded to eat my breakfast, though
the food almost choked me. Helen was lying on the floor, kicking and screaming
and trying to pull my chair from under me. She kept this up for half an hour,
then she got up to see what I was doing. I let her see that I was eating, but
did not let her put her hand in the plate. She pinched me, and I slapped her
every time she did it. Then she went all round the table to see who was there,
and finding no one but me, she seemed bewildered. After a few minutes she came
back to her place and began to eat her breakfast with her fingers. I gave her a
spoon, which she threw on the floor. I forced her out of the chair and made her
pick it up. Finally I succeeded in getting her back in her chair again, and held
the spoon in her hand, compelling her to take up the food with it and put it in
her mouth. In a few minutes she yielded and finished her breakfast peaceably.
Then we had another tussle over folding her napkin. When she had finished, she
threw it on the floor and ran toward the door. Finding it locked, she began to
kick and scream all over again. It was another hour before I succeeded in
getting her napkin folded. Then I let her out into the warm sunshine and went up
to my room and threw myself on the bed exhausted. I had a good cry and felt
better. I suppose I shall have many such battles with the little woman before
she learns the only two essential things I can teach her, obedience and love.
dear. Don't worry; I'll do my best and leave the rest to whatever power manages
that which we cannot. I like Mrs. Keller very much.
Alabama, March 11, 1887.
I wrote you, Helen and I have gone to live all by ourselves in a little
garden-house about a quarter of a mile from her home, only a short distance from
Ivy Green, the Keller homestead. I very soon made up my mind that I could do
nothing with Helen in the midst of the family, who have always allowed her to do
exactly as she pleased. She has tyrannized over everybody, her mother, her
father, the servants, the little darkies who play with her, and nobody had ever
seriously disputed her will, except occasionally her brother James, until I
came; and like all tyrants she holds tenaciously to her divine right to do as
she pleases. If she ever failed to get what she wanted, it was because of her
inability to make the vassals of her household understand what it was. Every
thwarted desire was the signal for a passionate outburst, and as she grew older
and stronger, these tempests became more violent. As I began to teach her, I was
beset by many difficulties. She wouldn't yield a point without contesting it to
the bitter end. I couldn't coax her or compromise with her. To get her to do the
simplest thing, such as combing her hair or washing her hands or buttoning her
boots, it was necessary to use force, and, of course, a distressing scene
followed. The family naturally felt inclined to interfere, especially her
father, who cannot bear to see her cry. So they were all willing to give in for
the sake of peace. Besides, her past experiences and associations were all
against me. I saw clearly that it was useless to try to teach her language or
anything else until she learned to obey me. I have thought about it a great
deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway
through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child. As I
wrote you, I meant to go slowly at first. I had an idea that I could win the
love and confidence of my little pupil by the same means that I should use if
she could see and hear. But I soon found that I was cut off from all the usual
approaches to the child's heart. She accepted everything I did for her as a
matter of course, and refused to be caressed, and there was no way of appealing
to her affection or sympathy or childish love of approbation. She would or she
wouldn't, and there was an end of it. Thus it is, we study, plan and prepare
ourselves for a task, and when the hour for action arrives, we find that the
system we have followed with such labour and pride does not fit the occasion;
and then there's nothing for us to do but rely on something within us, some
innate capacity for knowing and doing, which we did not know we possessed until
the hour of our great need brought it to light.
had a good, frank talk with Mrs. Keller, and explained to her how difficult it
was going to be to do anything with Helen under the existing circumstances. I
told her that in my opinion the child ought to be separated from the family for
a few weeks at least--that she must learn to depend on and obey me before I
could make any headway. After a long time Mrs. Keller said that she would think
the matter over and see what Captain Keller thought of sending Helen away with
me. Captain Keller fell in with the scheme most readily and suggested that the
little garden-house at the "old place" be got ready for us. He said
that Helen might recognize the place, as she had often been there, but she would
have no idea of her surroundings, and they could come every day to see that all
was going well, with the understanding, of course, that she was to know nothing
of their visits. I hurried the preparations for our departure as much as
possible, and here we are.
little house is a genuine bit of paradise. It consists of one large square room
with a great fireplace, a spacious bay-window, and a small room where our
servant, a little negro boy, sleeps. There is a piazza in front, covered with
vines that grow so luxuriantly that you have to part them to see the garden
beyond. Our meals are brought from the house, and we usually eat on the piazza.
The little negro boy takes care of the fire when we need one, so I can give my
whole attention to Helen.
was greatly excited at first, and kicked and screamed herself into a sort of
stupor, but when supper was brought she ate heartily and seemed brighter,
although she refused to let me touch her. She devoted herself to her dolls the
first evening, and when it was bedtime she undressed very quietly, but when she
felt me get into bed with her, she jumped out on the other side, and nothing
that I could do would induce her to get in again. But I was afraid she would
take cold, and I insisted that she must go to bed. We had a terrific tussle, I
can tell you. The struggle lasted for nearly two hours. I never saw such
strength and endurance in a child. But fortunately for us both, I am a little
stronger, and quite as obstinate when I set out. I finally succeeded in getting
her on the bed and covered her up, and she lay curled up as near the edge of the
bed as possible.
next morning she was very docile, but evidently homesick. She kept going to the
door, as if she expected some one, and every now and then she would touch her
cheek, which is her sign for her mother, and shake her head sadly. She played
with her dolls more than usual, and would have nothing to do with me. It is
amusing and pathetic to see Helen with her dolls. I don't think she has any
special tenderness for them--I have never seen her caress them; but she dresses
and undresses them many times during the day and handles them exactly as she has
seen her mother and the nurse handle her baby sister.
morning Nancy, her favourite doll, seemed to have some difficulty about
swallowing the milk that was being administered to her in large spoonfuls; for
Helen suddenly put down the cup and began to slap her on the back and turn her
over on her knees, trotting her gently and patting her softly all the time. This
lasted for several minutes; then this mood passed, and Nancy was thrown
ruthlessly on the floor and pushed to one side, while a large, pink-cheeked,
fuzzy-haired member of the family received the little mother's undivided
knows several words now, but has no idea how to use them, or that everything has
a name. I think, however, she will learn quickly enough by and by. As I have
said before, she is wonderfully bright and active and as quick as lightning in
will be glad to hear that my experiment is working out finely. I have not had
any trouble at all with Helen, either yesterday or to-day. She has learned three
new words, and when I give her the objects, the names of which she has learned,
she spells them unhesitatingly; but she seems glad when the lesson is over.
had a good frolic this morning out in the garden. Helen evidently knew where she
was as soon as she touched the boxwood hedges, and made many signs which I did
not understand. No doubt they were signs for the different members of the family
at Ivy Green.
have just heard something that surprised me very much. It seems that Mr. Anagnos
had heard of Helen before he received Captain Keller's letter last summer. Mr.
Wilson, a teacher at Florence, and a friend of the Kellers', studied at Harvard
the summer before and went to the Perkins Institution to learn if anything could
be done for his friend's child. He saw a gentleman whom he presumed to be the
director, and told him about Helen. He says the gentleman was not particularly
interested, but said he would see if anything could be done. Doesn't it seem
strange that Mr. Anagnos never referred to this interview?
heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of
understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are
wild little creature of two weeks ago has been transformed into a gentle child.
She is sitting by me as I write, her face serene and happy, crocheting a long
red chain of Scotch wool. She learned the stitch this week, and is very proud of
the achievement. When she succeeded in making a chain that would reach across
the room, she patted herself on the arm and put the first work of her hands
lovingly against her cheek. She lets me kiss her now, and when she is in a
particularly gentle mood, she will sit in my lap for a minute or two; but she
does not return my caresses. The great step--the step that counts--has been
taken. The little savage has learned her first lesson in obedience, and finds
the yoke easy. It now remains my pleasant task to direct and mould the beautiful
intelligence that is beginning to stir in the child-soul. Already people remark
the change in Helen. Her father looks in at us morning and evening as he goes to
and from his office, and sees her contentedly stringing her beads or making
horizontal lines on her sewing-card, and exclaims, "How quiet she is!"
