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The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller


Part II: Letters (1887 - 1901)



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Tuscumbia, Ala., Jan. 29, 1889.


My dear Miss Bennett:--I am delighted to write to you this morning. We have just eaten our breakfast. Mildred is running about downstairs. I have been reading in my book about astronomers. Astronomer comes from the Latin word astra, which means stars; and astronomers are men who study the stars, and tell us about them. When we are sleeping quietly in our beds, they are watching the beautiful sky through the telescope. A telescope is like a very strong eye. The stars are so far away that people cannot tell much about them, without very excellent instruments. Do you like to look out of your window, and see little stars? Teacher says she can see Venus from our window, and it is a large and beautiful star. The stars are called the earth's brothers and sisters.


There are a great many instruments besides those which the astronomers use. A knife is an instrument to cut with. I think the bell is an instrument, too. I will tell you what I know about bells.


Some bells are musical and others are unmusical. Some are very tiny and some are very large. I saw a very large bell at Wellesley. It came from Japan. Bells are used for many purposes. They tell us when breakfast is ready, when to go to school, when it is time for church, and when there is a fire. They tell people when to go to work, and when to go home and rest. The engine-bell tells the passengers that they are coming to a station, and it tells the people to keep out of the way. Sometimes very terrible accidents happen, and many people are burned and drowned and injured. The other day I broke my doll's head off; but that was not a dreadful accident, because dolls do not live and feel, like people. My little pigeons are well, and so is my little bird. I would like to have some clay. Teacher says it is time for me to study now.  

With much love, and many kisses,




Tuscumbia, Alabama, February 21st, 1889.


My dear Mr. Hale,

I am very much afraid that you are thinking in your mind that little Helen has forgotten all about you and her dear cousins. But I think you will be delighted to receive this letter because then you will know that I of[ten] think about you and I love you dearly for you are my dear cousin. I have been at home a great many weeks now. It made me feel very sad to leave Boston and I missed all of my friends greatly, but of course I was glad to get back to my lovely home once more. My darling little sister is growing very fast. Sometimes she tries to spell very short words on her small [fingers] but she is too young to remember hard words. When she is older I will teach her many things if she is patient and obedient. My teacher says, if children learn to be patient and gentle while they are little, that when they grow to be young ladies and gentlemen they will not forget to be kind and loving and brave. I hope I shall be courageous always. A little girl in a story was not courageous. She thought she saw little elves with tall pointed [hats] peeping from between the bushes and dancing down the long alleys, and the poor little girl was terrified. Did you have a pleasant Christmas? I had many lovely presents given to me. The other day I had a fine party. All of my dear little friends came to see me. We played games, and ate ice-cream and cake and fruit. Then we had great fun. The sun is shining brightly to-day and I hope we shall go to ride if the roads are dry. In a few days the beautiful spring will be here. I am very glad because I love the warm sunshine and the fragrant flowers. I think Flowers grow to make people happy and good. I have four dolls now. Cedric is my little boy, he is named for Lord Fauntleroy. He has big brown eyes and long golden hair and pretty round cheeks. Ida is my baby. A lady brought her to me from Paris. She can drink milk like a real baby. Lucy is a fine young lady. She has on a dainty lace dress and satin slippers. Poor old Nancy is growing old and very feeble. She is almost an invalid. I have two tame pigeons and a tiny canary bird. Jumbo is very strong and faithful. He will not let anything harm us at night. I go to school every day I am studying reading, writing, arithmetic, geography and language. My Mother and teacher send you and Mrs. Hale their kind greetings and Mildred sends you a kiss.

With much love and kisses, from your

Affectionate cousin



During the winter Miss Sullivan and her pupil were working at Helen's home in Tuscumbia, and to good purpose, for by spring Helen had learned to write idiomatic English. After May, 1889, I find almost no inaccuracies, except some evident slips of the pencil. She uses words precisely and makes easy, fluent sentences.


Tuscumbia, Ala., May 18, 1889.


My Dear Mr. Anagnos:--You cannot imagine how delighted I was to receive a letter from you last evening. I am very sorry that you are going so far away. We shall miss you very, very much. I would love to visit many beautiful cities with you. When I was in Huntsville I saw Dr. Bryson, and he told me that he had been to Rome and Athens and Paris and London. He had climbed the high mountains in Switzerland and visited beautiful churches in Italy and France, and he saw a great many ancient castles. I hope you will please write to me from all the cities you visit. When you go to Holland please give my love to the lovely princess Wilhelmina. She is a dear little girl, and when she is old enough she will be the queen of Holland. If you go to Roumania please ask the good queen Elizabeth about her little invalid brother, and tell her that I am very sorry that her darling little girl died. I should like to send a kiss to Vittorio, the little prince of Naples, but teacher says she is afraid you will not remember so many messages. When I am thirteen years old I shall visit them all myself.


