Anne Sullivan's Notes on Hellen Keller's Education
It is now sixty-five years since Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe knew that he had made his way through Laura Bridgman’s fingers to her intelligence. The names of Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller will always be linked together, and it is necessary to understand what Dr. Howe did for his pupil before one comes to an account of Miss Sullivan’s work. For Dr. Howe is the great pioneer on whose work that of Miss Sullivan and other teachers of the deaf-blind immediately depends.
Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe was born in Boston, November 10, 1801, and died in Boston, January 9, 1876. He was a great philanthropist, interested especially in the education of all defectives, the feebleminded, the blind, and the deaf. Far in advance of his time he advocated many public measures for the relief of the poor and the diseased, for which he was laughed at then, but which have since been put into practice. As head of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, he heard of Laura Bridgman and had her brought to the Institution on October 4, 1837.
Laura Bridgman was born at Hanover, New Hampshire, December 21, 1829; so she was almost eight years old when Dr. Howe began his experiments with her. At the age of twenty-six months scarlet fever left her without sight or hearing. She also lost her sense of smell and taste. Dr. Howe was an experimental scientist and had in him the spirit of New England transcendentalism with its large faith and large charities. Science and faith together led him to try to make his way into the soul which he believed was born in Laura Bridgman as in every other human being. His plan was to teach Laura by means of raised types. He pasted raised labels on objects and made her fit the labels to the objects and the objects to the labels. When she had learned in this way to associate raised words with things, in much the same manner, he says, as a dog learns tricks, he began to resolve the words into their letter elements and to teach her to put together “k-e-y,” “c-a-p.” His success convinced him that language can be conveyed through type to the mind of the blind-deaf child, who, before education, is in the state of the baby who has not learned to prattle; indeed, is in a much worse state, for the brain has grown in years without natural nourishment.
After Laura’s education had progressed for two months with the use only of raised letters, Dr. Howe sent one of his teachers to learn the manual alphabet from a deaf-mute. She taught it to Laura, and from that time on the manual alphabet was the means of communicating with her.
After the first year or two Dr. Howe did not teach Laura Bridgman himself, but gave her over to other teachers, who under his direction carried on the work of teaching her language.
Too much cannot be said in praise of Dr. Howe’s work. As an investigator he kept always the scientist’s attitude. He never forgot to keep his records of Laura Bridgman in the fashion of one who works in a laboratory. The result is, his records of her are systematic and careful. From a scientific standpoint it is unfortunate that it was impossible to keep such a complete record of Helen Keller’s development. This in itself is a great comment on the difference between Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller. Laura always remained an object of curious study. Helen Keller became so rapidly a distinctive personality that she kept her teacher in a breathless race to meet the needs of her pupil, with no time or strength to make a scientific study. [emphasis added]
In some ways this is unfortunate. Miss Sullivan knew at the beginning that Helen Keller would be more interesting and successful than Laura Bridgman, and she expresses in one of her letters the need of keeping notes. But neither temperament nor training allowed her to make her pupil the object of any experiment or observation which did not help in the child’s development. As soon as a thing was done, a definite goal passed, the teacher did not always look back and describe the way she had come. The explanation of the fact was unimportant compared to the fact itself and the need of hurrying on. There are two other reasons why Miss Sullivan’s records are incomplete. It has always been a severe tax on her eyes to write, and she was early discouraged from publishing data by the inaccurate use made of what she at first supplied.
When she first wrote from Tuscumbia to Mr. Michael Anagnos, Dr. Howes son-in-law and his successor as Director of the Perkins Institution, about her work with her pupil, the Boston papers began at once to publish exaggerated accounts of Helen Keller. Miss Sullivan protested. In a letter dated April 10, 1887, only five weeks after she went to Helen Keller, she wrote to a friend:
“⸻ sent me a Boston Herald containing a stupid article about Helen. How perfectly absurd to say that Helen is ‘already talking fluently!’ Why, one might just as well say that a two-year-old child converses fluently when he says ‘apple give,’ or ‘baby walk go.’ I suppose if you included his screaming, crowing, whimpering, grunting, squalling, with occasional kicks, in his conversation, it might be regarded as fluent—even eloquent. Then it is amusing to read of the elaborate preparation I underwent to fit me for the great task my friends entrusted to me. I am sorry that preparation didn’t include spelling, it would have saved me such a lot of trouble.”
On March 4, 1888, she writes in a letter:
“Indeed, I am heartily glad that I don’t know all that is being said and written about Helen and myself. I assure you I know quite enough. Nearly every mail brings some absurd statement, printed or written. The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers; so they enlarge upon it and invent ridiculous embellishments. One paper has Helen demonstrating problems in geometry by means of her playing blocks. I expect to hear next that she has written a treatise on the origin and future of the planets!”
In December, 1887, appeared the first report of the Director of the Perkins Institution, which deals with Helen Keller. For this report Miss Sullivan prepared, in reluctant compliance with the request of Mr. Anagnos, an account of her work. This with the extracts from her letters, scattered through the report, is the first valid source of information about Helen Keller. Of this report Miss Sullivan wrote in a letter dated October 30, 1887:
“Have you seen the paper I wrote for the ‘report’? Mr. Anagnos was delighted with it. He says Helen’s progress has been ‘a triumphal march from the beginning,’ and he has many flattering things to say about her teacher. I think he is inclined to exaggerate; at all events, his language is too glowing, and simple facts are set forth in such a manner that they bewilder one. Doubtless the work of the past few months does seem like a triumphal march to him; but then people seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.”
As Mr. Anagnos was the head of a great institution, what he said had much more effect than the facts in Miss Sullivan’s account on which he based his statements. The newspapers caught Mr. Anagnos’s spirit and exaggerated a hundredfold. In a year after she first went to Helen Keller, Miss Sullivan found herself and her pupil the centre of a stupendous fiction. Then the educators all over the world said their say and for the most part did not help matters. There grew up a mass of controversial matter which it is amusing to read now. Teachers of the deaf proved a priori that what Miss Sullivan had done could not be, and some discredit was reflected on her statements, because they were surrounded by the vague eloquence of Mr. Anagnos. Thus the story of Helen Keller, incredible when told with moderation, had the misfortune to be heralded by exaggerated announcements, and naturally met either an ignorant credulity or an incredulous hostility. [emphasis added]
In November, 1888, another report of the Perkins Institution appeared with a second paper by Miss Sullivan, and then nothing official was published until November, 1891, when Mr. Anagnos issued the last Perkins Institution report containing anything about Helen Keller. For this report Miss Sullivan wrote the fullest and largest account she has ever written; and in this report appeared the “Frost King,” which is discussed fully in a later chapter. Then the controversy waxed fiercer than ever.
Finding that other people seemed to know so much more about Helen Keller than she did, Miss Sullivan kept silent and has been silent for ten years, except for her paper in the first Volta Bureau Souvenir of Helen Keller and the paper which, at Dr. Bell’s request, she prepared in 1894 for the meeting at Chautauqua of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf. When Dr. Bell and others tell her, what is certainly true from an impersonal point of view, that she owes it to the cause of education to write what she knows, she answers very properly that she owes all her time and all her energies to her pupil. [emphasis added]
Although Miss Sullivan is still rather amused than distressed when someone, even one of her friends, makes mistakes in published articles about her and Miss Keller, still she sees that Miss Keller’s book should include all the information that the teacher could at present furnish. So she consented to the publication of extracts from letters which she wrote during the first year of her work with her pupil. These letters were written to Mrs. Sophia C. Hopkins, the only person to whom Miss Sullivan ever wrote freely. Mrs. Hopkins has been a matron at the Perkins Institution for twenty years, and during the time that Miss Sullivan was a pupil there she was like a mother to her. In these letters we have an almost weekly record of Miss Sullivan’s work. Some of the details she had forgotten, as she grew more and more to generalize. Many people have thought that any attempt to find the principles in her method would be nothing but a later theory superimposed on Miss Sullivan’s work. But it is evident that in these letters she was making a clear analysis of what she was doing. She was her own critic, and in spite of her later declaration, made with her modest carelessness, that she followed no particular method, she was very clearly learning from her task and phrasing at the time principles of education of unique value not only in the teaching of the deaf but in the teaching of all children. The extracts from her letters and reports form an important contribution to pedagogy, and more than justify the opinion of Dr. Daniel C. Gilman, who wrote in 1893, when he was President of Johns Hopkins University:
“I have just read ... your most interesting account of the various steps you have taken in the education of your wonderful pupil, and I hope you will allow me to express my admiration for the wisdom that has guided your methods and the affection which has inspired your labours.”
Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan was born at Springfield, Massachusetts. Very early in her life she became almost totally blind, and she entered the Perkins Institution October 7, 1880, when she was fourteen years old. Later her sight was partially restored.
Mr. Anagnos says in his report of 1887: “She was obliged to begin her education at the lowest and most elementary point; but she showed from the very start that she had in herself the force and capacity which insure success. ... She has finally reached the goal for which she strove so bravely. The golden words that Dr. Howe uttered and the example that he left passed into her thoughts and heart and helped her on the road to usefulness; and now she stands by his side as his worthy successor in one of the most cherished branches of his work. ... Miss Sullivan’s talents are of the highest order.”
In 1886 she graduated from the Perkins Institution. When Captain Keller applied to the director for a teacher, Mr. Anagnos recommended her. The only time she had to prepare herself for the work with her pupil was from August, 1886, when Captain Keller wrote, to February, 1887. During this time she read Dr. Howe’s reports. She was further aided by the fact that during the six years of her school life she had lived in the house with Laura Bridgman. It was Dr. Howe who, by his work with Laura Bridgman, made Miss Sullivan’s work possible: but it was Miss Sullivan who discovered the way to teach language to the deaf-blind.
It must be remembered that Miss Sullivan had to solve her problems unaided by previous experience or the assistance of any other teacher. During the first year of her work with Helen Keller, in which she taught her pupil language, they were in Tuscumbia; and when they came North and visited the Perkins Institution, Helen Keller was never a regular student there or subject to the discipline of the Institution. The impression that Miss Sullivan educated Helen Keller “under the direction of Mr. Anagnos” is erroneous. In the three years during which at various times Miss Keller and Miss Sullivan were guests of the Perkins Institution, the teachers there did not help Miss Sullivan, and Mr. Anagnos did not even use the manual alphabet with facility as a means of communication. Mr. Anagnos wrote in the report of the Perkins Institution, dated November 27, 1888:
“At my urgent request, Helen, accompanied by her mother and her teacher, came to the North in the last week of May, and spent several months with us as our guests. ... We gladly allowed her to use freely our library of embossed books, our collection of stuffed animals, seashells, models of flowers and plants, and the rest of our apparatus for instructing the blind through the sense of touch. I do not doubt that she derived from them much pleasure and not a little profit. But whether Helen stays at home or makes visits in other parts of the country, her education is always under the immediate direction and exclusive control of her teacher. No one interferes with Miss Sullivan’s plans, or shares in her tasks. She has been allowed entire freedom in the choice of means and methods for carrying on her great work; and, as we can judge by the results, she has made a most judicious and discreet use of this privilege. What the little pupil has thus far accomplished is widely known, and her wonderful attainments command general admiration; but only those who are familiar with the particulars of the grand achievement know that the credit is largely due to the intelligence, wisdom, sagacity, unremitting perseverance and unbending will of the instructress, who rescued the child from the depths of everlasting night and stillness, and watched over the different phases of her mental and moral development with maternal solicitude and enthusiastic devotion.”
