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The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller


Part II: Letters (1887 - 1901)




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By the beginning of the next year her idioms are firmer. More adjectives appear, including adjectives of colour. Although she can have no sensuous knowledge of colour, she can use the words, as we use most of our vocabulary, intellectually, with truth, not to impression, but to fact. This letter is to a school-mate at the Perkins Institution.


Tuscumbia, Ala. Jan. 2nd 1888.


Dear Sarah

I am happy to write to you this morning. I hope Mr. Anagnos is coming to see me soon. I will go to Boston in June and I will buy father gloves, and James nice collar, and Simpson cuffs. I saw Miss Betty and her scholars. They had a pretty Christmas-tree, and there were many pretty presents on it for little children. I had a mug, and little bird and candy. I had many lovely things for Christmas. Aunt gave me a trunk for Nancy and clothes. I went to party with teacher and mother. We did dance and play and eat nuts and candy and cakes and oranges and I did have fun with little boys and girls. Mrs. Hopkins did send me lovely ring, I do love her and little blind girls.


Men and boys do make carpets in mills. Wool grows on sheep. Men do cut sheep's wool off with large shears, and send it to the mill. Men and women do make wool cloth in mills.


Cotton grows on large stalks in fields. Men and boys and girls and women do pick cotton. We do make thread and cotton dresses of cotton. Cotton has pretty white and red flowers on it. Teacher did tear her dress. Mildred does cry. I will nurse Nancy. Mother will buy me lovely new aprons and dress to take to Boston. I went to Knoxville with father and aunt. Bessie is weak and little. Mrs. Thompson's chickens killed Leila's chickens. Eva does sleep in my bed. I do love good girls.





The next two letters mention her visit in January to her relatives in Memphis, Tennessee. She was taken to the cotton exchange. When she felt the maps and blackboards she asked, "Do men go to school?" She wrote on the blackboard the names of all the gentlemen present. While at Memphis she went over one of the large Mississippi steamers.


Tuscumbia, Alabama, February 15th [1888].


Dear Mr. Hale,

I am happy to write you a letter this morning. Teacher told me about kind gentleman I shall be glad to read pretty story I do read stories in my book about tigers and lions and sheep.


I am coming to Boston in June to see little blind girls and I will come to see you. I went to Memphis to see grandmother and Aunt Nannie. Teacher bought me lovely new dress and cap and aprons. Little Natalie is a very weak and small baby. Father took us to see steamboat. It was on a large river. Boat is like house. Mildred is a good baby. I do love to play with little sister. Nancy was not a good child when I went to Memphis. She did cry loud. I will not write more to-day. I am tired.






Tuscumbia, Ala., Feb. 24th, 1888.


My dear Mr. Anagnos,--I am glad to write you a letter in Braille. This morning Lucien Thompson sent me a beautiful bouquet of violets and crocuses and jonquils. Sunday Adeline Moses brought me a lovely doll. It came from New York. Her name is Adeline Keller. She can shut her eyes and bend her arms and sit down and stand up straight. She has on a pretty red dress. She is Nancy's sister and I am their mother. Allie is their cousin. Nancy was a bad child when I went to Memphis she cried loud, I whipped her with a stick.


Mildred does feed little chickens with crumbs. I love to play with little sister.


Teacher and I went to Memphis to see aunt Nannie and grandmother. Louise is aunt Nannie's child. Teacher bought me a lovely new dress and gloves and stockings and collars and grandmother made me warm flannels, and aunt Nannie made me aprons. Lady made me a pretty cap. I went to see Robert and Mr. Graves and Mrs. Graves and little Natalie, and Mr. Farris and Mr. Mayo and Mary and everyone. I do love Robert and teacher. She does not want me to write more today. I feel tired.


I found box of candy in Mr. Grave's pocket. Father took us to see steam boat it is like house. Boat was on very large river. Yates plowed yard today to plant grass. Mule pulled plow. Mother will make garden of vegetables. Father will plant melons and peas and beans.


Cousin Bell will come to see us Saturday. Mother will make ice-cream for dinner, we will have ice-cream and cake for dinner. Lucien Thompson is sick. I am sorry for him.


Teacher and I went to walk in the yard, and I learned about how flowers and trees grow. Sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Sheffield is north and Tuscumbia is south. We will go to Boston in June. I will have fun with little blind girls.


Good bye



"Uncle Morrie" of the next letter is Mr. Morrison Heady, of Normandy, Kentucky, who lost his sight and hearing when he was a boy. He is the author of some commendable verses.