I thank you very much for the beautiful story about Lord Fauntleroy, and so does teacher.


I am so glad that Eva is coming to stay with me this summer. We will have fine times together. Give Howard my love, and tell him to answer my letter. Thursday we had a picnic. It was very pleasant out in the shady woods, and we all enjoyed the picnic very much.


Mildred is out in the yard playing, and mother is picking the delicious strawberries. Father and Uncle Frank are down town. Simpson is coming home soon. Mildred and I had our pictures taken while we were in Huntsville. I will send you one.


The roses have been beautiful. Mother has a great many fine roses. The La France and the Lamarque are the most fragrant; but the Marechal Neil, Solfaterre, Jacqueminot, Nipheots, Etoile de Lyon, Papa Gontier, Gabrielle Drevet and the Perle des Jardines are all lovely roses.


Please give the little boys and girls my love. I think of them every day and I love them dearly in my heart. When you come home from Europe I hope you will be all well and very happy to get home again. Do not forget to give my love to Miss Calliope Kehayia and Mr. Francis Demetrios Kalopothakes.

Lovingly, your little friend,



Like a good many of Helen Keller's early letters, this to her French teacher is her re-phrasing of a story. It shows how much the gift of writing is, in the early stages of its development, the gift of mimicry.


Tuscumbia, Ala., May 17, 1889.


My Dear Miss Marrett--I am thinking about a dear little girl, who wept very hard. She wept because her brother teased her very much. I will tell you what he did, and I think you will feel very sorry for the little child. She had a most beautiful doll given her. Oh, it was a lovely and delicate doll! but the little girl's brother, a tall lad, had taken the doll, and set it up in a high tree in the garden, and had run away. The little girl could not reach the doll, and could not help it down, and therefore she cried. The doll cried, too, and stretched out its arms from among the green branches, and looked distressed. Soon the dismal night would come--and was the doll to sit up in the tree all night, and by herself? The little girl could not endure that thought. "I will stay with you," said she to the doll, although she was not at all courageous. Already she began to see quite plainly the little elves in their tall pointed hats, dancing down the dusky alleys, and peeping from between the bushes, and they seemed to come nearer and nearer; and she stretched her hands up towards the tree in which the doll sat and they laughed, and pointed their fingers at her. How terrified was the little girl; but if one has not done anything wrong, these strange little elves cannot harm one. "Have I done anything wrong? Ah, yes!" said the little girl. "I have laughed at the poor duck, with the red rag tied round its leg. It hobbled, and that made me laugh; but it is wrong to laugh at the poor animals!"


Is it not a pitiful story? I hope the father punished the naughty little boy. Shall you be very glad to see my teacher next Thursday? She is going home to rest, but she will come back to me next autumn.

Lovingly, your little friend,




Tuscumbia, Ala., May 27, 1889.


My Dear Miss Riley:--I wish you were here in the warm, sunny south today. Little sister and I would take you out into the garden, and pick the delicious raspberries and a few strawberries for you. How would you like that? The strawberries are nearly all gone. In the evening, when it is cool and pleasant, we would walk in the yard, and catch the grasshoppers and butterflies. We would talk about the birds and flowers and grass and Jumbo and Pearl. If you liked, we would run and jump and hop and dance, and be very happy. I think you would enjoy hearing the mocking-birds sing. One sits on the twig of a tree, just beneath our window, and he fills the air with his glad songs. But I am afraid you cannot come to Tuscumbia; so I will write to you, and send you a sweet kiss and my love. How is Dick? Daisy is happy, but she would be happy ever if she had a little mate. My little children are all well except Nancy, and she is quite feeble. My grandmother and aunt Corinne are here. Grandmother is going to make me two new dresses. Give my love to all the little girls, and tell them that Helen loves them very, very much. Eva sends love to all.


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



During the summer Miss Sullivan was away from Helen for three months and a half, the first separation of teacher and pupil. Only once afterward in fifteen years was their constant companionship broken for more than a few days at a time.


Tuscumbia, Ala., August 7, 1889.