Here follow in order Miss Sullivan’s letters and the most important passages from the reports. I have omitted from each succeeding report what has already been explained and does not need to be repeated. For the ease of the reader I have, with Miss Sullivan’s consent, made the extracts run together continuously and supplied words of connection and the resulting necessary changes in syntax, and Miss Sullivan has made slight changes in the phrasing of her reports and also of her letters, which were carelessly written. I have also italicized a few important passages. Some of her opinions Miss Sullivan would like to enlarge and revise. That remains for her to do at another time. At present we have here the fullest record that has been published. The first letter is dated March 6, 1887, three days after her arrival in Tuscumbia.
... It 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 someone 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 anyone 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.
She 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 all day.
Yesterday 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.
She 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 dinnertime, bringing the strings to me now and then for my approval.
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 anyone. If you want to, you may read it to my friends.
I 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.
Helen’s 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.
Goodbye, 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.
Tuscumbia, Alabama, March 11, 1887.
Since 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.
I 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.
The 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.
She 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.
The next morning she was very docile, but evidently homesick. She kept going to the door, as if she expected someone, 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.
This 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 attention.
Helen 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 her movements.
March 13, 1887.
You 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 today. 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.
We 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.
I 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?
March 20, 1887.
My 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 changed!
The wild little creature of two weeks ago has been transformed into a gentle child. [emphasis added] 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 [emphasis added]. 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.
Helen 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. [emphasis added]
Yesterday 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 were intentional.
One 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 anyone 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 washbowl 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. [emphasis added]
March 28, 1887.
Helen 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 overindulgence 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.
Helen 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.
April 3, 1887.
We 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.
At 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 washcloth 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 freehand movements and the “Anvil Chorus” with the dumbbells. 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 [emphasis added]. 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 [emphasis added].
On 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 verb run.
April 5, 1887.
I 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 [emphasis added].
In 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.
P.S.—I 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 [emphasis added].
April 10, 1887.
I 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 everyone 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.
I 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 [emphasis added].
April 24, 1887.
The 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, “Where 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.
We 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?”
Friday 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 teeth.”
May 8, 1887.
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.
I 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 flowerpots. 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.
Helen 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 lock.”
She 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.
Since 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 unnecessary trouble.
May 16, 1887.
We 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.
Keller’s 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 dinnertime 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.[emphasis added]
May 22, 1887.
My 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. [emphasis added]
If 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 someone 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 [emphasis added]. 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.
We 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.
One 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.
Please 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 Institution.
June 2, 1887.
The 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 with herself.
I 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 good."
Helen 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 unusual powers.
The 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.
I 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 that account.
And 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.
Already 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 anyone. My beautiful Helen shall not be transformed into a prodigy if I can help it.
June 5, 1887.
The heat makes Helen languid and quiet. Indeed, the Tophetic weather has reduced us all to a semiliquid 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.”
She 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 much.”
She 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?”
Helen’s head measures twenty and one-half inches, and mine measures twenty-one and one-half inches. You see, I’m only one inch ahead!
June 12, 1887.
The 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!
I 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.
She 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.)
I 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 “walk-plant.”
Helen 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.
June 15, 1887.
We had a glorious thunder-tempest last night, and it’s much cooler today. 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.
June 19, 1887.
My 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.
During 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 the post-office.
She 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.
She 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.
July 3, 1887.
There 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.
Later 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.
She 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 tomorrow. 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.
July 31, 1887.
Helen’s 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.
She 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 [emphasis added]. “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.
I 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.
August 21, 1887.
We 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 everyone 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.
We 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.
She 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 anyone 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. [emphasis added]
August 28, 1887.
I 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 [emphasis added]. “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 [emphasis added].
September 4, 1887.
Helen 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.
She 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.
“I did tell baby, no, no, much (many) times,” was Helen’s reply.
I said, “Mildred doesn’t understand your fingers, and we must be very gentle with her.”
She shook her head.
“Baby—not 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.”
September 18, 1887.
I 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 afflicted children.
When 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 straitjacket. 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 meaning.
Lately 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 henhouses 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.
But 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:
“I long to sit on dem jasper walls
And see dem sinners stumble and fall!”
October 3, 1887.
My 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.
I suppose the little girls enjoyed Helen’s letter.15 She wrote it out of her own head, as the children say. She 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.”
October 25, 1887.
Helen wrote another letter16 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 today, and today’s difficulties become tomorrow’s pastime [emphasis added].
The 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 influence.
I 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 report.”
You 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!”
Miss 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.
In 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 [emphasis added].
One 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.
On 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.
This 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.
Next 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.
I 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.
Day 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.
As 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.
Her 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 make forty-five.”
On 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 someone whose occupation she did not know she seemed bewildered, and finally said “blue.”
She 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.
On 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.
When walking or riding she often gives the names of the people we meet almost as soon as we recognize them.
The letters take up the account again.
November 13, 1887.
We 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!
December 12, 1887.
I 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 Christmas?
Helen has learned to tell the time at last, and her father is going to give her a watch for Christmas.
Helen 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. [emphasis added]
January 1, 1888.
It is a great thing to feel that you are of some use in the world, that you are necessary to somebody. Helen’s dependence on me for almost everything makes me strong and glad [emphasis added].
Christmas week was a very busy one here, too. Helen is invited to all the children’s entertainments, and I take her to as many as I can. I want her to know children and to be with them as much as possible. Several little girls have learned to spell on their fingers and are very proud of the accomplishment. One little chap, about seven, was persuaded to learn the letters, and he spelled his name for Helen. She was delighted, and showed her joy, by hugging and kissing him, much to his embarrassment.
Saturday the schoolchildren had their tree, and I took Helen. It was the first Christmas tree she had ever seen, and she was puzzled, and asked many questions. “Who made tree grow in house? Why? Who put many things on tree?” She objected to its miscellaneous fruits and began to remove them, evidently thinking they were all meant for her. It was not difficult, however, to make her understand that there was a present for each child, and to her great delight she was permitted to hand the gifts to the children. There were several presents for herself. She placed them in a chair, resisting all temptation to look at them until every child had received his gifts. One little girl had fewer presents than the rest, and Helen insisted on sharing her gifts with her. It was very sweet to see the children’s eager interest in Helen, and their readiness to give her pleasure. The exercises began at nine, and it was one o’clock before we could leave. My fingers and head ached; but Helen was as fresh and full of spirit as when we left home.
After dinner it began to snow, and we had a good frolic and an interesting lesson about the snow. Sunday morning the ground was covered, and Helen and the cook’s children and I played snowball. By noon the snow was all gone. It was the first snow I had seen here, and it made me a little homesick. The Christmas season has furnished many lessons, and added scores of new words to Helen’s vocabulary.
For weeks we did nothing but talk and read and tell each other stories about Christmas. Of course I do not try to explain all the new words, nor does Helen fully understand the little stories I tell her; but constant repetition fixes the words and phrases in the mind, and little by little the meaning will come to her. I see no sense in “faking” conversation for the sake of teaching language. It’s stupid and deadening to pupil and teacher. Talk should be natural and have for its object an exchange of ideas. If there is nothing in the child’s mind to communicate, it hardly seems worth while to require him to write on the blackboard, or spell on his fingers, cut and dried sentences about “the cat,” “the bird,” “a dog.” I have tried from the beginning to talk naturally to Helen and to teach her to tell me only things that interest her and ask questions only for the sake of finding out what she wants to know. When I see that she is eager to tell me something, but is hampered because she does not know the words, I supply them and the necessary idioms, and we get along finely. The child’s eagerness and interest carry her over many obstacles that would be our undoing if we stopped to define and explain everything [emphasis added]. What would happen, do you think, if someone should try to measure our intelligence by our ability to define the commonest words we use? I fear me, if I were put to such a test, I should be consigned to the primary class in a school for the feebleminded.
It was touching and beautiful to see Helen enjoy her first Christmas. Of course, she hung her stocking—two of them lest Santa Claus should forget one, and she lay awake for a long time and got up two or three times to see if anything had happened. When I told her that Santa Claus would not come until she was asleep, she shut her eyes and said, “He will think girl is asleep.” She was awake the first thing in the morning, and ran to the fireplace for her stocking; and when she found that Santa Claus had filled both stockings, she danced about for a minute, then grew very quiet, and came to ask me if I thought Santa Claus had made a mistake, and thought there were two little girls, and would come back for the gifts when he discovered his mistake. The ring you sent her was in the toe of the stocking, and when I told her you gave it to Santa Claus for her, she said, “I do love Mrs. Hopkins.” She had a trunk and clothes for Nancy, and her comment was, “Now Nancy will go to party.” When she saw the braille slate and paper, she said, “I will write many letters, and I will thank Santa Claus very much.” It was evident that everyone, especially Captain and Mrs. Keller, was deeply moved at the thought of the difference between this bright Christmas and the last, when their little girl had no conscious part in the Christmas festivities. As we came downstairs, Mrs. Keller said to me with tears in her eyes, “Miss Annie, I thank God every day of my life for sending you to us; but I never realized until this morning what a blessing you have been to us.” Captain Keller took my hand, but could not speak. But his silence was more eloquent than words. My heart, too, was full of gratitude and solemn joy.
The other day Helen came across the word grandfather in a little story and asked her mother, “Where is grandfather?” meaning her grandfather. Mrs. Keller replied, “He is dead.” “Did father shoot him?” Helen asked, and added, “I will eat grandfather for dinner.” So far, her only knowledge of death is in connection with things to eat. She knows that her father shoots partridges and deer and other game.
This morning she asked me the meaning of “carpenter,” and the question furnished the text for the day’s lesson. After talking about the various things that carpenters make, she asked me, “Did carpenter make me?” and before I could answer, she spelled quickly, “No, no, photographer made me in Sheffield.”
One of the greatest iron furnaces has been started in Sheffield, and we went over the other evening to see them make a “run.” Helen felt the heat and asked, “Did the sun fall?”
January 9, 1888.
The report came last night. I appreciate the kind things Mr. Anagnos has said about Helen and me; but his extravagant way of saying them rubs me the wrong way. The simple facts would be so much more convincing! Why, for instance, does he take the trouble to ascribe motives to me that I never dreamed of? You know, and he knows, and I know, that my motive in coming here was not in any sense philanthropic. How ridiculous it is to say I had drunk so copiously of the noble spirit of Dr. Howe that I was fired with the desire to rescue from darkness and obscurity the little Alabamian! I came here simply because circumstances made it necessary for me to earn my living, and I seized upon the first opportunity that offered itself, although I did not suspect nor did he, that I had any special fitness for the work [emphasis added].
January 26, 1888.
I suppose you got Helen’s letter. The little rascal has taken it into her head not to write with a pencil. I wanted her to write to her Uncle Frank this morning, but she objected. She said: “Pencil is very tired in head. I will write Uncle Frank braille letter.” I said, “But Uncle Frank cannot read braille.” “I will teach him,” she said. I explained that Uncle Frank was old, and couldn’t learn braille easily. In a flash she answered, “I think Uncle Frank is much (too) old to read very small letters.” Finally I persuaded her to write a few lines; but she broke her pencil six times before she finished it. I said to her, “You are a naughty girl.” “No,” she replied, “pencil is very weak.” I think her objection to pencil-writing is readily accounted for by the fact that she has been asked to write so many specimens for friends and strangers. You know how the children at the Institution detest it. It is irksome because the process is so slow, and they cannot read what they have written or correct their mistakes.