Tuscumbia, Ala., March 1st 1888.


My dear uncle Morrie,--I am happy to write you a letter, I do love you, and I will hug and kiss you when I see you.


Mr. Anagnos is coming to see me Monday. I do love to run and hop and skip with Robert in bright warm sun. I do know little girl in Lexington Ky. her name is Katherine Hobson.


I am going to Boston in June with mother and teacher, I will have fun with little blind girls, and Mr. Hale will send me pretty story. I do read stories in my book about lions and tigers and bears.


Mildred will not go to Boston, she does cry. I love to play with little sister, she is weak and small baby. Eva is better.


Yates killed ants, ants stung Yates. Yates is digging in garden. Mr. Anagnos did see oranges, they look like golden apples.


Robert will come to see me Sunday when sun shines and I will have fun with him. My cousin Frank lives in Louisville. I will come to Memphis again to see Mr. Farris and Mrs. Graves and Mr. Mayo and Mr. Graves. Natalie is a good girl and does not cry, and she will be big and Mrs. Graves is making short dresses for her. Natalie has a little carriage. Mr. Mayo has been to Duck Hill and he brought sweet flowers home.


With much love and a kiss



In this account of the picnic we get an illuminating glimpse of Miss Sullivan's skill in teaching her pupil during play hours. This was a day when the child's vocabulary grew.


Tuscumbia, Ala., May 3rd 1888.


Dear Mr. Anagnos.--I am glad to write to you this morning, because I love you very much. I was very happy to receive pretty book and nice candy and two letters from you. I will come to see you soon and will ask you many questions about countries and you will love good child.


Mother is making me pretty new dresses to wear in Boston and I will look lovely to see little girls and boys and you. Friday teacher and I went to a picnic with little children. We played games and ate dinner under the trees, and we found ferns and wild flowers. I walked in the woods and learned names of many trees. There are poplar and cedar and pine and oak and ash and hickory and maple trees. They make a pleasant shade and the little birds love to swing to and fro and sing sweetly up in the trees. Rabbits hop and squirrels run and ugly snakes do crawl in the woods. Geraniums and roses jasamines and japonicas are cultivated flowers. I help mother and teacher water them every night before supper.


Cousin Arthur made me a swing in the ash tree. Aunt Ev. has gone to Memphis. Uncle Frank is here. He is picking strawberries for dinner. Nancy is sick again, new teeth do make her ill. Adeline is well and she can go to Cincinnati Monday with me. Aunt Ev. will send me a boy doll, Harry will be Nancy's and Adeline's brother. Wee sister is a good girl. I am tired now and I do want to go down stairs. I send many kisses and hugs with letter.


Your darling child



Toward the end of May Mrs. Keller, Helen, and Miss Sullivan started for Boston. On the way they spent a few days in Washington, where they saw Dr. Alexander Graham Bell and called on President Cleveland. On May 26th they arrived in Boston and went to the Perkins Institution; here Helen met the little blind girls with whom she had corresponded the year before.


Early in July she went to Brewster, Massachusetts, and spent the rest of the summer. Here occurred her first encounter with the sea, of which she has since written.


So. Boston, Mass. Sept. 1888


My dear Miss Moore

Are you very glad to receive a nice letter from your darling little friend? I love you very dearly because you are my friend. My precious little sister is quite well now. She likes to sit in my little rocking-chair and put her kitty to sleep. Would you like to see darling little Mildred? She is a very pretty baby. Her eyes are very big and blue, and her cheeks are soft and round and rosy and her hair is very bright and golden. She is very good and sweet when she does not cry loud. Next summer Mildred will go out in the garden with me and pick the big sweet strawberries and then she will be very happy. I hope she will not eat too many of the delicious fruit for they will make her very ill.


Sometime will you please come to Alabama and visit me? My uncle James is going to buy me a very gentle pony and a pretty cart and I shall be very happy to take you and Harry to ride. I hope Harry will not be afraid of my pony. I think my father will buy me a beautiful little brother some day. I shall be very gentle and patient to my new little brother. When I visit many strange countries my brother and Mildred will stay with grandmother because they will be too small to see a great many people and I think they would cry loud on the great rough ocean.


When Capt. Baker gets well he will take me in his big ship to Africa. Then I shall see lions and tigers and monkeys. I will get a baby lion and a white monkey and a mild bear to bring home. I had a very pleasant time at Brewster. I went in bathing almost every day and Carrie and Frank and little Helen and I had fun. We splashed and jumped and waded in the deep water. I am not afraid to float now. Can Harry float and swim? We came to Boston last Thursday, and Mr. Anagnos was delighted to see me, and he hugged and kissed me. The little girls are coming back to school next Wednesday.