Dearest Teacher--I am very glad to write to you this evening, for I have been thinking much about you all day. I am sitting on the piazza, and my little white pigeon is perched on the back of my chair, watching me write. Her little brown mate has flown away with the other birds; but Annie is not sad, for she likes to stay with me. Fauntleroy is asleep upstairs, and Nancy is putting Lucy to bed. Perhaps the mocking bird is singing them to sleep. All the beautiful flowers are in bloom now. The air is sweet with the perfume of jasmines, heliotropes and roses. It is getting warm here now, so father is going to take us to the Quarry on the 20th of August. I think we shall have a beautiful time out in the cool, pleasant woods. I will write and tell you all the pleasant things we do. I am so glad that Lester and Henry are good little infants. Give them many sweet kisses for me.


What was the name of the little boy who fell in love with the beautiful star? Eva has been telling me a story about a lovely little girl named Heidi. Will you please send it to me? I shall be delighted to have a typewriter.


Little Arthur is growing very fast. He has on short dresses now. Cousin Leila thinks he will walk in a little while. Then I will take his soft chubby hand in mine, and go out in the bright sunshine with him. He will pull the largest roses, and chase the gayest butterflies. I will take very good care of him, and not let him fall and hurt himself. Father and some other gentlemen went hunting yesterday. Father killed thirty-eight birds. We had some of them for supper, and they were very nice. Last Monday Simpson shot a pretty crane. The crane is a large and strong bird. His wings are as long as my arm, and his bill is as long as my foot. He eats little fishes, and other small animals. Father says he can fly nearly all day without stopping.


Mildred is the dearest and sweetest little maiden in the world. She is very roguish, too. Sometimes, when mother does not know it, she goes out into the vineyard, and gets her apron full of delicious grapes. I think she would like to put her two soft arms around your neck and hug you.


Sunday I went to church. I love to go to church, because I like to see my friends.


A gentleman gave me a beautiful card. It was a picture of a mill, near a beautiful brook. There was a boat floating on the water, and the fragrant lilies were growing all around the boat. Not far from the mill there was an old house, with many trees growing close to it. There were eight pigeons on the roof of the house, and a great dog on the step. Pearl is a very proud mother-dog now. She has eight puppies, and she thinks there never were such fine puppies as hers.


I read in my books every day. I love them very, very, very much. I do want you to come back to me soon. I miss you so very, very much. I cannot know about many things, when my dear teacher is not here. I send you five thousand kisses, and more love than I can tell. I send Mrs. H. much love and a kiss.

From your affectionate little pupil,



In the fall Helen and Miss Sullivan returned to Perkins Institution at South Boston.


South Boston, Oct. 24, 1889.


My Precious Little Sister:--Good morning. I am going to send you a birthday gift with this letter. I hope it will please you very much, because it makes me happy to send it. The dress is blue like your eyes, and candy is sweet just like your dear little self. I think mother will be glad to make the dress for you, and when you wear it you will look as pretty as a rose. The picture-book will tell you all about many strange and wild animals. You must not be afraid of them. They cannot come out of the picture to harm you.


I go to school every day, and I learn many new things. At eight I study arithmetic. I like that. At nine I go to the gymnasium with the little girls and we have great fun. I wish you could be here to play three little squirrels, and two gentle doves, and to make a pretty nest for a dear little robin. The mocking bird does not live in the cold north. At ten I study about the earth on which we all live. At eleven I talk with teacher and at twelve I study zoology. I do not know what I shall do in the afternoon yet.


Now, my darling little Mildred, good bye. Give father and mother a great deal of love and many hugs and kisses for me. Teacher sends her love too.

From your loving sister,




South Boston, Mass., Nov. 20, 1889.


My Dear Mr. Wade:--I have just received a letter from my mother, telling me that the beautiful mastiff puppy you sent me had arrived in Tuscumbia safely. Thank you very much for the nice gift. I am very sorry that I was not at home to welcome her; but my mother and my baby sister will be very kind to her while her mistress is away. I hope she is not lonely and unhappy. I think puppies can feel very home-sick, as well as little girls. I should like to call her Lioness, for your dog. May I? I hope she will be very faithful,--and brave, too.


I am studying in Boston, with my dear teacher. I learn a great many new and wonderful things. I study about the earth, and the animals, and I like arithmetic exceedingly. I learn many new words, too. EXCEEDINGLY is one that I learned yesterday. When I see Lioness I will tell her many things which will surprise her greatly. I think she will laugh when I tell her she is a vertebrate, a mammal, a quadruped; and I shall be very sorry to tell her that she belongs to the order Carnivora. I study French, too. When I talk French to Lioness I will call her mon beau chien. Please tell Lion that I will take good care of Lioness. I shall be happy to have a letter from you when you like to write to me.

From your loving little friend,


P.S. I am studying at the Institution for the Blind.