Helen is more and more interested in colour. When I told her that Mildred’s eyes were blue, she asked, “Are they like wee skies?” A little while after I had told her that a carnation that had been given her was red, she puckered up her mouth and said, “Lips are like one pink.” I told her they were tulips; but of course she didn’t understand the wordplay. I can’t believe that the colour-impressions she received during the year and a half she could see and hear are entirely lost. Everything we have seen and heard is in the mind somewhere. It may be too vague and confused to be recognizable, but it is there all the same, like the landscape we lose in the deepening twilight.
February 10, 1888.
We got home last night. We had a splendid time in Memphis, but I didn’t rest much. It was nothing but excitement from first to last—drives, luncheons, receptions, and all that they involve when you have an eager, tireless child like Helen on your hands. She talked incessantly. I don’t know what I should have done, had some of the young people not learned to talk with her. They relieved me as much as possible. But even then I can never have a quiet half hour to myself. It is always: “Oh, Miss Sullivan, please come and tell us what Helen means,” or “Miss Sullivan, won’t you please explain this to Helen? We can’t make her understand.” I believe half the white population of Memphis called on us. Helen was petted and caressed enough to spoil an angel; but I do not think it is possible to spoil her, she is too unconscious of herself, and too loving.
The stores in Memphis are very good, and I managed to spend all the money that I had with me. One day Helen said, “I must buy Nancy a very pretty hat.” I said, “Very well, we will go shopping this afternoon.” She had a silver dollar and a dime. When we reached the shop, I asked her how much she would pay for Nancy’s hat. She answered promptly, “I will pay ten cents.” “What will you do with the dollar?” I asked. “I will buy some good candy to take to Tuscumbia,” was her reply.
We visited the Stock Exchange and a steamboat. Helen was greatly interested in the boat, and insisted on being shown every inch of it from the engine to the flag on the flagstaff. I was gratified to read what the Nation had to say about Helen last week.
Captain Keller has had two interesting letters since the publication of the “Report,” one from Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, and the other from Dr. Edward Everett Hale. Dr. Hale claims kinship with Helen, and seems very proud of his little cousin. Dr. Bell writes that Helen’s progress is without a parallel in the education of the deaf, or something like that and he says many nice things about her teacher.
March 5, 1888.
I did not have a chance to finish my letter yesterday. Miss Ev. came up to help me make a list of words Helen has learned. We have got as far as P, and there are 900 words to her credit. I had Helen begin a journal17 March 1st. I don’t know how long she will keep it up. It’s rather stupid business, I think. Just now she finds it great fun. She seems to like to tell all she knows. This is what Helen wrote Sunday:
“I got up, washed my face and hands, combed my hair, picked three dew violets for Teacher and ate my breakfast. After breakfast I played with dolls short. Nancy was cross. Cross is cry and kick. I read in my book about large, fierce animals. Fierce is much cross and strong and very hungry. I do not love fierce animals. I wrote letter to Uncle James. He lives in Hotsprings. He is doctor. Doctor makes sick girl well. I do not like sick. Then I ate my dinner. I like much icecream very much. After dinner father went to Birmingham on train far away. I had letter from Robert. He loves me. He said Dear Helen, Robert was glad to get a letter from dear, sweet little Helen. I will come to see you when the sun shines. Mrs. Newsum is Robert’s wife. Robert is her husband. Robert and I will run and jump and hop and dance and swing and talk about birds and flowers and trees and grass and Jumbo and Pearl will go with us. Teacher will say, We are silly. She is funny. Funny makes us laugh. Natalie is a good girl and does not cry. Mildred does cry. She will be a nice girl in many days and run and play with me. Mrs. Graves is making short dresses for Natalie. Mr. Mayo went to Duckhill and brought home many sweet flowers. Mr. Mayo and Mr. Farris and Mr. Graves love me and Teacher. I am going to Memphis to see them soon, and they will hug and kiss me. Thornton goes to school and gets his face dirty. Boy must be very careful. After supper I played romp with Teacher in bed. She buried me under the pillows and then I grew very slow like tree out of ground. Now, I will go to bed.
April 16, 1888.
We are just back from church. Captain Keller said at breakfast this morning that he wished I would take Helen to church. The Presbytery would be there in a body, and he wanted the ministers to see Helen. The Sunday-school was in session when we arrived, and I wish you could have seen the sensation Helen’s entrance caused. The children were so pleased to see her at Sunday-school, they paid no attention to their teachers, but rushed out of their seats and surrounded us. She kissed them all, boys and girls, willing or unwilling. She seemed to think at first that the children all belonged to the visiting ministers; but soon she recognized some little friends among them, and I told her the ministers didn’t bring their children with them. She looked disappointed and said, “I’ll send them many kisses.” One of the ministers wished me to ask Helen, “What do ministers do?” She said, “They read and talk loud to people to be good.” He put her answer down in his note book. When it was time for the church service to begin, she was in such a state of excitement that I thought it best to take her away; but Captain Keller said, “No, she will be all right.” So there was nothing to do but stay. It was impossible to keep Helen quiet. She hugged and kissed me, and the quiet-looking divine who sat on the other side of her. He gave her his watch to play with; but that didn’t keep her still. She wanted to show it to the little boy in the seat behind us. When the communion service began, she smelt the wine, and sniffed so loud that everyone in the church could hear. When the wine was passed to our neighbour, he was obliged to stand up to prevent her taking it away from him. I never was so glad to get out of a place as I was to leave that church! I tried to hurry Helen out-of-doors, but she kept her arm extended, and every coattail she touched must needs turn round and give an account of the children he left at home, and receive kisses according to their number. Everybody laughed at her antics, and you would have thought they were leaving a place of amusement rather than a church. Captain Keller invited some of the ministers to dinner. Helen was irrepressible. She described in the most animated pantomime, supplemented by spelling, what she was going to do in Brewster. Finally she got up from the table and went through the motion of picking seaweed and shells, and splashing in the water, holding up her skirts higher than was proper under the circumstances. Then she threw herself on the floor and began to swim so energetically that some of us thought we should be kicked out of our chairs! Her motions are often more expressive than any words, and she is as graceful as a nymph.
I wonder if the days seem as interminable to you as they do to me. We talk and plan and dream about nothing but Boston, Boston, Boston. I think Mrs. Keller has definitely decided to go with us, but she will not stay all summer.
May 15, 1888.
Do you realize that this is the last letter I shall write to you for a long, long time? The next word that you receive from me will be in a yellow envelope, and it will tell you when we shall reach Boston. I am too happy to write letters; but I must tell you about our visit to Cincinnati.
We spent a delightful week with the “doctors.” Dr. Keller met us in Memphis. Almost everyone on the train was a physician, and Dr. Keller seemed to know them all. When we reached Cincinnati, we found the place full of doctors. There were several prominent Boston physicians among them. We stayed at the Burnet House. Everybody was delighted with Helen. All the learned men marveled at her intelligence and gaiety. There is something about her that attracts people. I think it is her joyous interest in everything and everybody.
Wherever she went she was the centre of interest. She was delighted with the orchestra at the hotel, and whenever the music began she danced round the room, hugging and kissing everyone she happened to touch. Her happiness impressed all; nobody seemed to pity her. One gentleman said to Dr. Keller, “I have lived long and seen many happy faces; but I have never seen such a radiant face as this child’s before tonight.” Another said, “Damn me! but I’d give everything I own in the world to have that little girl always near me.” But I haven’t time to write all the pleasant things people said—they would make a very large book, and the kind things they did for us would fill another volume. Dr. Keller distributed the extracts from the report that Mr. Anagnos sent me, and he could have disposed of a thousand if he had had them. Do you remember Dr. Garcelon, who was Governor of Maine several years ago? He took us to drive one afternoon, and wanted to give Helen a doll; but she said: “I do not like too many children. Nancy is sick, and Adeline is cross, and Ida is very bad.” We laughed until we cried, she was so serious about it. “What would you like, then?” asked the Doctor. “Some beautiful gloves to talk with,” she answered. The Doctor was puzzled. He had never heard of “talking-gloves”; but I explained that she had seen a glove on which the alphabet was printed, and evidently thought they could be bought. I told him he could buy some gloves if he wished, and that I would have the alphabet stamped on them.
We lunched with Mr. Thayer (your former pastor) and his wife. He asked me how I had taught Helen adjectives and the names of abstract ideas like goodness and happiness. These same questions had been asked me a hundred times by the learned doctors. It seems strange that people should marvel at what is really so simple. Why, it is as easy to teach the name of an idea, if it is clearly formulated in the child’s mind, as to teach the name of an object. It would indeed be a herculean task to teach the words if the ideas did not already exist in the child’s mind. If his experiences and observations hadn’t led him to the concepts, small, large, good, bad, sweet, sour, he would have nothing to attach the word-tags to [emphasis added].
I, little ignorant I, found myself explaining to the wise men of the East and the West such simple things as these: If you give a child something sweet, and he wags his tongue and smacks his lips and looks pleased, he has a very definite sensation; and if, every time he has this experience, he hears the word sweet, or has it spelled into his hand, he will quickly adopt this arbitrary sign for his sensation. Likewise, if you put a bit of lemon on his tongue, he puckers up his lips and tries to spit it out; and after he has had this experience a few times, if you offer him a lemon, he shuts his mouth and makes faces, clearly indicating that he remembers the unpleasant sensation. You label it sour, and he adopts your symbol. If you had called these sensations respectively black and white, he would have adopted them as readily; but he would mean by black and white the same things that he means by sweet and sour. In the same way the child learns from many experiences to differentiate his feelings, and we name them for him—good, bad, gentle, rough, happy, sad. It is not the word, but the capacity to experience the sensation that counts in his education [emphasis added].
This extract from one of Miss Sullivan’s letters is added because it contains interesting casual opinions stimulated by observing the methods of others.
We visited a little school for the deaf. We were very kindly received, and Helen enjoyed meeting the children. Two of the teachers knew the manual alphabet, and talked to her without an interpreter. They were astonished at her command of language. Not a child in the school, they said, had anything like Helen’s facility of expression, and some of them had been under instruction for two or three years. I was incredulous at first; but after I had watched the children at work for a couple of hours, I knew that what I had been told was true, and I wasn’t surprised. In one room some little tots were standing before the blackboard, painfully constructing “simple sentences.” A little girl had written: “I have a new dress. It is a pretty dress. My mamma made my pretty new dress. I love mamma.” A curly-headed little boy was writing: “I have a large ball. I like to kick my large ball.” When we entered the room, the children’s attention was riveted on Helen. One of them pulled me by the sleeve and said, “Girl is blind.” The teacher was writing on the blackboard: “The girl’s name is Helen. She is deaf. She cannot see. We are very sorry.” I said: “Why do you write those sentences on the board? Wouldn’t the children understand if you talked to them about Helen?” The teacher said something about getting the correct construction, and continued to construct an exercise out of Helen. I asked her if the little girl who had written about the new dress was particularly pleased with her dress. “No,” she replied, “I think not; but children learn better if they write about things that concern them personally.” It seemed all so mechanical and difficult, my heart ached for the poor little children. Nobody thinks of making a hearing child say, “I have a pretty new dress,” at the beginning. These children were older in years, it is true, than the baby who lisps, “Papa kiss baby—pretty,” and fills out her meaning by pointing to her new dress; but their ability to understand and use language was no greater.