When I came, her movements were so insistent that one always felt there was
something unnatural and almost weird about her. I have noticed also that she
eats much less, a fact which troubles her father so much that he is anxious to
get her home. He says she is homesick. I don't agree with him; but I suppose we
shall have to leave our little bower very soon.
has learned several nouns this week. "M-u-g" and "m-i-l-k,"
have given her more trouble than other words. When she spells "milk,"
she points to the mug, and when she spells "mug," she makes the sign
for pouring or drinking, which shows that she has confused the words. She has no
idea yet that everything has a name.
I had the little negro boy come in when Helen was having her lesson, and learn
the letters, too. This pleased her very much and stimulated her ambition to
excel Percy. She was delighted if he made a mistake, and made him form the
letter over several times. When he succeeded in forming it to suit her, she
patted him on his woolly head so vigorously that I thought some of his slips
day this week Captain Keller brought Belle, a setter of which he is very proud,
to see us. He wondered if Helen would recognize her old playmate. Helen was
giving Nancy a bath, and didn't notice the dog at first. She usually feels the
softest step and throws out her arms to ascertain if any one is near her. Belle
didn't seem very anxious to attract her attention. I imagine she has been rather
roughly handled sometimes by her little mistress. The dog hadn't been in the
room more than half a minute, however, before Helen began to sniff, and dumped
the doll into the wash-bowl and felt about the room. She stumbled upon Belle,
who was crouching near the window where Captain Keller was standing. It was
evident that she recognized the dog; for she put her arms round her neck and
squeezed her. Then Helen sat down by her and began to manipulate her claws. We
couldn't think for a second what she was doing; but when we saw her make the
letters "d-o-l-l" on her own fingers, we knew that she was trying to
teach Belle to spell.
and I came home yesterday. I am sorry they wouldn't let us stay another week;
but I think I have made the most I could of the opportunities that were mine the
past two weeks, and I don't expect that I shall have any serious trouble with
Helen in the future. The back of the greatest obstacle in the path of progress
is broken. I think "no" and "yes," conveyed by a shake or a
nod of my head, have become facts as apparent to her as hot and cold or as the
difference between pain and pleasure. And I don't intend that the lesson she has
learned at the cost of so much pain and trouble shall be unlearned. I shall
stand between her and the over-indulgence of her parents. I have told Captain
and Mrs. Keller that they must not interfere with me in any way. I have done my
best to make them see the terrible injustice to Helen of allowing her to have
her way in everything, and I have pointed out that the processes of teaching the
child that everything cannot be as he wills it, are apt to be painful both to
him and to his teacher. They have promised to let me have a free hand and help
me as much as possible. The improvement they cannot help seeing in their child
has given them more confidence in me. Of course, it is hard for them. I realize
that it hurts to see their afflicted little child punished and made to do things
against her will. Only a few hours after my talk with Captain and Mrs. Keller
(and they had agreed to everything), Helen took a notion that she wouldn't use
her napkin at table. I think she wanted to see what would happen. I attempted
several times to put the napkin round her neck; but each time she tore it off
and threw it on the floor and finally began to kick the table. I took her plate
away and started to take her out of the room. Her father objected and said that
no child of his should be deprived of his food on any account.
didn't come up to my room after supper, and I didn't see her again until
breakfast-time. She was at her place when I came down. She had put the napkin
under her chin, instead of pinning it at the back, as was her custom. She called
my attention to the new arrangement, and when I did not object she seemed
pleased and patted herself. When she left the dining-room, she took my hand and
patted it. I wondered if she was trying to "make up." I thought I
would try the effect of a little belated discipline. I went back to the
dining-room and got a napkin. When Helen came upstairs for her lesson, I
arranged the objects on the table as usual, except that the cake, which I always
give her in bits as a reward when she spells a word quickly and correctly, was
not there. She noticed this at once and made the sign for it. I showed her the
napkin and pinned it round her neck, then tore it off and threw it on the floor
and shook my head. I repeated this performance several times. I think she
understood perfectly well; for she slapped her hand two or three times and shook
her head. We began the lesson as usual. I gave her an object, and she spelled
the name (she knows twelve now). After spelling half the words, she stopped
suddenly, as if a thought had flashed into her mind, and felt for the napkin.
She pinned it round her neck and made the sign for cake (it didn't occur to her
to spell the word, you see). I took this for a promise that if I gave her some
cake she would be a good girl. I gave her a larger piece than usual, and she
chuckled and patted herself.
almost live in the garden, where everything is growing and blooming and glowing.
After breakfast we go out and watch the men at work. Helen loves to dig and play
in the dirt like any other child. This morning she planted her doll and showed
me that she expected her to grow as tall as I. You must see that she is very
bright, but you have no idea how cunning she is.
ten we come in and string beads for a few minutes. She can make a great many
combinations now, and often invents new ones herself. Then I let her decide
whether she will sew or knit or crochet. She learned to knit very quickly, and
is making a wash-cloth for her mother. Last week she made her doll an apron, and
it was done as well as any child of her age could do it. But I am always glad
when this work is over for the day. Sewing and crocheting are inventions of the
devil, I think. I'd rather break stones on the king's highway than hem a
handkerchief. At eleven we have gymnastics. She knows all the free-hand
movements and the "Anvil Chorus" with the dumb-bells. Her father says
he is going to fit up a gymnasium for her in the pump-house; but we both like a
good romp better than set exercises. The hour from twelve to one is devoted to
the learning of new words. BUT YOU MUSTN'T THINK THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I SPELL
TO HELEN; FOR I SPELL IN HER HAND EVERYTHING WE DO ALL DAY LONG, ALTHOUGH SHE
HAS NO IDEA AS YET WHAT THE SPELLING MEANS. After dinner I rest for an hour, and
Helen plays with her dolls or frolics in the yard with the little darkies, who
were her constant companions before I came. Later I join them, and we make the
rounds of the outhouses. We visit the horses and mules in their stalls and hunt
for eggs and feed the turkeys. Often, when the weather is fine, we drive from
four to six, or go to see her aunt at Ivy Green or her cousins in the town.
Helen's instincts are decidedly social; she likes to have people about her and
to visit her friends, partly, I think, because they always have things she likes
to eat. After supper we go to my room and do all sorts of things until eight,
when I undress the little woman and put her to bed. She sleeps with me now. Mrs.
Keller wanted to get a nurse for her, but I concluded I'd rather be her nurse
than look after a stupid, lazy negress. Besides, I like to have Helen depend on
me for everything, AND I FIND IT MUCH EASIER TO TEACH HER THINGS AT ODD MOMENTS
THAN AT SET TIMES.
March 31st I found that Helen knew eighteen nouns and three verbs. Here is a
list of the words. Those with a cross after them are words she asked for
herself: DOLL, MUG, PIN, KEY, DOG, HAT, CUP, BOX, WATER, MILK, CANDY, EYE (X),
FINGER (X), TOE (X), HEAD (X), CAKE, BABY, MOTHER, SIT, STAND, WALK. On April
1st she learned the nouns KNIFE, FORK, SPOON, SAUCER, TEA, PAPA, BED, and the
must write you a line this morning because something very important has
happened. Helen has taken the second great step in her education. She has
learned that EVERYTHING HAS A NAME, AND THAT THE MANUAL ALPHABET IS THE KEY TO
EVERYTHING SHE WANTS TO KNOW.
a previous letter I think I wrote you that "mug" and "milk"
had given Helen more trouble than all the rest. She confused the nouns with the
verb "drink." She didn't know the word for "drink," but went
through the pantomime of drinking whenever she spelled "mug" or
"milk." This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the
name for "water." When she wants to know the name of anything, she
points to it and pats my hand. I spelled "w-a-t-e-r" and thought no
more about it until after breakfast. Then it occurred to me that with the help
of this new word I might succeed in straightening out the "mug-milk"
difficulty. We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under
the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I
spelled "w-a-t-e-r" in Helen's free hand. The word coming so close
upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her.