Will you please tell Harry to write me a very long letter soon? When you come to Tuscumbia to see me I hope my father will have many sweet apples and juicy peaches and fine pears and delicious grapes and large water melons.


I hope you think about me and love me because I am a good little child.


With much love and two kisses

From your little friend



In this account of a visit to some friends, Helen's thought is much what one would expect from an ordinary child of eight, except perhaps her naive satisfaction in the boldness of the young gentlemen.


So. Boston, Mass, Sept. 24th [1888].


My dear Mother,

I think you will be very glad to know all about my visit to West Newton. Teacher and I had a lovely time with many kind friends. West Newton is not far from Boston and we went there in the steam cars very quickly.


Mrs. Freeman and Carrie and Ethel and Frank and Helen came to station to meet us in a huge carriage. I was delighted to see my dear little friends and I hugged and kissed them. Then we rode for a long time to see all the beautiful things in West Newton. Many very handsome houses and large soft green lawns around them and trees and bright flowers and fountains. The horse's name was Prince and he was gentle and liked to trot very fast. When we went home we saw eight rabbits and two fat puppies, and a nice little white pony, and two wee kittens and a pretty curly dog named Don. Pony's name was Mollie and I had a nice ride on her back; I was not afraid, I hope my uncle will get me a dear little pony and a little cart very soon.


Clifton did not kiss me because he does not like to kiss little girls. He is shy. I am very glad that Frank and Clarence and Robbie and Eddie and Charles and George were not very shy. I played with many little girls and we had fun. I rode on Carrie's tricicle and picked flowers and ate fruit and hopped and skipped and danced and went to ride. Many ladies and gentlemen came to see us. Lucy and Dora and Charles were born in China. I was born in America, and Mr. Anagnos was born in Greece. Mr. Drew says little girls in China cannot talk on their fingers but I think when I go to China I will teach them. Chinese nurse came to see me, her name was Asu. She showed me a tiny atze that very rich ladies in China wear because their feet never grow large. Amah means a nurse. We came home in horse cars because it was Sunday and steam cars do not go often on Sunday. Conductors and engineers do get very tired and go home to rest. I saw little Willie Swan in the car and he gave me a juicy pear. He was six years old. What did I do when I was six years old? Will you please ask my father to come to train to meet teacher and me? I am very sorry that Eva and Bessie are sick. I hope I can have a nice party my birthday, and I do want Carrie and Ethel and Frank and Helen to come to Alabama to visit me. Will Mildred sleep with me when I come home.  With much love and thousand kisses.

From your dear little daughter.



Her visit to Plymouth was in July. This letter, written three months later, shows how well she remembered her first lesson in history.


South Boston, Mass. October 1st, 1888.


My dear uncle Morrie,--I think you will be very glad to receive a letter from your dear little friend Helen. I am very happy to write to you because I think of you and love you. I read pretty stories in the book you sent me, about Charles and his boat, and Arthur and his dream, and Rosa and the sheep.


I have been in a large boat. It was like a ship. Mother and teacher and Mrs. Hopkins and Mr. Anagnos and Mr. Rodocanachi and many other friends went to Plymouth to see many old things. I will tell you a little story about Plymouth.


Many years ago there lived in England many good people, but the king and his friends were not kind and gentle and patient with good people, because the king did not like to have the people disobey him. People did not like to go to church with the king; but they did like to build very nice little churches for themselves.


The king was very angry with the people and they were sorry and they said, we will go away to a strange country to live and leave very dear home and friends and naughty king. So, they put all their things into big boxes, and said, Good-bye. I am sorry for them because they cried much. When they went to Holland they did not know anyone; and they could not know what the people were talking about because they did not know Dutch. But soon they learned some Dutch words; but they loved their own language and they did not want little boys and girls to forget it and learn to talk funny Dutch. So they said, We must go to a new country far away and build schools and houses and churches and make new cities. So they put all their things in boxes and said, Good-bye to their new friends and sailed away in a large boat to find a new country. Poor people were not happy for their hearts were full of sad thoughts because they did not know much about America. I think little children must have been afraid of a great ocean for it is very strong and it makes a large boat rock and then the little children would fall down and hurt their heads. After they had been many weeks on the deep ocean where they could not see trees or flowers or grass, but just water and the beautiful sky, for ships could not sail quickly then because men did not know about engines and steam. One day a dear little baby-boy was born. His name was Peregrine White. I am very sorry that poor little Peregrine is dead now. Every day the people went upon deck to look out for land. One day there was a great shout on the ship for the people saw the land and they were full of joy because they had reached a new country safely. Little girls and boys jumped and clapped their hands. They were all glad when they stepped upon a huge rock. I did see the rock in Plymouth and a little ship like the Mayflower and the cradle that dear little Peregrine slept in and many old things that came in the Mayflower. Would you like to visit Plymouth some time and see many old things.