There was the same difficulty throughout the school. In every classroom I saw sentences on the blackboard, which evidently had been written to illustrate some grammatical rule, or for the purpose of using words that had previously been taught in the same, or in some other connection. This sort of thing may be necessary in some stages of education; but it isn’t the way to acquire language. Nothing, I think, crushes the child’s impulse to talk naturally more effectually than these blackboard exercises. The schoolroom is not the place to teach any young child language, least of all the deaf child. He must be kept as unconscious as the hearing child of the fact that he is learning words, and he should be allowed to prattle on his fingers, or with his pencil, in monosyllables if he chooses, until such time as his growing intelligence demands the sentence. Language should not be associated in his mind with endless hours in school, with puzzling questions in grammar, or with anything that is an enemy to joy. But I must not get into the habit of criticizing other people’s methods too severely. I may be as far from the straight road as they.
Miss Sullivan’s second report brings the account down to October 1st, 1888.
During the past year Helen has enjoyed excellent health. Her eyes and ears have been examined by specialists, and it is their opinion that she cannot have the slightest perception of either light or sound.
It is impossible to tell exactly to what extent the senses of smell and taste aid her in gaining information respecting physical qualities; but, according to eminent authority, these senses do exert a great influence on the mental and moral development. Dugald Stewart says, “Some of the most significant words relating to the human mind are borrowed from the sense of smell; and the conspicuous place which its sensations occupy in the poetical language of all nations shows how easily and naturally they ally themselves with the refined operations of the fancy and the moral emotions of the heart.” Helen certainly derives great pleasure from the exercise of these senses. On entering a greenhouse her countenance becomes radiant, and she will tell the names of the flowers with which she is familiar, by the sense of smell alone. Her recollections of the sensations of smell are very vivid. She enjoys in anticipation the scent of a rose or a violet; and if she is promised a bouquet of these flowers, a peculiarly happy expression lights her face, indicating that in imagination she perceives their fragrance, and that it is pleasant to her. It frequently happens that the perfume of a flower or the flavour of a fruit recalls to her mind some happy event in home life, or a delightful birthday party.
Her sense of touch has sensibly increased during the year, and has gained in acuteness and delicacy. Indeed, her whole body is so finely organized that she seems to use it as a medium for bringing herself into closer relations with her fellow creatures. She is able not only to distinguish with great accuracy the different undulations of the air and the vibrations of the floor made by various sounds and motions, and to recognize her friends and acquaintances the instant she touches their hands or clothing, but she also perceives the state of mind of those around her. It is impossible for anyone with whom Helen is conversing to be particularly happy or sad, and withhold the knowledge of this fact from her.
She observes the slightest emphasis placed upon a word in conversation, and she discovers meaning in every change of position, and in the varied play of the muscles of the hand. She responds quickly to the gentle pressure of affection, the pat of approval, the jerk of impatience, the firm motion of command, and to the many other variations of the almost infinite language of the feelings; and she has become so expert in interpreting this unconscious language of the emotions that she is often able to divine our very thoughts.
In my account of Helen last year, I mentioned several instances where she seemed to have called into use an inexplicable mental faculty; but it now seems to me, after carefully considering the matter, that this power may be explained by her perfect familiarity with the muscular variations of those with whom she comes into contact, caused by their emotions. She has been forced to depend largely upon this muscular sense as a means of ascertaining the mental condition of those about her. She has learned to connect certain movements of the body with anger, others with joy, and others still with sorrow. One day, while she was out walking with her mother and Mr. Anagnos, a boy threw a torpedo, which startled Mrs. Keller. Helen felt the change in her mother’s movements instantly, and asked, “What are we afraid of?” On one occasion, while walking on the Common with her, I saw a police officer taking a man to the station-house. The agitation which I felt evidently produced a perceptible physical change; for Helen asked, excitedly, “What do you see?”
A striking illustration of this strange power was recently shown while her ears were being examined by the aurists in Cincinnati. Several experiments were tried, to determine positively whether or not she had any perception of sound. All present were astonished when she appeared not only to hear a whistle, but also an ordinary tone of voice. She would turn her head, smile, and act as though she had heard what was said. I was then standing beside her, holding her hand. Thinking that she was receiving impressions from me, I put her hands upon the table, and withdrew to the opposite side of the room. The aurists then tried their experiments with quite different results. Helen remained motionless through them all, not once showing the least sign that she realized what was going on. At my suggestion, one of the gentlemen took her hand, and the tests were repeated. This time her countenance changed whenever she was spoken to, but there was not such a decided lighting up of the features as when I had held her hand.
In the account of Helen last year it was stated that she knew nothing about death, or the burial of the body; yet on entering a cemetery for the first time in her life, she showed signs of emotion—her eyes actually filling with tears.
A circumstance equally remarkable occurred last summer; but, before relating it, I will mention what she now knows with regard to death. Even before I knew her, she had handled a dead chicken, or bird, or some other small animal. Some time after the visit to the cemetery before referred to, Helen became interested in a horse that had met with an accident by which one of his legs had been badly injured, and she went daily with me to visit him. The wounded leg soon became so much worse that the horse was suspended from a beam. The animal groaned with pain, and Helen, perceiving his groans, was filled with pity. At last it became necessary to kill him, and, when Helen next asked to go and see him, I told her that he was dead. This was the first time that she had heard the word. I then explained that he had been shot to relieve him from suffering, and that he was now buried—put into the ground. I am inclined to believe that the idea of his having been intentionally shot did not make much impression upon her; but I think she did realize the fact that life was extinct in the horse as in the dead birds she had touched, and also that he had been put into the ground. Since this occurrence, I have used the word dead whenever occasion required, but with no further explanation of its meaning.
While making a visit at Brewster, Massachusetts, she one day accompanied my friend and me through the graveyard. She examined one stone after another, and seemed pleased when she could decipher a name. She smelt of the flowers, but showed no desire to pluck them; and, when I gathered a few for her, she refused to have them pinned on her dress. When her attention was drawn to a marble slab inscribed with the name Florence in relief, she dropped upon the ground as though looking for something, then turned to me with a face full of trouble, and asked, “Where is poor little Florence?” I evaded the question, but she persisted. Turning to my friend, she asked, “Did you cry loud for poor little Florence?” Then she added: “I think she is very dead. Who put her in big hole?” As she continued to ask these distressing questions, we left the cemetery. Florence was the daughter of my friend, and was a young lady at the time of her death; but Helen had been told nothing about her, nor did she even know that my friend had had a daughter. Helen had been given a bed and carriage for her dolls, which she had received and used like any other gift. On her return to the house after her visit to the cemetery, she ran to the closet where these toys were kept, and carried them to my friend, saying, “They are poor little Florence’s.” This was true, although we were at a loss to understand how she guessed it. A letter written to her mother in the course of the following week gave an account of her impression in her own words:
“I put my little babies to sleep in Florence’s little bed, and I take them to ride in her carriage. Poor little Florence is dead. She was very sick and died. Mrs. H. did cry loud for her dear little child. She got in the ground, and she is very dirty, and she is cold. Florence was very lovely like Sadie, and Mrs. H. kissed her and hugged her much. Florence is very sad in big hole. Doctor gave her medicine to make her well, but poor Florence did not get well. When she was very sick she tossed and moaned in bed. Mrs. H. will go to see her soon.”
Notwithstanding the activity of Helen’s mind, she is a very natural child. She is fond of fun and frolic, and loves dearly to be with other children. She is never fretful or irritable, and I have never seen her impatient with her playmates because they failed to understand her. She will play for hours together with children who cannot understand a single word she spells, and it is pathetic to watch the eager gestures and excited pantomime through which her ideas and emotions find expression. Occasionally some little boy or girl will try to learn the manual alphabet. Then it is beautiful to observe with what patience, sweetness, and perseverance Helen endeavours to bring the unruly fingers of her little friend into proper position.
One day, while Helen was wearing a little jacket of which she was very proud, her mother said: “There is a poor little girl who has no cloak to keep her warm. Will you give her yours?” Helen began to pull off the jacket, saying, “I must give it to a poor little strange girl.”
She is very fond of children younger than herself, and a baby invariably calls forth all the motherly instincts of her nature. She will handle the baby as tenderly as the most careful nurse could desire. It is pleasant, too, to note her thoughtfulness for little children, and her readiness to yield to their whims.
She has a very sociable disposition, and delights in the companionship of those who can follow the rapid motions of her fingers; but if left alone she will amuse herself for hours at a time with her knitting or sewing.
She reads a great deal. She bends over her book with a look of intense interest, and as the forefinger of her left hand runs along the line, she spells out the words with the other hand; but often her motions are so rapid as to be unintelligible even to those accustomed to reading the swift and varied movements of her fingers.
Every shade of feeling finds expression through her mobile features. Her behaviour is easy and natural, and it is charming because of its frankness and evident sincerity. Her heart is too full of unselfishness and affection to allow a dream of fear or unkindness. She does not realize that one can be anything but kindhearted and tender. She is not conscious of any reason why she should be awkward; consequently, her movements are free and graceful.
She is very fond of all the living things at home, and she will not have them unkindly treated. When she is riding in the carriage she will not allow the driver to use the whip, because, she says, “poor horses will cry.” One morning she was greatly distressed by finding that one of the dogs had a block fastened to her collar. We explained that it was done to keep Pearl from running away. Helen expressed a great deal of sympathy, and at every opportunity during the day she would find Pearl and carry the burden from place to place.
Her father wrote to her last summer that the birds and bees were eating all his grapes. At first she was very indignant, and said the little creatures were “very wrong”; but she seemed pleased when I explained to her that the birds and bees were hungry, and did not know that it was selfish to eat all the fruit. In a letter written soon afterward she says:
“I am very sorry that bumblebees and hornets and birds and large flies and worms are eating all of my father’s delicious grapes. They like juicy fruit to eat as well as people, and they are hungry. They are not very wrong to eat too many grapes because they do not know much.”
She continues to make rapid progress in the acquisition of language as her experiences increase. While these were few and elementary, her vocabulary was necessarily limited; but, as she learns more of the world about her, her judgment grows more accurate, her reasoning powers grow stronger, more active and subtle, and the language by which she expresses this intellectual activity gains in fluency and logic.
When traveling she drinks in thought and language. Sitting beside her in the car, I describe what I see from the window—hills and valleys and the rivers; cotton-fields and gardens in which strawberries, peaches, pears, melons, and vegetables are growing; herds of cows and horses feeding in broad meadows, and flocks of sheep on the hillside; the cities with their churches and schools, hotels and warehouses, and the occupations of the busy people. While I am communicating these things, Helen manifests intense interest; and, in default of words, she indicates by gestures and pantomime her desire to learn more of her surroundings and of the great forces which are operating everywhere. In this way, she learns countless new expressions without any apparent effort.