She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face.
She spelled "water" several times. Then she dropped on the ground and
asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning
round she asked for my name. I spelled "Teacher." Just then the nurse
brought Helen's little sister into the pump-house, and Helen spelled
"baby" and pointed to the nurse. All the way back to the house she was
highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a
few hours she had adDED THIRTY NEW WORDS TO HER VOCABULARY. HERE ARE SOME OF
THEM: DOOR, OPEN, SHUT, GIVE, GO, COME, and a great many more.
didn't finish my letter in time to get it posted last night; so I shall add a
line. Helen got up this morning like a radiant fairy. She has flitted from
object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very
gladness. Last night when I got in bed, she stole into my arms of her own accord
and kissed me for the first time, and I thought my heart would burst, so full
was it of joy.
see an improvement in Helen day to day, almost from hour to hour. Everything
must have a name now. Wherever we go, she asks eagerly for the names of things
she has not learned at home. She is anxious for her friends to spell, and eager
to teach the letters to every one she meets. She drops the signs and pantomime
she used before, as soon as she has words to supply their place, and the
acquirement of a new word affords her the liveliest pleasure. And we notice that
her face grows more expressive each day.
HAVE DECIDED NOT TO TRY TO HAVE REGULAR LESSONS FOR THE PRESENT. I AM GOING TO
TREAT HELEN EXACTLY LIKE A TWO-YEAR-OLD CHILD. IT OCCURRED TO ME THE OTHER DAY
THAT IT IS ABSURD TO REQUIRE A CHILD TO COME TO A CERTAIN PLACE AT A CERTAIN
TIME AND RECITE CERTAIN LESSONS, WHEN HE HAS NOT YET ACQUIRED A WORKING
VOCABULARY. I sent Helen away and sat down to think. I asked myself, "How
does a normal child learn language?" The answer was simple, "By
imitation." The child comes into the world with the ability to learn, and
he learns of himself, provided he is supplied with sufficient outward stimulus.
He sees people do things, and he tries to do them. He hears others speak, and he
tried to speak. BUT LONG BEFORE HE UTTERS HIS FIRST WORD, HE UNDERSTANDS WHAT IS
SAID TO HIM. I have been observing Helen's little cousin lately. She is about
fifteen months old, and already understands a great deal. In response to
questions she points out prettily her nose, mouth, eye, chin, cheek, ear. If I
say, "Where is baby's other ear?" she points it out correctly. If I
hand her a flower, and say, "Give it to mamma," she takes it to her
mother. If I say, "Where is the little rogue?" she hides behind her
mother's chair, or covers her face with her hands and peeps out at me with an
expression of genuine roguishness. She obeys many commands like these:
"Come," "Kiss," "Go to papa," "Shut the
door," "Give me the biscuit." But I have not heard her try to say
any of these words, although they have been repeated hundreds of times in her
hearing, and it is perfectly evident that she understands them. These
observations have given me a clue to the method to be followed in teaching Helen
language.I SHALL TALK INTO HER HAND AS WE TALK INTO THE BABY'S EARS. I shall
assume that she has the normal child's capacity of assimilation and imitation. I
SHALL USE COMPLETE SENTENCES IN TALKING TO HER, and fill out the meaning with
gestures and her descriptive signs when necessity requires it; but I shall not
try to keep her mind fixed on any one thing. I shall do all I can to interest
and stimulate it, and wait for results.
new scheme works splendidly. Helen knows the meaning of more than a hundred
words now, and learns new ones daily without the slightest suspicion that she is
performing a most difficult feat. She learns because she can't help it, just as
the bird learns to fly. But don't imagine that she "talks fluently."
Like her baby cousin, she expresses whole sentences by single words.
"Milk," with a gesture means, "Give me more milk."
"Mother," accompanied by an inquiring look, means, "Were is
mother?" "Go" means, "I want to go out." But when I
spell into her hand, "Give me some bread," she hands me the bread, or
if I say, "Get your hat and we will go to walk," she obeys instantly.
The two words, "hat" and "walk" would have the same effect;
BUT THE WHOLE SENTENCE, REPEATED MANY TIMES DURING THE DAY, MUST IN TIME IMPRESS
ITSELF UPON THE BRAIN, AND BY AND BY SHE WILL USE IT HERSELF.
play a little game which I find most useful in developing the intellect, and
which incidentally answers the purpose of a language lesson. It is an adaptation
of hide-the-thimble. I hide something, a ball or a spool, and we hunt for it.
When we first played this game two or three days ago, she showed no ingenuity at
all in finding the object. She looked in places where it would have been
impossible to put the ball or the spool. For instance, when I hid the ball, she
looked under her writing-board. Again, when I hid the spool, she looked for it
in a little box not more than an inch long; and she very soon gave up the
search. Now I can keep up her interest in the game for an hour or longer, and
she shows much more intelligence, and often great ingenuity in the search. This
morning I hid a cracker. She looked everywhere she could think of without
success, and was evidently in despair when suddenly a thought struck her, and
she came running to me and made me open my mouth very wide, while she gave it a
thorough investigation. Finding no trace of the cracker there, she pointed to my
stomach and spelled "eat," meaning, "Did you eat it?"
we went down town and met a gentleman who gave Helen some candy, which she ate,
except one small piece which she put in her apron pocket. When we reached home,
she found her mother, and of her own accord said, "Give baby candy."
Mrs. Keller spelled, "No--baby eat--no." Helen went to the cradle and
felt of Mildred's mouth and pointed to her own teeth. Mrs. Keller spelled
"teeth." Helen shook her head and spelled "Baby teeth--no, baby
eat--no," meaning of course, "Baby cannot eat because she has no
I don't want any more kindergarten materials. I used my little stock of beads,
cards and straws at first because I didn't know what else to do; but the need
for them is past, for the present at any rate.
am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They
seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot
who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will
think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him
touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting
indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he
build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of
coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills
the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child
can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.
is learning adjectives and adverbs as easily as she learned nouns. The idea
always precedes the word. She had signs for SMALL and LARGE long before I came
to her. If she wanted a small object and was given a large one, she would shake
her head and take up a tiny bit of the skin of one hand between the thumb and
finger of the other. If she wanted to indicate something large, she spread the
fingers of both hands as wide as she could, and brought them together, as if to
clasp a big ball. The other day I substituted the words SMALL and LARGE for
these signs, and she at once adopted the words and discarded the signs. I can
now tell her to bring me a large book or a small plate, to go upstairs slowly,
to run fast and to walk quickly. This morning she used the conjunction AND for
the first time. I told her to shut the door, and she added, "and
came tearing upstairs a few minutes ago in a state of great excitement. I
couldn't make out at first what it was all about. She kept spelling
"dog--baby" and pointing to her five fingers one after another, and
sucking them. My first thought was, one of the dogs has hurt Mildred; but
Helen's beaming face set my fears at rest. Nothing would do but I must go
somewhere with her to see something. She led the way to the pump-house, and
there in the corner was one of the setters with five dear little pups! I taught
her the word "puppy" and drew her hand over them all, while they
sucked, and spelled "puppies." She was much interested in the feeding
process, and spelled "mother-dog" and "baby" several times.
Helen noticed that the puppies' eyes were closed, and she said,
"Eyes--shut. Sleep--no," meaning, "The eyes are shut, but the
puppies are not asleep." She screamed with glee when the little things
squealed and squirmed in their efforts to get back to their mother, and spelled,
"Baby--eat large." I suppose her idea was "Baby eats much."
She pointed to each puppy, one after another, and to her five fingers, and I
taught her the word FIVE. Then she held up one finger and said "baby."