Now I am very tired and I will rest.


With much love and many kisses, from your little friend.



The foreign words in these two letters, the first of which was written during a visit to the kindergarten for the blind, she had been told months before, and had stowed them away in her memory. She assimilated words and practised with them, sometimes using them intelligently, sometimes repeating them in a parrot-like fashion. Even when she did not fully understand words or ideas, she liked to set them down as though she did. It was in this way that she learned to use correctly words of sound and vision which express ideas outside of her experience. "Edith" is Edith Thomas.


Roxbury, Mass. Oct. 17th, 1888.


Mon cher Monsieur Anagnos,


I am sitting by the window and the beautiful sun is shining on me Teacher and I came to the kindergarten yesterday. There are twenty seven little children here and they are all blind. I am sorry because they cannot see much. Sometime will they have very well eyes? Poor Edith is blind and deaf and dumb. Are you very sad for Edith and me? Soon I shall go home to see my mother and my father and my dear good and sweet little sister. I hope you will come to Alabama to visit me and I will take you to ride in my little cart and I think you will like to see me on my dear little pony's back. I shall wear my lovely cap and my new riding dress. If the sun shines brightly I will take you to see Leila and Eva and Bessie. When I am thirteen years old I am going to travel in many strange and beautiful countries. I shall climb very high mountains in Norway and see much ice and snow. I hope I will not fall and hurt my head I shall visit little Lord Fauntleroy in England and he will be glad to show me his grand and very ancient castle. And we will run with the deer and feed the rabbits and catch the squirrels. I shall not be afraid of Fauntleroy's great dog Dougal. I hope Fauntleroy take me to see a very kind queen. When I go to France I will take French. A little French boy will say, Parlez-vous Francais? and I will say, Oui, Monsieur, vous avez un joli chapeau. Donnez moi un baiser. I hope you will go with me to Athens to see the maid of Athens. She was very lovely lady and I will talk Greek to her. I will say, se agapo and, pos echete and I think she will say, kalos, and then I will say chaere. Will you please come to see me soon and take me to the theater? When you come I will say, Kale emera, and when you go home I will say, Kale nykta. Now I am too tired to write more. Je vous aime. Au revoir


From your darling little friend




[So. Boston, Mass. October 29, 1888.]


My dearest Aunt,--I am coming home very soon and I think you and every one will be very glad to see my teacher and me. I am very happy because I have learned much about many things. I am studying French and German and Latin and Greek. Se agapo is Greek, and it means I love thee. J'ai une bonne petite soeur is French, and it means I have a good little sister. Nous avons un bon pere et une bonne mere means, we have a good father and a good mother. Puer is boy in Latin, and Mutter is mother in German. I will teach Mildred many languages when I come home. HELEN A. KELLER.



Tuscumbia, Ala. Dec. 11th, 1888.


My dear Mrs. Hopkins:--

I have just fed my dear little pigeon. My brother Simpson gave it to me last Sunday. I named it Annie, for my teacher. My puppy has had his supper and gone to bed. My rabbits are sleeping, too; and very soon I shall go to bed. Teacher is writing letters to her friends. Mother and father and their friends have gone to see a huge furnace. The furnace is to make iron. The iron ore is found in the ground; but it cannot be used until it has been brought to the furnace and melted, and all the dirt taken out, and just the pure iron left. Then it is all ready to be manufactured into engines, stoves, kettles and many other things.


Coal is found in the ground, too. Many years ago, before people came to live on the earth, great trees and tall grasses and huge ferns and all the beautiful flowers cover the earth. When the leaves and the trees fell, the water and the soil covered them; and then more trees grew and fell also, and were buried under water and soil. After they had all been pressed together for many thousands of years, the wood grew very hard, like rock, and then it was all ready for people to burn. Can you see leaves and ferns and bark on the coal? Men go down into the ground and dig out the coal, and steam-cars take it to the large cities, and sell it to people to burn, to make them warm and happy when it is cold out of doors.


Are you very lonely and sad now? I hope you will come to see me soon, and stay a long time.  With much love from your little friend




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