From the day when Helen first grasped the idea that all objects have names, and that these can be communicated by certain movements of the fingers, I have talked to her exactly as I should have done had she been able to hear, with only this exception, that I have addressed the words to her fingers instead of to her ears. Naturally, there was at first a strong tendency on her part to use only the important words in a sentence. She would say: “Helen milk.” I got the milk to show her that she had used the correct word; but I did not let her drink it until she had, with my assistance, made a complete sentence, as “Give Helen some milk to drink.” In these early lessons I encouraged her in the use of different forms of expression for conveying the same idea. If she was eating some candy, I said: “Will Helen please give teacher some candy?” or, “Teacher would like to eat some of Helen’s candy,” emphasizing the ’s. She very soon perceived that the same idea could be expressed in a great many ways. In two or three months after I began to teach her she would say: “Helen wants to go to bed,” or, “Helen is sleepy, and Helen will go to bed.”
I am constantly asked the question, “How did you teach her the meaning of words expressive of intellectual and moral qualities?” I believe it was more through association and repetition than through any explanation of mine [emphasis added]. This is especially true of her earlier lessons, when her knowledge of language was so slight as to make explanation impossible.
I always made it a practice to use the words descriptive of emotions, of intellectual or moral qualities and actions, in connection with the circumstance which required these words. Soon after I became her teacher Helen broke her new doll, of which she was very fond. She began to cry. I said to her, “Teacher is sorry.” After a few repetitions she came to associate the word with the feeling.
The word happy she learned in the same way; also, right, wrong, good, bad, and other adjectives. The word love she learned as other children do—by its association with caresses
One day I asked her a simple question in a combination of numbers, which I was sure she knew. She answered at random. I checked her, and she stood still, the expression of her face plainly showing that she was trying to think. I touched her forehead, and spelled “t-h-i-n-k.” The word, thus connected with the act, seemed to impress itself on her mind much as if I had placed her hand upon an object and then spelled its name. Since that time she has always used the word think. [emphasis added]
At a later period I began to use such words as perhaps, suppose, expect, forget, remember. If Helen asked, “Where is mother now?” I replied: “I do not know. perhaps she is with Leila.”
She is always anxious to learn the names of people we meet in the horsecars or elsewhere, and to know where they are going, and what they will do. Conversations of this kind are frequent:
Helen: What is little boy’s name?
Teacher: I do not know, for he is a little stranger; but perhaps his name is Jack.
Helen: Where is he going?
Teacher: He may be going to the Common to have fun with other boys.
Helen: What will he play?
Teacher I suppose he will play ball.
Helen: What are boys doing now?
Teacher: Perhaps they are expecting Jack, and are waiting for him.
After the words have become familiar to her, she uses them in composition.
September 26, 1888.
“This morning teacher and I sat by the window and we saw a little boy walking on the sidewalk. It was raining very hard and he had a very large umbrella to keep off the raindrops.
“I do not know how old he was but think he may have been six years old. perhaps his name was Joe. I do not know where he was going because he was a little strange boy. But perhaps his mother sent him to a store to buy something for dinner. He had a bag in one hand. I suppose he was going to take it to his mother.”
In teaching her the use of language, I have not confined myself to any particular theory or system. I have observed the spontaneous movements of my pupil’s mind, and have tried to follow the suggestions thus given to me [emphasis added].
Owing to the nervousness of Helen’s temperament, every precaution has been taken to avoid unduly exciting her already very active brain. The greater part of the year has been spent in travel and in visits to different places, and her lessons have been those suggested by the various scenes and experiences through which she has passed. She continues to manifest the same eagerness to learn as at first. It is never necessary to urge her to study [emphasis added]. Indeed, I am often obliged to coax her to leave an example or a composition.
While not confining myself to any special system of instruction, I have tried to add to her general information and intelligence, to enlarge her acquaintance with things around her, and to bring her into easy and natural relations with people [emphasis added]. I have encouraged her to keep a diary, from which the following selection has been made:
“March 22nd, 1888.
“Mr. Anagnos came to see me Thursday. I was glad to hug and kiss him. He takes care of sixty little blind girls and seventy little blind boys. I do love them. Little blind girls sent me a pretty workbasket. I found scissors and thread, and needle-book with many needles in it, and crochet hook and emery, and thimble, and box, and yard measure and buttons, and pincushion. I will write little blind girls a letter to thank them. I will make pretty clothes for Nancy and Adeline and Allie. I will go to Cincinnati in May and buy another child. Then I will have four children. New baby’s name is Harry. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Mitchell came to see us Sunday. Mr. Anagnos went to Louisville Monday to see little blind children. Mother went to Huntsville. I slept with father, and Mildred slept with teacher. I did learn about calm. It does mean quiet and happy. Uncle Morrie sent me pretty stories. I read about birds. The quail lays fifteen or twenty eggs and they are white. She makes her nest on the ground. The bluebird makes her nest in a hollow tree and her eggs are blue. The robin’s eggs are green. I learned a song about spring. March, April, May are spring.
Now melts the snow.
The warm winds blow
The waters flow
And robin dear,
Is come to show
That Spring is here.
“James killed snipes for breakfast. Little chickens did get very cold and die. I am sorry. Teacher and I went to ride on Tennessee River, in a boat. I saw Mr. Wilson and James row with oars. Boat did glide swiftly and I put hand in water and felt it flowing.
“I caught fish with hook and line and pole. We climbed high hill and teacher fell and hurt her head. I ate very small fish for supper. I did read about cow and calf. The cow loves to eat grass as well as girl does bread and butter and milk. Little calf does run and leap in field. She likes to skip and play, for she is happy when the sun is bright and warm. Little boy did love his calf. And he did say, I will kiss you, little calf, and he put his arms around calf’s neck and kissed her. The calf licked good boy’s face with long rough tongue. Calf must not open mouth much to kiss. I am tired, and teacher does not want me to write more.”
In the autumn she went to a circus. While we were standing before his cage the lion roared, and Helen felt the vibration of the air so distinctly that she was able to reproduce the noise quite accurately.
I tried to describe to her the appearance of a camel; but, as we were not allowed to touch the animal, I feared that she did not get a correct idea of its shape. A few days afterward, however, hearing a commotion in the schoolroom, I went in and found Helen on all fours with a pillow so strapped upon her back as to leave a hollow in the middle, thus making a hump on either side. Between these humps she had placed her doll, which she was giving a ride around the room. I watched her for some time as she moved about, trying to take long strides in order to carry out the idea I had given her of a camel’s gait. When I asked her what she was doing, she replied, “I am a very funny camel.”
During the next two years neither Mr. Anagnos, who was in Europe for a year, nor Miss Sullivan wrote anything about Helen Keller for publication. In 1892 appeared the Perkins Institution report for 1891, containing a full account of Helen Keller, including many of her letters, exercises, and compositions. As some of the letters and the story of the “Frost King” are published here, there is no need of printing any more samples of Helen Keller’s writing during the third, fourth and fifth years of her education. It was the first two years that counted. From Miss Sullivan’s part of this report I give her most important comments and such biographical matter as does not appear elsewhere in the present volume.
These extracts Mr. Anagnos took from Miss Sullivan’s notes and memoranda.
One day, while her pony and her donkey were standing side by side, Helen went from one to the other, examining them closely. At last she paused with her hand upon Neddy’s head, and addressed him thus: “Yes, dear Neddy, it is true that you are not as beautiful as Black Beauty. Your body is not so handsomely formed, and there is no proud look in your face, and your neck does not arch, Besides, your long ears make you look a little funny. Of course, you cannot help it, and I love you just as well as if you were the most beautiful creature in the world.”
Helen has been greatly interested in the story of Black Beauty. To show how quickly she perceives and associates ideas [emphasis added], I will give an instance which all who have read the book will be able to appreciate. I was reading the following paragraph to her:
“The horse was an old, worn-out chestnut, with an ill-kept coat, and bones that showed plainly through it; the knees knuckled over, and the forelegs were very unsteady. I had been eating some hay, and the wind rolled a little lock of it that way, and the poor creature put out her long, thin neck and picked it up, and then turned round and looked about for more. There was a hopeless look in the dull eye that I could not help noticing, and then, as I was thinking where I had seen that horse before, she looked full at me and said, ‘Black Beauty, is that you?’”
At this point Helen pressed my hand to stop me. She was sobbing convulsively. “It was poor Ginger,” was all she could say at first. Later, when she was able to talk about it, she said: “Poor Ginger! The words made a distinct picture in my mind. I could see the way Ginger looked; all her beauty gone, her beautiful arched neck drooping, all the spirit gone out of her flashing eyes, all the playfulness gone out of her manner. Oh, how terrible it was! I never knew before that there could be such a change in anything. There were very few spots of sunshine in poor Ginger’s life, and the sadnesses were so many!” After a moment she added, mournfully, “I fear some people’s lives are just like Ginger’s.”
This morning Helen was reading for the first time Bryant’s poem, “Oh, mother of a mighty race!” I said to her, “Tell me, when you have read the poem through, who you think the mother is.” When she came to the line, “There’s freedom at thy gates, and rest,” she exclaimed: “It means America! The gate, I suppose, is New York City, and Freedom is the great statue of Liberty.” After she had read The Battlefield, by the same author, I asked her which verse she thought was the most beautiful. She replied, “I like this verse best:
‘Truth crushed to earth shall rise again;
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies among his worshipers.’ ”
She is at once transported into the midst of the events of a story. She rejoices when justice wins, she is sad when virtue lies low, and her face glows with admiration and reverence when heroic deeds are described. She even enters into the spirit of battle; she says, “I think it is right for men to fight against wrongs and tyrants.” [emphasis added]
Here begins Miss Sullivan’s connected account in the report of 1891:
During the past three years Helen has continued to make rapid progress in the acquisition of language. She has one advantage over ordinary children, that nothing from without distracts her attention from her studies.
But this advantage involves a corresponding disadvantage, the danger of unduly severe mental application. Her mind is so constituted that she is in a state of feverish unrest while conscious that there is something that she does not comprehend. I have never known her to be willing to leave a lesson when she felt that there was anything in it which she did not understand [emphasis added]. If I suggest her leaving a problem in arithmetic until the next day, she answers, “I think it will make my mind stronger to do it now.”
A few evenings ago we were discussing the tariff. Helen wanted me to tell her about it. I said: “No. You cannot understand it yet.” She was quiet for a moment, and then asked, with spirit: “How do you know that I cannot understand? I have a good mind! You must remember, dear teacher, that Greek parents were very particular with their children, and they used to let them listen to wise words, and I think they understood some of them.” I have found it best not to tell her that she cannot understand, because she is almost certain to become excited.
Not long ago I tried to show her how to build a tower with her blocks. As the design was somewhat complicated, the slightest jar made the structure fall. After a time I became discouraged, and told her I was afraid she could not make it stand, but that I would build it for her; but she did not approve of this plan. She was determined to build the tower herself; and for nearly three hours she worked away, patiently gathering up the blocks whenever they fell, and beginning over again, until at last her perseverance was crowned with success. The tower stood complete in every part.
Until October, 1889, I had not deemed it best to confine Helen to any regular and systematic course of study. For the first two years of her intellectual life she was like a child in a strange country, where everything was new and perplexing; and, until she gained a knowledge of language, it was not possible to give her a definite course of instruction [emphasis added].