I knew she was thinking of Mildred, and I spelled, "One baby and five
puppies." After she had played with them a little while, the thought
occurred to her that the puppies must have special names, like people, and she
asked for the name of each pup. I told her to ask her father, and she said,
"No--mother." She evidently thought mothers were more likely to know
about babies of all sorts. She noticed that one of the puppies was much smaller
than the others, and she spelled "small," making the sign at the same
time, and I said "very small." She evidently understood that VERY was
the name of the new thing that had come into her head; for all the way back to
the house she used the word VERY correctly. One stone was "small,"
another was "very small." When she touched her little sister, she
said: "Baby--small. Puppy- very small." Soon after, she began to vary
her steps from large to small, and little mincing steps were "very
small." She is going through the house now, applying the new words to all
kinds of objects.
I have abandoned the idea of regular lessons, I find that Helen learns much
faster. I am convinced that the time spent by the teacher in digging out of the
child what she has put into him, for the sake of satisfying herself that it has
taken root, is so much time thrown away. IT'S MUCH BETTER, I THINK, TO ASSUME
THAT THE CHILD IS DOING HIS PART, AND THAT THE SEED YOU HAVE SOWN WILL BEAR
FRUIT IN DUE TIME. It's only fair to the child, anyhow, and it saves you much
have begun to take long walks every morning, immediately after breakfast. The
weather is fine, and the air is full of the scent of strawberries. Our objective
point is Keller's Landing, on the Tennessee, about two miles distant. We never
know how we get there, or where we are at a given moment; but that only adds to
our enjoyment, especially when everything is new and strange. Indeed, I feel as
if I had never seen anything until now, Helen finds so much to ask about along
the way. We chase butterflies, and sometimes catch one. Then we sit down under a
tree, or in the shade of a bush, and talk about it. Afterwards, if it has
survived the lesson, we let it go; but usually its life and beauty are
sacrificed on the altar of learning, though in another sense it lives forever;
for has it not been transformed into living thoughts? It is wonderful how words
generate ideas! Every new word Helen learns seems to carry with it necessity for
many more. Her mind grows through its ceaseless activity.
Landing was used during the war to land troops, but has long since gone to
pieces, and is overgrown with moss and weeds. The solitude of the place sets one
dreaming. Near the landing there is a beautiful little spring, which Helen calls
"squirrel-cup," because I told her the squirrels came there to drink.
She has felt dead squirrels and rabbits and other wild animals, and is anxious
to see a "walk-squirrel," which interpreted, means, I think, a
"live squirrel." We go home about dinner-time usually, and Helen is
eager to tell her mother everything she has seen. THIS DESIRE TO REPEAT WHAT HAS
BEEN TOLD HER SHOWS A MARKED ADVANCE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF HER INTELLECT, AND IS
AN INVALUABLE STIMULUS TO THE ACQUISITION OF LANGUAGE. I ASK ALL HER FRIENDS TO
ENCOURAGE HER TO TELL THEM OF HER DOINGS, AND TO MANIFEST AS MUCH CURIOSITY AND
PLEASURE IN HER LITTLE ADVENTURES AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN. This gratifies the
child's love of approbation and keeps up her interest in things. This is the
basis of real intercourse. She makes many mistakes, of course, twists words and
phrases, puts the cart before the horse, and gets herself into hopeless tangles
of nouns and verbs; but so does the hearing child. I am sure these difficulties
will take care of themselves. The impulse to tell is the important thing. I
supply a word here and there, sometimes a sentence, and suggest something which
she has omitted or forgotten. Thus her vocabulary grows apace, and the new words
germinate and bring forth new ideas; and they are the stuff out of which heaven
and earth are made.
work grows more absorbing and interesting every day. Helen is a wonderful child,
so spontaneous and eager to learn. She knows about 300 words now and A GREAT
MANY COMMON IDIOMS, and it is not three months yet since she learned her first
word. It is a rare privilege to watch the birth, growth, and first feeble
struggles of a living mind; this privilege is mine; and moreover, it is given me
to rouse and guide this bright intelligence.
only I were better fitted for the great task! I feel every day more and more
inadequate. My mind is full of ideas; but I cannot get them into working shape.
You see, my mind is undisciplined, full of skips and jumps, and here and there a
lot of things huddled together in dark corners. How I long to put it in order!
Oh, if only there were some one to help me! I need a teacher quite as much as
Helen. I know that the education of this child will be the distinguishing event
of my life, if I have the brains and perseverance to accomplish it. I have made
up my mind about one thing: Helen must learn to use books- indeed, we must both
learn to use them, and that reminds me--will you please ask Mr. Anagnos to get
me Perez's and Sully's Psychologies? I think I shall find them helpful.
have reading lessons every day. Usually we take one of the little
"Readers" up in a big tree near the house and spend an hour or two
finding the words Helen already knows. WE MAKE A SORT OF GAME OF IT and try to
see who can find the words most quickly, Helen with her fingers, or I with my
eyes, and she learns as many new words as I can explain with the help of those
she knows. When her fingers light upon words she knows, she fairly screams with
pleasure and hugs and kisses me for joy, especially if she thinks she has me
beaten. It would astonish you to see how many words she learns in an hour in
this pleasant manner. Afterward I put the new words into little sentences in the
frame, and sometimes it is possible to tell a little story about a bee or a cat
or a little boy in this way. I can now tell her to go upstairs or down, out of
doors or into the house, lock or unlock a door, take or bring objects, sit,
stand, walk, run, lie, creep, roll, or climb. She is delighted with
action-words; so it is no trouble at all to teach her verbs. She is always ready
for a lesson, and the eagerness with which she absorbs ideas is very delightful.
She is as triumphant over the conquest of a sentence as a general who has
captured the enemy's stronghold.
of Helen's old habits, that is strongest and hardest to correct, is a tendency
to break things. If she finds anything in her way, she flings it on the floor,
no matter what it is: a glass, a pitcher, or even a lamp. She has a great many
dolls, and every one of them has been broken in a fit of temper or ennui. The
other day a friend brought her a new doll from Memphis, and I thought I would
see if I could make Helen understand that she must not break it. I made her go
through the motion of knocking the doll's head on the table and spelled to her:
"No, no, Helen is naughty. Teacher is sad," and let her feel the
grieved expression on my face. Then I made her caress the doll and kiss the hurt
spot and hold it gently in her arms, and I spelled to her, "Good Helen,
teacher is happy," and let her feel the smile on my face. She went through
these motions several times, mimicking every movement, then she stood very still
for a moment with a troubled look on her face, which suddenly cleared, and she
spelled, "Good Helen," and wreathed her face in a very large,
artificial smile. Then she carried the doll upstairs and put it on the top shelf
of the wardrobe, and she has not touched it since.
give my kind regards to Mr. Anagnos and let him see my letter, if you think
best. I hear there is a deaf and blind child being educated at the Baltimore
weather is scorching. We need rain badly. We are all troubled about Helen. She
is very nervous and excitable. She is restless at night and has no appetite. It
is hard to know what to do with her. The doctor says her mind is too active; but
how are we to keep her from thinking? She begins to spell the minute she wakes
up in the morning, and continues all day long. If I refuse to talk to her, she
spells into her own hand, and apparently carries on the liveliest conversation
gave her my braille slate to play with, thinking that the mechanical pricking of
holes in the paper would amuse her and rest her mind. But what was my
astonishment when I found that the little witch was writing letters! I had no
idea she knew what a letter was. She has often gone with me to the post-office
to mail letters, and I suppose I have repeated to her things I wrote to you. She
knew, too, that I sometimes write "letters to blind girls" on the
slate; but I didn't suppose that she had any clear idea what a letter was. One
day she brought me a sheet that she had punched full of holes, and wanted to put
it in an envelope and take it to the post-office. She said,
"Frank--letter." I asked her what she had written to Frank. She
replied, "Much words. Puppy motherdog--five. Baby--cry. Hot. Helen
walk--no. Sunfire--bad. Frank--come. Helen--kiss Frank. Strawberries--very
is almost as eager to read as she is to talk. I find she grasps the import of
whole sentences, catching from the context the meaning of words she doesn't
know; and her eager questions indicate the outward reaching of her mind and its
other night when I went to bed, I found Helen sound asleep with a big book
clasped tightly in her arms. She had evidently been reading, and fallen asleep.