H. A. K.


This letter is indorsed in Whittier's hand, "Helen A. Keller--deaf dumb and blind--aged nine years." "Browns" is a lapse of the pencil for "brown eyes."


Inst. for the Blind, So. Boston, Mass.,

Nov. 27, 1889.


Dear Poet,

I think you will be surprised to receive a letter from a little girl whom you do not know, but I thought you would be glad to hear that your beautiful poems make me very happy. Yesterday I read "In School Days" and "My Playmate," and I enjoyed them greatly. I was very sorry that the poor little girl with the browns and the "tangled golden curls" died. It is very pleasant to live here in our beautiful world. I cannot see the lovely things with my eyes, but my mind can see them all, and so I am joyful all the day long.


When I walk out in my garden I cannot see the beautiful flowers but I know that they are all around me; for is not the air sweet with their fragrance? I know too that the tiny lily-bells are whispering pretty secrets to their companions else they would not look so happy. I love you very dearly, because you have taught me so many lovely things about flowers, and birds, and people. Now I must say, good-bye. I hope [you] will enjoy the Thanksgiving very much.


From your loving little friend,


To Mr. John Greenleaf Whittier.


Whittier's reply, to which there is a reference in the following letter, has been lost.



South Boston, Mass., Dec. 3, 1889.


My Dear Mother:--Your little daughter is very happy to write to you this beautiful morning. It is cold and rainy here to-day. Yesterday the Countess of Meath came again to see me. She gave me a beautiful bunch of violets. Her little girls are named Violet and May. The Earl said he should be delighted to visit Tuscumbia the next time he comes to America. Lady Meath said she would like to see your flowers, and hear the mocking-birds sing. When I visit England they want me to come to see them, and stay a few weeks. They will take me to see the Queen.


I had a lovely letter from the poet Whittier. He loves me. Mr. Wade wants teacher and me to come and see him next spring. May we go? He said you must feed Lioness from your hand, because she will be more gentle if she does not eat with other dogs.


Mr. Wilson came to call on us one Thursday. I was delighted to receive the flowers from home. They came while we were eating breakfast, and my friends enjoyed them with me. We had a very nice dinner on Thanksgiving day,--turkey and plum-pudding. Last week I visited a beautiful art store. I saw a great many statues, and the gentleman gave me an angel.


Sunday I went to church on board a great warship. After the services were over the soldier-sailors showed us around. There were four hundred and sixty sailors. They were very kind to me. One carried me in his arms so that my feet would not touch the water. They wore blue uniforms and queer little caps. There was a terrible fire Thursday. Many stores were burned, and four men were killed. I am very sorry for them. Tell father, please, to write to me. How is dear little sister? Give her many kisses for me. Now I must close. With much love, from your darling child, HELEN A. KELLER.



So. Boston, Mass., Dec. 24, 1889


My dear Mother,

Yesterday I sent you a little Christmas box. I am very sorry that I could not send it before so that you would receive it tomorrow, but I could not finish the watch-case any sooner. I made all of the gifts myself, excepting father's handkerchief. I wish I could have made father a gift too, but I did not have sufficient time. I hope you will like your watch-case, for it made me very happy to make it for you. You must keep your lovely new montre in it. If it is too warm in Tuscumbia for little sister to wear her pretty mittens, she can keep them because her sister made them for her. I imagine she will have fun with the little toy man. Tell her to shake him, and then he will blow his trumpet. I thank my dear kind father for sending me some money, to buy gifts for my friends. I love to make everybody happy. I should like to be at home on Christmas day. We would be very happy together. I think of my beautiful home every day. Please do not forget to send me some pretty presents to hang on my tree. I am going to have a Christmas tree, in the parlor and teacher will hang all of my gifts upon it. It will be a funny tree. All of the girls have gone home to spend Christmas. Teacher and I are the only babies left for Mrs. Hopkins to care for. Teacher has been sick in bed for many days. Her throat was very sore and the doctor thought she would have to go away to the hospital, but she is better now. I have not been sick at all. The little girls are well too. Friday I am going to spend the day with my little friends Carrie, Ethel, Frank and Helen Freeman. We will have great fun I am sure.


Mr. and Miss Endicott came to see me, and I went to ride in the carriage. They are going to give me a lovely present, but I cannot guess what it will be. Sammy has a dear new brother. He is very soft and delicate yet. Mr. Anagnos is in Athens now. He is delighted because I am here. Now I must say, good-bye. I hope I have written my letter nicely, but it is very difficult to write on this paper and teacher is not here to give me better. Give many kisses to little sister and much love to all. Lovingly HELEN.



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