Moreover, Helen’s inquisitiveness was so great during these years that it would have interfered with her progress in the acquisition of language, if a consideration of the questions which were constantly occurring to her had been deferred until the completion of a lesson. In all probability she would have forgotten the question, and a good opportunity to explain something of real interest to her would have been lost. Therefore it has always seemed best to me to teach anything whenever my pupil needed to know it, whether it had any bearing on the projected lesson or not, her inquiries have often led us far away from the subject under immediate consideration [emphasis added].
Since October, 1889, her work has been more regular and has included arithmetic, geography, zoology, botany and reading.
She has made considerable progress in the study of arithmetic. She readily explains the processes of multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division, and seems to understand the operations. She has nearly finished Colburn’s mental arithmetic, her last work being in improper fractions. She has also done some good work in written arithmetic. Her mind works so rapidly, that it often happens, that when I give her an example she will give me the correct answer before I have time to write out the question. She pays little attention to the language used in stating a problem, and seldom stops to ask the meaning of unknown words or phrases until she is ready to explain her work. Once, when a question puzzled her very much, I suggested that we take a walk and then perhaps she would understand it. She shook her head decidedly, and said: “My enemies would think I was running away. I must stay and conquer them now,” and she did [emphasis added].
The intellectual improvement which Helen has made in the past two years is shown more clearly in her greater command of language and in her ability to recognize nicer shades of meaning in the use of words, than in any other branch of her education.
Not a day passes that she does not learn many new words, nor are these merely the names of tangible and sensible objects. For instance, she one day wished to know the meaning of the following words: phenomenon, comprise, energy, reproduction, extraordinary, perpetual and mystery. Some of these words have successive steps of meaning, beginning with what is simple and leading on to what is abstract. It would have been a hopeless task to make Helen comprehend the more abstruse meanings of the word mystery, but she understood readily that it signified something hidden or concealed, and when she makes greater progress she will grasp its more abstruse meaning as easily as she now does the simpler signification. In investigating any subject there must occur at the beginning words and phrases which cannot be adequately understood until the pupil has made considerable advancement; yet I have thought it best to go on giving my pupil simple definitions, thinking that, although these may be somewhat vague and provisional, they will come to one another’s assistance, and that what is obscure today will be plain tomorrow [emphasis added].
I regard my pupil as a free and active being, whose own spontaneous impulses must be my surest guide. I have always talked to Helen exactly as I would talk to a seeing and hearing child, and I have insisted that other people should do the same. Whenever anyone asks me if she will understand this or that word I always reply: “Never mind whether she understands each separate word of a sentence or not. She will guess the meanings of the new words from their connection with others which are already intelligible to her.”
In selecting books for Helen to read, I have never chosen them with reference to her deafness and blindness. She always reads such books as seeing and hearing children of her age read and enjoy. Of course, in the beginning it was necessary that the things described should be familiar and interesting, and the English pure and simple. I remember distinctly when she first attempted to read a little story. She had learned the printed letters, and for some time had amused herself by making simple sentences, using slips on which the words were printed in raised letters; but these sentences had no special relation to one another. One morning we caught a mouse, and it occurred to me, with a live mouse and a live cat to stimulate her interest, that I might arrange some sentences in such a way as to form a little story, and thus give her a new conception of the use of language. So I put the following sentences in the frame, and gave it to Helen: “The cat is on the box. A mouse is in the box. The cat can see the mouse. The cat would like to eat the mouse. Do not let the cat get the mouse. The cat can have some milk, and the mouse can have some cake.” The word the she did not know, and of course she wished it explained. At that stage of her advancement it would have been impossible to explain its use, and so I did not try, but moved her finger on to the next word, which she recognized with a bright smile. Then, as I put her hand upon puss sitting on the box, she made a little exclamation of surprise, and the rest of the sentence became perfectly clear to her. When she had read the words of the second sentence, I showed her that there really was a mouse in the box. She then moved her finger to the next line with an expression of eager interest. “The cat can see the mouse.” Here I made the cat look at the mouse, and let Helen feel the cat. The expression of the little girl’s countenance showed that she was perplexed. I called her attention to the following line, and, although she knew only the three words, cat, eat and mouse, she caught the idea. She pulled the cat away and put her on the floor, at the same time covering the box with the frame. When she read, “Do not let the cat get the mouse!” she recognized the negation in the sentence, and seemed to know that the cat must not get the mouse. Get and let were new words. She was familiar with the words of the last sentence, and was delighted when allowed to act them out. By signs she made me understand that she wished another story, and I gave her a book containing very short stories, written in the most elementary style. She ran her fingers along the lines, finding the words she knew and guessing at the meaning of others, in a way that would convince the most conservative of educators that a little deaf child, if given the opportunity, will learn to read as easily and naturally as ordinary children.
I am convinced that Helen’s use of English is due largely to her familiarity with books. She often reads for two or three hours in succession, and then lays aside her book reluctantly. One day as we left the library I noticed that she appeared more serious than usual, and I asked the cause. “I am thinking how much wiser we always are when we leave here than we are when we come,” was her reply.
When asked why she loved books so much, she once replied: “Because they tell me so much that is interesting about things I cannot see, and they are never tired or troubled like people. They tell me over and over what I want to know.” [emphasis added]
While reading from Dickens’s Child’s History of England, we came to the sentence, “Still the spirit of the Britons was not broken.” I asked what she thought that meant. She replied, “I think it means that the brave Britons were not discouraged because the Romans had won so many battles, and they wished all the more to drive them away.” It would not have been possible for her to define the words in this sentence; and yet she had caught the author’s meaning, and was able to give it in her own words. The next lines are still more idiomatic, “When Suetonius left the country, they fell upon his troops and retook the island of Anglesea.” Here is her interpretation of the sentence: “It means that when the Roman general had gone away, the Britons began to fight again; and because the Roman soldiers had no general to tell them what to do, they were overcome by the Britons and lost the island they had captured.”
She prefers intellectual to manual occupations, and is not so fond of fancy work as many of the blind children are; yet she is eager to join them in whatever they are doing. She has learned to use the Caligraph typewriter, and writes very correctly, but not rapidly as yet, having had less than a month’s practice.
More than two years ago a cousin taught her the telegraph alphabet by making the dots and dashes on the back of her hand with his finger. Whenever she meets anyone who is familiar with this system, she is delighted to use it in conversation [emphasis added]. I have found it a convenient medium of communicating with Helen when she is at some distance from me, for it enables me to talk with her by tapping upon the floor with my foot. She feels the vibrations and understands what is said to her.
It was hoped that one so peculiarly endowed by nature as Helen, would, if left entirely to her own resources, throw some light upon such psychological questions as were not exhaustively investigated by Dr. Howe; but their hopes were not to be realized. In the case of Helen, as in that of Laura Bridgman, disappointment was inevitable. It is impossible to isolate a child in the midst of society, so that he shall not be influenced by the beliefs of those with whom he associates. In Helen’s case such an end could not have been attained without depriving her of that intercourse with others, which is essential to her nature.
It must have been evident to those who watched the rapid unfolding of Helen’s faculties that it would not be possible to keep her inquisitive spirit for any length of time from reaching out toward the unfathomable mysteries of life. But great care has been taken not to lead her thoughts prematurely to the consideration of subjects which perplex and confuse all minds. Children ask profound questions, but they often receive shallow answers, or, to speak more correctly, they are quieted by such answers.
“Where did I come from?” and “Where shall I go when I die?” were questions Helen asked when she was eight years old. But the explanations which she was able to understand at that time did not satisfy, although they forced her to remain silent, until her mind should begin to put forth its higher powers, and generalize from innumerable impressions and ideas which streamed in upon it from books and from her daily experiences. Her mind sought for the cause of things. [emphasis added]
As her observation of phenomena became more extensive and her vocabulary richer and more subtle, enabling her to express her own conceptions and ideas clearly, and also to comprehend the thoughts and experiences of others, she became acquainted with the limit of human creative power, and perceived that some power, not human, must have created the earth, the sun, and the thousand natural objects with which she was perfectly familiar.
Finally she one day demanded a name for the power, the existence of which she had already conceived in her own mind.
Through Charles Kingsley’s Greek Heroes she had become familiar with the beautiful stories of the Greek gods and goddesses, and she must have met with the words God, heaven, soul, and a great many similar expressions in books.
She never asked the meaning of such words, nor made any comment when they occurred; and until February, 1889, no one had ever spoken to her of God. At that time, a dear relative who was also an earnest Christian, tried to tell her about God but, as this lady did not use words suited to the comprehension of the child, they made little impression upon Helen’s mind. When I subsequently talked with her she said: “I have something very funny to tell you. A. says God made me and everyone out of sand; but it must be a joke. I am made of flesh and blood and bone, am I not?” Here she examined her arm with evident satisfaction, laughing heartily to herself. After a moment she went on: “A. says God is everywhere, and that He is all love; but I do not think a person can be made out of love. Love is only something in our hearts. Then A. said another very comical thing. She says He (meaning God) is my dear father. It made me laugh quite hard, for I know my father is Arthur Keller.”
I explained to her that she was not yet able to understand what had been told her, and so easily led her to see that it would be better not to talk about such things until she was wiser.
She had met with the expression Mother Nature in the course of her reading, and for a long time she was in the habit of ascribing to Mother Nature whatever she felt to be beyond the power of man to accomplish. She would say, when speaking of the growth of a plant, “Mother Nature sends the sunshine and the rain to make the trees and the grass and the flowers grow.” The following extract from my notes will show what were her ideas at this time:
Helen seemed a little serious after supper, and Mrs. H. asked her of what she was thinking. “I am thinking how very busy dear Mother Nature is in the springtime,” she replied. When asked why, she answered: “Because she has so many children to take care of. She is the mother of everything; the flowers and trees and winds.”
“How does Mother Nature take care of the flowers?” I asked.
“She sends the sunshine and rain to make them grow,” Helen replied; and after a moment she added, “I think the sunshine is Nature’s warm smile, and the raindrops are her tears.”
Later she said: “I do not know if Mother Nature made me. I think my mother got me from heaven, but I do not know where that place is. I know that daisies and pansies come from seeds which have been put in the ground; but children do not grow out of the ground, I am sure. I have never seen a plant-child! But I cannot imagine who made Mother Nature, can you? I love the beautiful spring, because the budding trees and the blossoming flowers and the tender green leaves fill my heart with joy. I must go now to see my garden. The daisies and the pansies will think I have forgotten them.”
After May, 1890, it was evident to me that she had reached a point where it was impossible to keep from her the religious beliefs held by those with whom she was in daily contact. She almost overwhelmed me with inquiries which were the natural outgrowth of her quickened intelligence.
Early in May she wrote on her tablet the following list of questions:
“I wish to write about things I do not understand. Who made the earth and the seas, and everything? What makes the sun hot? Where was I before I came to mother? I know that plants grow from seeds which are in the ground, but I am sure people do not grow that way. I never saw a child-plant. Little birds and chickens come out of eggs. I have seen them. What was the egg before it was an egg? Why does not the earth fall, it is so very large and heavy? Tell me something that Father Nature does. May I read the book called the Bible? Please tell your little pupil many things when you have much time.”
Can anyone doubt after reading these questions that the child who was capable of asking them was also capable of understanding at least their elementary answers? She could not, of course, have grasped such abstractions as a complete answer to her questions would involve; but one’s whole life is nothing more than a continual advance in the comprehension of the meaning and scope of such ideas [emphasis added].