When I asked her about it in the morning, she said, "Book--cry," and
completed her meaning by shaking and other signs of fear. I taught her the word
AFRAID, and she said: "Helen is not afraid. Book is afraid. Book will sleep
with girl." I told her that the book wasn't afraid, and must sleep in its
case, and that "girl" mustn't read in bed. She looked very roguish,
and apparently understood that I saw through her ruse.
am glad Mr. Anagnos thinks so highly of me as a teacher. But "genius"
and "originality" are words we should not use lightly. If, indeed,
they apply to me even remotely, I do not see that I deserve any laudation on
right here I want to say something which is for your ears alone. Something
within me tells me that I shall succeed beyond my dreams. Were it not for some
circumstances that make such an idea highly improbable, even absurd, I should
think Helen's education would surpass in interest and wonder Dr. Howe's
achievement. I know that she has remarkable powers, and I believe that I shall
be able to develop and mould them. I cannot tell how I know these things. I had
no idea a short time ago how to go to work; I was feeling about in the dark; but
somehow I know now, and I know that I know. I cannot explain it; but when
difficulties arise, I am not perplexed or doubtful. I know how to meet them; I
seem to divine Helen's peculiar needs. It is wonderful.
people are taking a deep interest in Helen. No one can see her without being
impressed. She is no ordinary child, and people's interest in her education will
be no ordinary interest. Therefore let us be exceedingly careful what we say and
write about her. I shall write freely to you and tell you everything, on one
condition: It is this: you must promise never to show my letters to any one. My
beautiful Helen shall not be transformed into a prodigy if I can help it.
heat makes Helen languid and quiet. Indeed, the Tophetic weather has reduced us
all to a semi-liquid state. Yesterday Helen took off her clothes and sat in her
skin all the afternoon. When the sun got round to the window where she was
sitting with her book, she got up impatiently and shut the window. But when the
sun came in just the same, she came over to me with a grieved look and spelled
emphatically: "Sun is bad boy. Sun must go to bed."
is the dearest, cutest little thing now, and so loving! One day, when I wanted
her to bring me some water, she said: "Legs very tired. Legs cry
is much interested in some little chickens that are pecking their way into the
world this morning. I let her hold a shell in her hand, and feel the chicken
"chip, chip." Her astonishment, when she felt the tiny creature
inside, cannot be put in a letter. The hen was very gentle, and made no
objection to our investigations. Besides the chickens, we have several other
additions to the family--two calves, a colt, and a penful of funny little pigs.
You would be amused to see me hold a squealing pig in my arms, while Helen feels
it all over, and asks countless questions--questions not easy to answer either.
After seeing the chicken come out of the egg, she asked: "Did baby pig grow
in egg? Where are many shells?"
head measures twenty and one-half inches, and mine measures twenty-one and
one-half inches. You see, I'm only one inch ahead!
weather continues hot. Helen is about the same--pale and thin; but you mustn't
think she is really ill. I am sure the heat, and not the natural, beautiful
activity of her mind, is responsible for her condition. Of course, I shall not
overtax her brain. We are bothered a good deal by people who assume the
responsibility of the world when God is neglectful. They tell us that Helen is
"overdoing," that her mind is too active (these very people thought
she had no mind at all a few months ago!) and suggest many absurd and impossible
remedies. But so far nobody seems to have thought of chloroforming her, which
is, I think, the only effective way of stopping the natural exercise of her
faculties. It's queer how ready people always are with advice in any real or
imaginary emergency, and no matter how many times experience has shown them to
be wrong, they continue to set forth their opinions, as if they had received
them from the Almighty!
am teaching Helen the square-hand letters as a sort of diversion. It gives her
something to do, and keeps her quiet, which I think is desirable while this
enervating weather lasts. She has a perfect mania for counting. She has counted
everything in the house, and is now busy counting the words in her primer. I
hope it will not occur to her to count the hairs of her head. If she could see
and hear, I suppose she would get rid of her superfluous energy in ways which
would not, perhaps, tax her brain so much, although I suspect that the ordinary
child takes his play pretty seriously. The little fellow who whirls his
"New York Flyer" round the nursery, making "horseshoe
curves" undreamed of by less imaginative engineers, is concentrating his
whole soul on his toy locomotive.
just came to say, with a worried expression, "Girl--not count very large
(many) words." I said, "No, go and play with Nancy." This
suggestion didn't please her, however; for she replied, "No. Nancy is very
sick." I asked what was the matter, and she said, "Much (many) teeth
do make Nancy sick." (Mildred is teething.)
happened to tell her the other day that the vine on the fence was a
"creeper." She was greatly amused, and began at once to find analogies
between her movements and those of the plants. They run, creep, hop, and skip,
bend, fall, climb, and swing; but she tells me roguishly that she is
held some worsted for me last night while I wound it. Afterward she began to
swing round and round, spelling to herself all the time, "Wind fast, wind
slow," and apparently enjoying her conceit very much.
had a glorious thunder-tempest last night, and it's much cooler to-day. We all
feel refreshed, as if we'd had a shower-bath. Helen's as lively as a cricket.
She wanted to know if men were shooting in the sky when she felt the thunder,
and if the trees and flowers drank all the rain.
little pupil continues to manifest the same eagerness to learn as at first. Her
every waking moment is spent in the endeavour to satisfy her innate desire for
knowledge, and her mind works so incessantly that we have feared for her health.
But her appetite, which left her a few weeks ago, has returned, and her sleep
seems more quiet and natural. She will be seven years old the twenty-seventh of
this month. Her height is four feet one inch, and her head measures twenty and
one-half inches in circumference, the line being drawn round the head so as to
pass over the prominences of the parietal and frontal bones. Above this line the
head rises one and one-fourth inches.
our walks she keeps up a continual spelling, and delights to accompany it with
actions such as skipping, hopping, jumping, running, walking fast, walking slow,
and the like. When she drops stitches she says, "Helen wrong, teacher will
cry." If she wants water she says, "Give Helen drink water." She
knows four hundred words besides numerous proper nouns. In one lesson I taught
her these words: BEDSTEAD, MATTRESS, SHEET, BLANKET, COMFORTER, SPREAD, PILLOW.
The next day I found that she remembered all but spread. The same day she had
learned, at different times, the words: hOUSE, WEED, DUST, SWING, MOLASSES,
FAST, SLOW, MAPLE-SUGAR and COUNTER, and she had not forgotten one of these
last. This will give you an idea of the retentive memory she possesses. She can
count to thirty very quickly, and can write seven of the square-hand letters and
the words which can be made with them. She seems to understand about writing
letters, and is impatient to "write Frank letter." She enjoys punching
holes in paper with the stiletto, and I supposed it was because she could
examine the result of her work; but we watched her one day, and I was much
surprised to find that she imagined she was writing a letter. She would spell
"Eva" (a cousin of whom she is very fond) with one hand, then make
believe to write it; then spell, "sick in bed," and write that. She
kept this up for nearly an hour. She was (or imagined she was) putting on paper
the things which had interested her. When she had finished the letter she
carried it to her mother and spelled, "Frank letter," and gave it to
her brother to take to the post-office. She had been with me to take letters to
recognizes instantly a person whom she has once met, and spells the name. Unlike
Laura Bridgman, she is fond of gentlemen, and we notice that she makes friends
with a gentleman sooner than with a lady.
is always ready to share whatever she has with those about her, often keeping
but very little for herself. She is very fond of dress and of all kinds of
finery, and is very unhappy when she finds a hole in anything she is wearing.