Throughout Helen’s education I have invariably assumed that she can understand whatever it is desirable for her to know. Unless there had been in Helen’s mind some such intellectual process as the questions indicate, any explanation of them would have been unintelligible to her. Without that degree of mental development and activity which perceives the necessity of superhuman creative power, no explanation of natural phenomena is possible.
After she had succeeded in formulating the ideas which had been slowly growing in her mind, they seemed suddenly to absorb all her thoughts, and she became impatient to have everything explained. As we were passing a large globe a short time after she had written the questions, she stopped before it and asked, “Who made the real world?” I replied, “No one knows how the earth, the sun, and all the worlds which we call stars came to be; but I will tell you how wise men have tried to account for their origin, and to interpret the great and mysterious forces of nature.”
She knew that the Greeks had many gods to whom they ascribed various powers, because they believed that the sun, the lightning, and a hundred other natural forces, were independent and superhuman powers. But after a great deal of thought and study, I told her, men came to believe that all forces were manifestations of one power, and to that power they gave the name God.
She was very still for a few minutes, evidently thinking earnestly. She then asked, “Who made God?” I was compelled to evade her question, for I could not explain to her the mystery of a self-existent being [emphasis added]. Indeed, many of her eager questions would have puzzled a far wiser person than I am. Here are some of them: “What did God make the new worlds out of?” “Where did He get the soil, and the water, and the seeds, and the first animals?” “Where is God?” “Did you ever see God?” I told her that God was everywhere, and that she must not think of Him as a person, but as the life, the mind, the soul of everything. She interrupted me: “Everything does not have life. The rocks have not life, and they cannot think.” It is often necessary to remind her that there are infinitely many things that the wisest people in the world cannot explain [emphasis added].
No creed or dogma has been taught to Helen, nor has any effort been made to force religious beliefs upon her attention. Being fully aware of my own incompetence to give her any adequate explanations of the mysteries which underlie the names of God, soul, and immortality, I have always felt obliged, by a sense of duty to my pupil, to say as little as possible about spiritual matters. The Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks18 has explained to her in a beautiful way the fatherhood of God.
She has not as yet been allowed to read the Bible, because I do not see how she can do so at present without getting a very erroneous conception of the attributes of God. I have already told her in simple language of the beautiful and helpful life of Jesus, and of His cruel death. The narrative affected her greatly when first she listened to it.
When she referred to our conversation again, it was to ask, “Why did not Jesus go away, so that His enemies could not find Him?” She thought the miracles of Jesus very strange. When told that Jesus walked on the sea to meet His disciples, she said, decidedly, “It does not mean walked, it means swam.” When told of the instance in which Jesus raised the dead, she was much perplexed, saying, “I did not know life could come back into the dead body!”
One day she said, sadly: “I am blind and deaf. That is why I cannot see God.” I taught her the word invisible, and told her we could not see God with our eyes, because He was a spirit; but that when our hearts were full of goodness and gentleness, then we saw Him because then we were more like Him.
At another time she asked, “What is a soul?” “No one knows what the soul is like,” I replied; “but we know that it is not the body, and it is that part of us which thinks and loves and hopes, and which Christian people believe will live on after the body is dead.” I then asked her, “Can you think of your soul as separate from your body?” “Oh, yes!” she replied; “because last hour I was thinking very hard of Mr. Anagnos, and then my mind,”—then changing the word—“my soul was in Athens, but my body was here in the study.” At this moment another thought seemed to flash through her mind, and she added, “But Mr. Anagnos did not speak to my soul.” I explained to her that the soul, too, is invisible, or in other words, that it is without apparent form. “But if I write what my soul thinks,” she said, “then it will be visible, and the words will be its body.”
A long time ago Helen said to me, “I would like to live sixteen hundred years.” When asked if she would not like to live always in a beautiful country called heaven, her first question was, “Where is heaven?” I was obliged to confess that I did not know, but suggested that it might be on one of the stars. A moment after she said, “Will you please go first and tell me all about it?” and then she added, “Tuscumbia is a very beautiful little town.” It was more than a year before she alluded to the subject again, and when she did return to it, her questions were numerous and persistent. She asked: “Where is heaven, and what is it like? Why cannot we know as much about heaven as we do about foreign countries?” I told her in very simple language that there may be many places called heaven, but that essentially it was a condition—the fulfilment of the heart’s desire, the satisfaction of its wants; and that heaven existed wherever right was acknowledged, believed in, and loved.
She shrinks from the thought of death with evident dismay. Recently, on being shown a deer which had been killed by her brother, she was greatly distressed, and asked sorrowfully, “Why must everything die, even the fleet-footed deer?” At another time she asked, “Do you not think we would be very much happier always, if we did not have to die?” I said, “No; because, if there were no death, our world would soon be so crowded with living creatures that it would be impossible for any of them to live comfortably.” “But,” said Helen, quickly, “I think God could make some more worlds as well as He made this one.”
When friends have told her of the great happiness which awaits her in another life, she instantly asked: “How do you know, if you have not been dead?” [emphasis added]
The literal sense in which she sometimes takes common words and idioms shows how necessary it is that we should make sure that she receives their correct meaning. When told recently that Hungarians were born musicians, she asked in surprise, “Do they sing when they are born?” When her friend added that some of the pupils he had seen in Budapest had more than one hundred tunes in their heads, she said, laughing, “I think their heads must be very noisy.” She sees the ridiculous quickly, and, instead of being seriously troubled by metaphorical language, she is often amused at her own too literal conception of its meaning [emphasis added].
Having been told that the soul was without form, she was much perplexed at David’s words, “He leadeth my soul.” “Has it feet? Can it walk? Is it blind?” she asked; for in her mind the idea of being led was associated with blindness. [emphasis added]
Of all the subjects which perplex and trouble Helen, none distresses her so much as the knowledge of the existence of evil, and of the suffering which results from it. For a long time it was possible to keep this knowledge from her; and it will always be comparatively easy to prevent her from coming in personal contact with vice and wickedness. The fact that sin exists, and that great misery results from it, dawned gradually upon her mind as she understood more and more clearly the lives and experiences of those around her. The necessity of laws and penalties had to be explained to her. She found it very hard to reconcile the presence of evil in the world with the idea of God which had been presented to her mind. [emphasis added]
One day she asked, “Does God take care of us all the time?” She was answered in the affirmative. “Then why did He let little sister fall this morning, and hurt her head so badly?” Another time she was asking about the power and goodness of God. She had been told of a terrible storm at sea, in which several lives were lost, and she asked, “Why did not God save the people if He can do all things?” [emphasis added]
Surrounded by loving friends and the gentlest influences, as Helen had always been, she has, from the earliest stage of her intellectual enlightenment, willingly done right. She knows with unerring instinct what is right, and does it joyously. She does not think of one wrong act as harmless, of another as of no consequence, and of another as not intended. To her pure soul all evil is equally unlovely [emphasis added].
These passages from the paper Miss Sullivan prepared for the meeting at Chautauqua, in July, 1894, of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, contain her latest written account of her methods.
You must not imagine that as soon as Helen grasped the idea that everything had a name she at once became mistress of the treasury of the English language, or that “her mental faculties emerged, full armed, from their then living tomb, as Pallas Athene from the head of Zeus,” as one of her enthusiastic admirers would have us believe. At first, the words, phrases and sentences which she used in expressing her thoughts were all reproductions of what we had used in conversation with her, and which her memory had unconsciously retained. And indeed, this is true of the language of all children. Their language is the memory of the language they hear spoken in their homes. Countless repetition of the conversation of daily life has impressed certain words and phrases upon their memories, and when they come to talk themselves, memory supplies the words they lisp. Likewise, the language of educated people is the memory of the language of books.
Language grows out of life, out of its needs and experiences. At first my little pupil’s mind was all but vacant. She had been living in a world she could not realize. Language and knowledge are indissolubly connected; they are interdependent. Good work in language presupposes and depends on a real knowledge of things. As soon as Helen grasped the idea that everything had a name, and that by means of the manual alphabet these names could be transmitted from one to another, I proceeded to awaken her further interest in the objects whose names she learned to spell with such evident joy. I never taught language for the purpose of teaching it; but invariably used language as a medium for the communication of thought; thus the learning of language was coincident with the acquisition of knowledge. In order to use language intelligently, one must have something to talk about, and having something to talk about is the result of having had experiences; no amount of language training will enable our little children to use language with ease and fluency unless they have something clearly in their minds which they wish to communicate, or unless we succeed in awakening in them a desire to know what is in the minds of others.
At first I did not attempt to confine my pupil to any system. I always tried to find out what interested her most, and made that the starting-point for the new lesson, whether it had any bearing on the lesson I had planned to teach or not. During the first two years of her intellectual life, I required Helen to write very little. In order to write one must have something to write about, and having something to write about requires some mental preparation. The memory must be stored with ideas and the mind must be enriched with knowledge before writing becomes a natural and pleasurable effort. Too often, I think, children are required to write before they have anything to say. Teach them to think and read and talk without self-repression, and they will write because they cannot help it.
Helen acquired language by practice and habit rather than by study of rules and definitions. Grammar with its puzzling array of classifications, nomenclatures, and paradigms, was wholly discarded in her education. She learned language by being brought in contact with the living language itself; she was made to deal with it in everyday conversation, and in her books, and to turn it over in a variety of ways until she was able to use it correctly. No doubt I talked much more with my fingers, and more constantly than I should have done with my mouth; for had she possessed the use of sight and hearing, she would have been less dependent on me for entertainment and instruction.
I believe every child has hidden away somewhere in his being noble capacities which may be quickened and developed if we go about it in the right way; but we shall never properly develop the higher natures of our little ones while we continue to fill their minds with the so-called rudiments. Mathematics will never make them loving, nor will the accurate knowledge of the size and shape of the world help them to appreciate its beauties. Let us lead them during the first years to find their greatest pleasure in Nature. Let them run in the fields, learn about animals, and observe real things. Children will educate themselves under right conditions. They require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction.
I think much of the fluency with which Helen uses language is due to the fact that nearly every impression which she receives comes through the medium of language. But after due allowance has been made for Helen’s natural aptitude for acquiring language, and for the advantage resulting from her peculiar environment, I think that we shall still find that the constant companionship of good books has been of supreme importance in her education. It may be true, as some maintain, that language cannot express to us much beyond what we have lived and experienced; but I have always observed that children manifest the greatest delight in the lofty, poetic language which we are too ready to think beyond their comprehension. “This is all you will understand,” said a teacher to a class of little children, closing the book which she had been reading to them. “Oh, please read us the rest, even if we won’t understand it,” they pleaded, delighted with the rhythm, and the beauty which they felt, even though they could not have explained it. It is not necessary that a child should understand every word in a book before he can read with pleasure and profit. Indeed, only such explanations should be given as are really essential. Helen drank in language which she at first could not understand, and it remained in her mind until needed, when it fitted itself naturally and easily into her conversation and compositions [emphasis added]. Indeed, it is maintained by some that she reads too much, that a great deal of originative force is dissipated in the enjoyment of books; that when she might see and say things for herself, she sees them only through the eyes of others, and says them in their language, but I am convinced that original composition without the preparation of much reading is an impossibility. Helen has had the best and purest models in language constantly presented to her, and her conversation and her writing are unconscious reproductions of what she has read. Reading, I think, should be kept independent of the regular school exercises. Children should be encouraged to read for the pure delight of it. The attitude of the child toward his books should be that of unconscious receptivity. The great works of the imagination ought to become a part of his life, as they were once of the very substance of the men who wrote them. It is true, the more sensitive and imaginative the mind is that receives the thought-pictures and images of literature, the more nicely the finest lines are reproduced. Helen has the vitality of feeling, the freshness and eagerness of interest, and the spiritual insight of the artistic temperament, and naturally she has a more active and intense joy in life, simply as life, and in nature, books, and people than less gifted mortals. Her mind is so filled with the beautiful thoughts and ideals of the great poets that nothing seems commonplace to her; for her imagination colours all life with its own rich hues.