She will insist on having her hair put in curl papers when she is so sleepy she
can scarcely stand. She discovered a hole in her boot the other morning, and,
after breakfast, she went to her father and spelled, "Helen new boot
Simpson (her brother) buggy store man." One can easily see her meaning.
was a great rumpus downstairs this morning. I heard Helen screaming, and ran
down to see what was the matter. I found her in a terrible passion. I had hoped
this would never happen again. She has been so gentle and obedient the past two
months, I thought love had subdued the lion; but it seems he was only sleeping.
At all events, there she was, tearing and scratching and biting Viney like some
wild thing. It seems Viney had attempted to take a glass, which Helen was
filling with stones, fearing that she would break it. Helen resisted, and Viney
tried to force it out of her hand, and I suspect that she slapped the child, or
did something which caused this unusual outburst of temper. When I took her hand
she was trembling violently, and began to cry. I asked what was the matter, and
she spelled: "Viney--bad," and began to slap and kick her with renewed
violence. I held her hands firmly until she became more calm.
Helen came to my room, looking very sad, and wanted to kiss me. I said, "I
cannot kiss naughty girl." She spelled, "Helen is good, Viney is
bad." I said: "You struck Viney and kicked her and hurt her. You were
very naughty, and I cannot kiss naughty girl." She stood very still for a
moment, and it was evident from her face, which was flushed and troubled, that a
struggle was going on in her mind. Then she said: "Helen did (does) not
love teacher. Helen do love mother. Mother will whip Viney." I told her
that she had better not talk about it any more, but think. She knew that I was
much troubled, and would have liked to stay near me; but I thought it best for
her to sit by herself. At the dinner-table she was greatly disturbed because I
didn't eat, and suggested that "Cook make tea for teacher." But I told
her that my heart was sad, and I didn't feel like eating. She began to cry and
sob and clung to me.
was very much excited when we went upstairs; so I tried to interest her in a
curious insect called a stick-bug. It's the queerest thing I ever saw--a little
bundle of fagots fastened together in the middle. I wouldn't believe it was
alive until I saw it move. Even then it looked more like a mechanical toy than a
living creature. But the poor little girl couldn't fix her attention. Her heart
was full of trouble, and she wanted to talk about it. She said: "Can bug
know about naughty girl? Is bug very happy?" Then, putting her arms round
my neck, she said: "I am (will be) good to-morrow. Helen is (will be) good
all days." I said, "Will you tell Viney you are very sorry you
scratched and kicked her?" She smiled and answered, "Viney (can) not
spell words." "I will tell Viney you are very sorry," I said.
"Will you go with me and find Viney?" She was very willing to go, and
let Viney kiss her, though she didn't return the caress. She has been unusually
affectionate since, and it seems to me there is a sweetness-a soul-beauty in her
face which I have not seen before.
pencil-writing is excellent, as you will see from the enclosed letter, which she
wrote for her own amusement. I am teaching her the braille alphabet, and she is
delighted to be able to make words herself that she can feel.
has now reached the question stage of her development. It is "what?"
"why?" "when?" especially "why?" all day long, and
as her intelligence grows her inquiries become more insistent. I remember how
unbearable I used to find the inquisitiveness of my friends' children; but I
know now that these questions indicate the child's growing interest in the cause
of things. The "why?" is the DOOR THROUGH WHICH HE ENTERS THE WORLD OF
REASON AND REFLECTION. "How does carpenter know to build house?"
"Who put chickens in eggs?" "Why is Viney black?"
"Flies bite--why?" "Can flies know not to bite?" "Why
did father kill sheep?" Of course she asks many questions that are not as
intelligent as these. Her mind isn't more logical than the minds of ordinary
children. On the whole, her questions are analogous to those that a bright
three-year-old child asks; but her desire for knowledge is so earnest, the
questions are never tedious, though they draw heavily upon my meager store of
information, and tax my ingenuity to the utmost.
had a letter from Laura Bridgman last Sunday. Please give her my love, and tell
her Helen sends her a kiss. I read the letter at the supper-table, and Mrs.
Keller exclaimed: "My, Miss Annie, Helen writes almost as well as that
now!" It is true.
had a beautiful time in Huntsville. Everybody there was delighted with Helen,
and showered her with gifts and kisses. The first evening she learned the names
of all the people in the hotel, about twenty, I think. The next morning we were
astonished to find that she remembered all of them, and recognized every one she
had met the night before. She taught the young people the alphabet, and several
of them learned to talk with her. One of the girls taught her to dance the
polka, and a little boy showed her his rabbits and spelled their names for her.
She was delighted, and showed her pleasure by hugging and kissing the little
fellow, which embarrassed him very much.
had Helen's picture taken with a fuzzy, red-eyed little poodle, who got himself
into my lady's good graces by tricks and cunning devices known only to dogs with
an instinct for getting what they want.
has talked incessantly since her return about what she did in Huntsville, and we
notice a very decided improvement in her ability to use language. Curiously
enough, a drive we took to the top of Monte Sano, a beautiful mountain not far
from Huntsville, seems to have impressed her more than anything else, except the
wonderful poodle. She remembers all that I told her about it, and in telling her
mother REPEATED THE VERY WORDS AND PHRASES I HAD USED IN DESCRIBING IT TO HER.
In conclusion she asked her mother if she should like to see "very high
mountain and beautiful cloudcaps." I hadn't used this expression. I said,
"The clouds touch the mountain softly, like beautiful flowers." You
see, I had to use words and images with which she was familiar through the sense
of touch. But it hardly seems possible that any mere words should convey to one
who has never seen a mountain the faintest idea of its grandeur; and I don't see
how any one is ever to know what impression she did receive, or the cause of her
pleasure in what was told her about it. All that we do know certainly is that
she has a good memory and imagination and the faculty of association.
do wish things would stop being born! "New puppies," "new
calves" and "new babies" keep Helen's interest in the why and
wherefore of things at white heat. The arrival of a new baby at Ivy Green the
other day was the occasion of a fresh outburst of questions about the origin of
babies and live things in general. "Where did Leila get new baby? How did
doctor know where to find baby? Did Leila tell doctor to get very small new
baby? Where did doctor find Guy and Prince?" (puppies) "Why is
Elizabeth Evelyn's sister?" etc., etc. These questions were sometimes asked
under circumstances which rendered them embarrassing, and I made up my mind that
something must be done. If it was natural for Helen to ask such questions, it
was my duty to answer them. It's a great mistake, I think, to put children off
with falsehoods and nonsense, when their growing powers of observation and
discrimination excite in them a desire to know about things. From the beginning,
I HAVE MADE IT A PRACTICE TO ANSWER ALL HELEN'S QUESTIONS TO THE BEST OF MY
ABILITY IN A WAY INTELLIGIBLE TO HER, and at the same time truthfully. "Why
should I treat these questions differently?" I asked myself. I decided that
there was no reason, except my deplorable ignorance of the great facts that
underlie our physical existence. It was no doubt because of this ignorance that
I rushed in where more experienced angels fear to tread. There isn't a living
soul in this part of the world to whom I can go for advice in this, or indeed,
in any other educational difficulty. The only thing for me to do in a perplexity
is to go ahead, and learn by making mistakes. But in this case I don't think I
made a mistake. I took Helen and my Botany, "How Plants Grow," up in
the tree, where we often go to read and study, and I told her in simple words
the story of plantlife. I reminded her of the corn, beans and watermelon-seed
she had planted in the spring, and told her that the tall corn in the garden,
and the beans and watermelon vines had grown from those seeds. I explained how
the earth keeps the seeds warm and moist, until the little leaves are strong
enough to push themselves out into the light and air where they can breathe and
grow and bloom and make more seeds, from which other baby-plants shall grow. I
drew an analogy between plant and animal-life, and told her that seeds are eggs
as truly as hens' eggs and birds' eggs--that the mother hen keeps her eggs warm
and dry until the little chicks come out. I made her understand that all life
comes from an egg. The mother bird lays her eggs in a nest and keeps them warm
until the birdlings are hatched. The mother fish lays her eggs where she knows
they will be moist and safe, until it is time for the little fish to come out. I
told her that she could call the egg the cradle of life. Then I told her that
other animals like the dog and cow, and human beings, do not lay their eggs, but
nourish their young in their own bodies. I had no difficulty in making it clear
to her that if plants and animals didn't produce offspring after their kind,
they would cease to exist, and everything in the world would soon die. But the
function of sex I passed over as lightly as possible. I did, however, try to
give her the idea that love is the great continuer of life. The subject was
difficult, and my knowledge inadequate; but I am glad I didn't shirk my
responsibility; for, stumbling, hesitating, and incomplete as my explanation
was, it touched deep responsive chords in the soul of my little pupil, and the
readiness with which she comprehended the great facts of physical life confirmed
me in the opinion that the child has dormant within him, when he comes into the
world, all the experiences of the race. These experiences are like photographic
negatives, until language develops them and brings out the memory-images.