There has been much discussion of such of Miss Sullivan’s statements and explanations as have been published before. Too much has been written by people who do not know the problems of the deaf at first hand, and I do not care to add much to it. Miss Keller’s education, however, is so fundamentally a question of language teaching that it rather includes the problems of the deaf than limits itself to the deaf alone. Teachers can draw their own conclusions. For the majority of readers, who will not approach Miss Keller’s life from the educator’s point of view, I will summarize a few principal things in Miss Sullivan’s methods.
Miss Sullivan has begun where Dr. Howe left off. He invented the instrument, the physical means of working, but the teaching of language is quite another thing from the mechanical means by which language may be taught. By experiment, by studying other children, Miss Sullivan came upon the practical way of teaching language by the natural method. It was for this “natural method” that Dr. Howe was groping, but he never got to this idea, that a deaf child should not be taught each word separately by definition, but should be given language by endless repetition of language which it does not understand. And this is Miss Sullivan’s great discovery. All day long in their playtime and work-time Miss Sullivan kept spelling into her pupil’s hand, and by that Helen Keller absorbed words, just as the child in the cradle absorbs words by hearing thousands of them before he uses one and by associating the words with the occasion of their utterance. Thus he learns that words name things and actions and feelings. Now, that is the first principle in Miss Sullivan’s method, one that had practical results, and one which, so far as I can discover, had never been put in practice in the education of a deaf child, not to say a deaf-blind child, until Miss Sullivan tried it with Helen Keller. And the principle had never been formulated clearly until Miss Sullivan wrote her letters.
The second principle in her method (the numerical order is, of course, arbitrary) is never to talk to the child about things distasteful or wearisome to him. In the first deaf school Miss Sullivan ever visited, the teacher was busy at the blackboard telling the children by written words something they did not want to know, while they were crowding round their visitor with wide-awake curiosity, showing there were a thousand things they did want to know. Why not, says Miss Sullivan, make a language lesson out of what they were interested in?
Akin to this idea of talking to the child about what interests him, is the principle never to silence a child who asks questions, but to answer the questions as truly as possible; for, says Miss Sullivan, the question is the door to the child’s mind. Miss Sullivan never needlessly belittled her ideas or expressions to suit the supposed state of the child’s intelligence. She urged everyone to speak to Helen naturally, to give her full sentences and intelligent ideas, never minding whether Helen understood or not. Thus Miss Sullivan knew what so many people do not understand, that after the first rudimentary definitions of hat, cup, go, sit, the unit of language, as the child learns it, is the sentence, which is also the unit of language in our adult experience. We do not take in a sentence word by word, but as a whole. It is the proposition, something predicated about something, that conveys an idea. True, single words do suggest and express ideas; the child may say simply “mamma” when he means “Where is mamma?” but he learns the expression of the ideas that relate to mamma—he learns language—by hearing complete sentences. And though Miss Sullivan did not force grammatical completeness upon the first finger-lispings of her pupil, yet when she herself repeated Helen’s sentence, “mamma milk,” she filled out the construction, completed the child’s ellipsis and said, “Mamma will bring Helen some milk.”
Thus Miss Sullivan was working out a natural method, which is so simple, so lacking in artificial system, that her method seems rather to be a destruction of method. It is doubtful if we should have heard of Helen Keller if Miss Sullivan had not been where there were other children. By watching them, she learned to treat her pupil as nearly as possible like an ordinary child.
The manual alphabet was not the only means of presenting words to Helen Keller’s fingers. Books supplemented, perhaps equaled in importance the manual alphabet, as a means of teaching language. Helen sat poring over them before she could read, not at first for the story, but to find words she knew; and the definition of new words which is implied in their context, in their position with reference to words known, added to Helen’s vocabulary. Books are the storehouse of language, and any child, whether deaf or not, if he has his attention attracted in any way to printed pages, must learn. He learns not by reading what he understands, but by reading and remembering words he does not understand. And though perhaps few children will have as much precocious interest in books as did Helen Keller, yet the natural curiosity of every healthy child may be turned to printed pages, especially if the teacher is clever and plays a word game as Miss Sullivan did. Helen Keller is supposed to have a special aptitude for languages. It is true rather that she has a special aptitude for thinking, and her leaning toward language is due to the fact that language to her meant life. It was not a special subject, like geography or arithmetic, but her way to outward things.
When at the age of fourteen she had had but a few lessons in German, she read over the words of Wilhelm Tell and managed to get the story. Of grammar she knew nothing and she cared nothing for it. She got the language from the language itself, and this is, next to hearing the language spoken, the way for anyone to get a foreign tongue, more vital and, in the end, easier than our schoolroom method of beginning with the grammar. In the same way she played with Latin, learning not only from the lessons her first Latin teacher gave her, but from going over and over the words of a text, a game she played by herself.
Mr. John D. Wright, one of her teachers at the Wright-Humason School, says in a letter to me:
“Often I found her, when she had a little leisure, sitting in her favourite corner, in a chair whose arms supported the big volume prepared for the blind, and passing her finger slowly over the lines of Molière’s Le Médecin Malgré Lui, chuckling to herself at the comical situations and humorous lines. At that time her actual working vocabulary in French was very small, but by using her judgment, as we laughingly called the mental process, she could guess at the meanings of the words and put the sense together much as a child puzzles out a sliced object. The result was that in a few weeks she and I spent a most hilarious hour one evening while she poured out to me the whole story, dwelling with great gusto on its humour and sparkling wit. It was not a lesson, but only one of her recreations.” [emphasis added]
So Helen Keller’s aptitude for language is her whole mental aptitude, turned to language because of its extraordinary value to her [emphasis added].
There have been many discussions of the question whether Helen Keller’s achievements are due to her natural ability or to the method by which she was taught.
It is true that a teacher with ten times Miss Sullivan’s genius could not have made a pupil so remarkable as Helen Keller out of a child born dull and mentally deficient. But it is also true that, with ten times her native genius, Helen Keller could not have grown to what she is, if she had not been excellently taught from the very start, and especially at the start. And the fact remains that she was taught by a method of teaching language to the deaf the essential principles of which are clearly expressed in Miss Sullivan’s letters, written while she was discovering the method and putting it successfully into practice. And it can be applied by any teacher to any healthy deaf child, and in the broadest interpretation of the principles, can be applied to the teaching of language of all kinds to all children.
In the many discussions of this question writers seem to throw us from one horn to another of a dilemma—either a born genius in Helen Keller, or a perfect method in the teacher. Both things may be true at once, and there is another truth which makes the dilemma imperfect. Miss Sullivan is a person of extraordinary power. Her method might not succeed so completely in the hands of anyone else. Miss Sullivan’s vigorous, original mind has lent much of its vitality to her pupil. If Miss Keller is fond of language and not interested especially in mathematics, it is not surprising to find Miss Sullivan’s interests very similar. And this does not mean that Miss Keller is unduly dependent on her teacher. It is told of her that, as a child of eight, when someone tried to interfere with her, she sat sober a few moments, and, when asked what was the trouble, answered, “I am preparing to assert my independence.” Such an aggressive personality cannot grow up in mere dependence even under the guidance of a will like Miss Sullivan’s. But Miss Sullivan by her “natural aptitude” has done for her pupil much that is not capable of analysis and reduction to principle; she has given the inspiration which is in all close friendship, and which rather develops than limits the powers of either person. Moreover, if Miss Keller is a “marvel of sweetness and goodness,” if she has a love “of all things good and beautiful,” this implies something about the teacher who has lived with her for sixteen years.
There is, then, a good deal that Miss Sullivan has done for Miss Keller which no other teacher can do in just the same way for anyone else. To have another Helen Keller there must be another Miss Sullivan. To have another, well-educated deaf and blind child, there need only be another teacher, living under favourable conditions, among plenty of external interests, unseparated from her pupil, allowed to have a free hand, and using as many as she needs of the principles which Miss Sullivan has saved her the trouble of finding out for herself, modifying and adding as she finds it necessary; and there must be a pupil in good health, of good native powers, young enough not to have grown beyond recovery in ignorance. Any deaf child or deaf and blind child in good health can be taught. And the one to do it is the parent or the special teacher, not the school. I know that this idea will be vigorously combated by those who conduct schools for the deaf. To be sure, the deaf school is the only thing possible for children educated by the State. But it is evident that precisely what the deaf child needs to be taught is what other children learn before they go to school at all. When Miss Sullivan went out in the barnyard and picked up a little chicken and talked to Helen about it, she was giving a kind of instruction impossible inside four walls, and impossible with more than one pupil at a time. [emphasis added]
Surely Dr. Howe is wrong when he says, “A teacher cannot be a child.” That is just what the teacher of the deaf child must be, a child ready to play and romp, and interested in all childish things. [emphasis added]
The temptation to discuss, solely in the light of Helen Keller, the whole matter of educating the deaf is a dangerous one, and one which I have not taken particular care to avoid, because my opinions are of no authority and I have merely tried to suggest problems and reinforce some of the main ideas expressed by Miss Sullivan, who is an authority. It is a question whether Helen Keller’s success has not led teachers to expect too much of other children, and I know of deaf-blind children who are dragged along by their teachers and friends, and become the subjects of glowing reports, which are pathetically untrue, because one sees behind the reports how the children are tugged at to bring them somewhere near the exaggerated things that are said about them. [emphasis added]
Let me sum up a few of the elements that made Helen Keller what she is. In the first place she had nineteen months’ experience of sight and sound. This meant some mental development. She had inherited vigour of body and mind. She expressed ideas in signs before she learned language. Mrs. Keller writes me that before her illness Helen made signs for everything, and her mother thought this habit the cause of her slowness in learning to speak. After the illness, when they were dependent on signs, Helen’s tendency to gesture developed. How far she could receive communications is hard to determine, but she knew much that was going on around her. She recognized that others used their lips; she “saw” her father reading a paper and when he laid it down she sat in his chair and held the paper before her face. Her early rages were an unhappy expression of the natural force of character which instruction was to turn into trained and organized power. [emphasis added]
It was, then, to a good subject that Miss Sullivan brought her devotion and intelligence, and fearless willingness to experiment. Miss Sullivan’s methods were so good that even without the practical result, anyone would recognize the truth of the teacher’s ideas. Miss Sullivan has in addition a vigorous personality. And finally all the conditions were good for that first nature school, in which the teacher and pupil played together, exploring together and educating themselves, pupil and teacher inseparable. [emphasis added]
Miss Keller’s later education is easy to understand and needs no further explanation than she has given. Those interested may get on application to the Volta Bureau, Washington, DC, the reports of the teachers who prepared her for college, Mr. Arthur Gilman of the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and Mr. Merton S. Keith.