had a letter this morning from her uncle, Doctor Keller. He invited her to come
to see him at Hot Springs. The name Hot Springs interested her, and she asked
many questions about it. She knows about cold springs. There are several near
Tuscumbia; one very large one from which the town got its name.
"Tuscumbia" is the Indian for "Great Spring." But she was
surprised that hot water should come out of the ground. She wanted to know who
made fire under the ground, and if it was like the fire in stoves, and if it
burned the roots of plants and trees.
was much pleased with the letter, and after she had asked all the questions she
could think of, she took it to her mother, who was sewing in the hall, and read
it to her. It was amusing to see her hold it before her eyes and spell the
sentences out on her fingers, just as I had done. Afterward she tried to read it
to Belle (the dog) and Mildred. Mrs. Keller and I watched the nursery comedy
from the door. Belle was sleepy, and Mildred inattentive. Helen looked very
serious, and, once or twice, when Mildred tried to take the letter, she put her
hand away impatiently. Finally Belle got up, shook herself, and was about to
walk away, when Helen caught her by the neck and forced her to lie down again.
In the meantime Mildred had got the letter and crept away with it. Helen felt on
the floor for it, but not finding it there, she evidently suspected Mildred; for
she made the little sound which is her "baby call." Then she got up
and stood very still, as if listening with her feet for Mildred's "thump,
thump." When she had located the sound, she went quickly toward the little
culprit and found her chewing the precious letter! This was too much for Helen.
She snatched the letter and slapped the little hands soundly. Mrs. Keller took
the baby in her arms, and when we had succeeded in pacifying her, I asked Helen,
"What did you do to baby?" She looked troubled, and hesitated a moment
before answering. Then she said: "Wrong girl did eat letter. Helen did slap
very wrong girl." I told her that Mildred was very small, and didn't know
that it was wrong to put the letter in her mouth.
did tell baby, no, no, much (many) times," was Helen's reply.
said, "Mildred doesn't understand your fingers, and we must be very gentle
shook her head.
think. Helen will give baby pretty letter," and with that she ran upstairs
and brought down a neatly folded sheet of braille, on which she had written some
words, and gave it to Mildred, saying, "Baby can eat all words."
do not wonder you were surprised to hear that I was going to write something for
the report. I do not know myself how it happened, except that I got tired of
saying "no," and Captain Keller urged me to do it. He agreed with Mr.
Anagnos that it was my duty to give others the benefit of my experience.
Besides, they said Helen's wonderful deliverance might be a boon to other
I sit down to write, my thoughts freeze, and when I get them on paper they look
like wooden soldiers all in a row, and if a live one happens along, I put him in
a strait-jacket. It's easy enough, however, to say Helen is wonderful, because
she really is. I kept a record of everything she said last week, and I found
that she knows six hundred words. This does not mean, however, that she always
uses them correctly. Sometimes her sentences are like Chinese puzzles; but they
are the kind of puzzles children make when they try to express their half-formed
ideas by means of arbitrary language. She has the true language-impulse, and
shows great fertility of resource in making the words at her command convey her
she has been much interested in colour. She found the word "brown" in
her primer and wanted to know its meaning. I told her that her hair was brown,
and she asked, "Is brown very pretty?" After we had been all over the
house, and I had told her the colour of everything she touched, she suggested
that we go to the hen-houses and barns; but I told her she must wait until
another day because I was very tired. We sat in the hammock; but there was no
rest for the weary there. Helen was eager to know "more colour." I
wonder if she has any vague idea of colour--any reminiscent impression of light
and sound. It seems as if a child who could see and hear until her nineteenth
month must retain some of her first impressions, though ever so faintly. Helen
talks a great deal about things that she cannot know of through the sense of
touch. She asks many questions about the sky, day and night, the ocean and
mountains. She likes to have me tell her what I see in pictures.
I seem to have lost the thread of my discourse. "What colour is
think?" was one of the restful questions she asked, as we swung to and fro
in the hammock. I told her that when we are happy our thoughts are bright, and
when we are naughty they are sad. Quick as a flash she said, "My think is
white, Viney's think is black." You see, she had an idea that the colour of
our thoughts matched that of our skin. I couldn't help laughing, for at that
very moment Viney was shouting at the top of her voice:
long to sit on dem jasper walls
see dem sinners stumble and fall!"
account for the report is finished and sent off. I have two copies, and will
send you one; but you mustn't show it to anybody. It's Mr. Anagnos's property
until it is published.
suppose the little girls enjoyed Helen's letter. She wrote it out of her own
head, as the children say.
talks a great deal about what she will do when she goes to Boston. She asked the
other day, "Who made all things and Boston?" She says Mildred will not
go there because "Baby does cry all days."
wrote another letter to the little girls yesterday, and her father sent it to
Mr. Anagnos. Ask him to let you see it. She has begun to use the pronouns of her
own accord. This morning I happened to say, "Helen will go upstairs."
She laughed and said, "Teacher is wrong. You will go upstairs." This
is another great forward step. Thus it always is. Yesterday's perplexities are
strangely simple to-day, and to-day's difficulties become to-morrow's pastime.
rapid development of Helen's mind is beautiful to watch. I doubt if any teacher
ever had a work of such absorbing interest. There must have been one lucky star
in the heavens at my birth, and I am just beginning to feel its beneficent
had two letters from Mr. Anagnos last week. He is more grateful for my report
than the English idiom will express. Now he wants a picture "of darling
Helen and her illustrious teacher, to grace the pages of the forthcoming annual
have probably read, ere this, Helen's second letter to the little girls. I am
aware that the progress which she has made between the writing of the two
letters must seem incredible. Only those who are with her daily can realize the
rapid advancement which she is making in the acquisition of language. You will
see from her letter that she uses many pronouns correctly. She rarely misuses or
omits one in conversation. Her passion for writing letters and putting her
thoughts upon paper grows more intense. She now tells stories in which the
imagination plays an important part. She is also beginning to realize that she
is not like other children. The other day she asked, "What do my eyes
do?" I told her that I could see things with my eyes, and that she could
see them with her fingers. After thinking a moment she said, "My eyes are
bad!" then she changed it into "My eyes are sick!"
Sullivan's first report, which was published in the official report of the
Perkins Institution for the year 1887, is a short summary of what is fully
recorded in the letters. Here follows the last part, beginning with the great
day, April 5th, when Helen learned water.
her reports Miss Sullivan speaks of "lessons" as if they came in
regular order. This is the effect of putting it all in a summary.
"Lesson" is too formal for the continuous daily work.
day I took her to the cistern. As the water gushed from the pump I spelled
"w-a-t-e-r." Instantly she tapped my hand for a repetition, and then
made the word herself with a radiant face. Just then the nurse came into the
cistern-house bringing her little sister. I put Helen's hand on the baby and
formed the letters "b-a-b-y," which she repeated without help and with
the light of a new intelligence in her face.
our way back to the house everything she touched had to be named for her, and
repetition was seldom necessary. Neither the length of the word nor the
combination of letters seems to make any difference to the child. Indeed, she
remembers HELIOTROPE and CHRYSANTHEMUM more readily than she does shorter names.
At the end of August she knew 625 words.
lesson was followed by one on words indicative of place-relations. Her dress was
put IN a trunk, and then ON it, and these prepositions were spelled for her.
Very soon she learned the difference between ON and IN, though it was some time
before she could use these words in sentences of her own. Whenever it was
possible she was made the actor in the lesson, and was delighted to stand ON the
chair, and to be put INTO the wardrobe. In connection with this lesson she
learned the names of the members of the family and the word IS. "Helen is
in wardrobe," "Mildred is in crib," "Box is on table,"
"Papa is on bed," are specimens of sentences constructed by her during
the latter part of April.
came a lesson on words expressive of positive quality. For the first lesson I
had two balls, one made of worsted, large and soft, the other a bullet. She
perceived the difference in size at once. Taking the bullet she made her
habitual sign for SMALL--that is, by pinching a little bit of the skin of one
hand. Then she took the other ball and made her sign for LARGE by spreading both
hands over it. I substituted the adjectives LARGE and SMALL for those signs.
Then her attention was called to the hardness of the one ball and the softness
of the other, and she learned SOFT and HARD. A few minutes afterward she felt of
her little sister's head and said to her mother, "Mildred's head is small
and hard." Next I tried to teach her the meaning of FAST and SLOW. She
helped me wind some worsted one day, first rapidly and afterward slowly. I then
said to her with the finger alphabet, "wind fast," or "wind
slow," holding her hands and showing her how to do as I wished. The next
day, while exercising, she spelled to me, "Helen wind fast," and began
to walk rapidly. Then she said, "Helen wind slow," again suiting the
action to the words.
now thought it time to teach her to read printed words. A slip on which was
printed, in raised letters, the word BOX was placed on the object, and the same
experiment was tried with a great many articles, but she did not immediately
comprehend that the label-name represented the thing. Then I took an alphabet
sheet and put her finger on the letter A, at the same time making A with my
fingers. She moved her finger from one printed character to another as I formed
each letter on my fingers. She learned all the letters, both capital and small,
in one day. Next I turned to the first page of the primer and made her touch the
word CAT, spelling it on my fingers at the same time. Instantly she caught the
idea, and asked me to find DOG and many other words. Indeed, she was much
displeased because I could not find her name in the book. Just then I had no
sentences in raised letters which she could understand; but she would sit for
hours feeling each word in her book. When she touched one with which she was
familiar, a peculiarly sweet expression lighted her face, and we saw her
countenance growing sweeter and more earnest every day. About this time I sent a
list of the words she knew to Mr. Anagnos, and he very kindly had them printed
for her. Her mother and I cut up several sheets of printed words so that she
could arrange them into sentences. This delighted her more than anything she had
yet done; and the practice thus obtained prepared the way for the writing
lessons. There was no difficulty in making her understand how to write the same
sentences with pencil and paper which she made every day with the slips, and she
very soon perceived that she need not confine herself to phrases already
learned, but could communicate any thought that was passing through her mind. I
put one of the writing boards used by the blind between the folds of the paper
on the table, and allowed her to examine an alphabet of the square letters, such
as she was to make. I then guided her hand to form the sentence, "Cat does
drink milk." When she finished it she was overjoyed. She carried it to her
mother, who spelled it to her.
after day she moved her pencil in the same tracks along the grooved paper, never
for a moment expressing the least impatience or sense of fatigue.
she had now learned to express her ideas on paper, I next taught her the braille
system. She learned it gladly when she discovered that she could herself read
what she had written; and this still affords her constant pleasure. For a whole
evening she will sit at the table writing whatever comes into her busy brain;
and I seldom find any difficulty in reading what she has written.
progress in arithmetic has been equally remarkable. She can add and subtract
with great rapidity up to the sum of one hundred; and she knows the
multiplication tables as far as the FIVES. She was working recently with the
number forty, when I said to her, "Make twos." She replied
immediately, "Twenty twos make forty." Later I said, "Make
fifteen threes and count." I wished her to make the groups of threes and
supposed she would then have to count them in order to know what number fifteen
threes would make. But instantly she spelled the answer: "Fifteen threes
being told that she was white and that one of the servants was black, she
concluded that all who occupied a similar menial position were of the same hue;
and whenever I asked her the colour of a servant she would say
"black." When asked the colour of some one whose occupation she did
not know she seemed bewildered, and finally said "blue."
has never been told anything about death or the burial of the body, and yet on
entering the cemetery for the first time in her life, with her mother and me, to
look at some flowers, she laid her hand on our eyes and repeatedly spelled
"cry--cry." Her eyes actually filled with tears. The flowers did not
seem to give her pleasure, and she was very quiet while we stayed there.
another occasion while walking with me she seemed conscious of the presence of
her brother, although we were distant from him. She spelled his name repeatedly
and started in the direction in which he was coming.
walking or riding she often gives the names of the people we meet almost as soon
as we recognize them.
letters take up the account again.
took Helen to the circus, and had "the time of our lives"! The circus
people were much interested in Helen, and did everything they could to make her
first circus a memorable event. They let her feel the animals whenever it was
safe. She fed the elephants, and was allowed to climb up on the back of the
largest, and sit in the lap of the "Oriental Princess," while the
elephant marched majestically around the ring. She felt some young lions. They
were as gentle as kittens; but I told her they would get wild and fierce as they
grew older. She said to the keeper, "I will take the baby lions home and
teach them to be mild." The keeper of the bears made one big black fellow
stand on his hind legs and hold out his great paw to us, which Helen shook
politely. She was greatly delighted with the monkeys and kept her hand on the
star performer while he went through his tricks, and laughed heartily when he
took off his hat to the audience. One cute little fellow stole her hair-ribbon,
and another tried to snatch the flowers out of her hat. I don't know who had the
best time, the monkeys, Helen or the spectators. One of the leopards licked her
hands, and the man in charge of the giraffes lifted her up in his arms so that
she could feel their ears and see how tall they were. She also felt a Greek
chariot, and the charioteer would have liked to take her round the ring; but she
was afraid of "many swift horses." The riders and clowns and
rope-walkers were all glad to let the little blind girl feel their costumes and
follow their motions whenever it was possible, and she kissed them all, to show
her gratitude. Some of them cried, and the wild man of Borneo shrank from her
sweet little face in terror. She has talked about nothing but the circus ever
since. In order to answer her questions, I have been obliged to read a great
deal about animals. At present I feel like a jungle on wheels!
find it hard to realize that Christmas is almost here, in spite of the fact that
Helen talks about nothing else. Do you remember what a happy time we had last
has learned to tell the time at last, and her father is going to give her a
watch for Christmas.
is as eager to have stories told her as any hearing child I ever knew. She has
made me repeat the story of little Red Riding Hood so often that I believe I
could say it backward. She likes stories that make her cry--I think we all do,
it's so nice to feel sad when you've nothing particular to be sad about. I am
teaching her little rhymes and verses, too. They fix beautiful thoughts in her
memory. I think, too, that they quicken all the child's faculties, because they
stimulate the imagination. Of course I don't try to explain everything. If I
did, there would be no opportunity for the play of fancy. TOO MUCH EXPLANATION
DIRECTS THE CHILD'S ATTENTION TO WORDS AND SENTENCES, SO THAT HE FAILS TO GET
THE THOUGHT AS A WHOLE. I do not think anyone can read, or talk for that matter,
until he forgets words and sentences in the technical sense.
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