Helen Keller Had Impeccable Handwriting: See a Collection of Her Childhood Letters


Image by Flickr, cour­tesy of Perkins School for the Blind

The inspi­ra­tional blind and deaf activist and edu­ca­tor Helen Keller learned to speak aloud, but, to her great regret, nev­er clear­ly.

Her care­ful pen­man­ship, above, is anoth­er mat­ter. Her impec­ca­bly ren­dered upright hand puts that of a great many sight­ed peo­ple—not all of them physi­cians—to shame.

Keller learned to write—and read—with the help of embossed books as a stu­dent at Perkins School for the Blind. The Unit­ed States didn’t adopt Stan­dard Braille as its offi­cial sys­tem for blind read­ers and writ­ers until 1918, when Keller was in her late 30’s. Pri­or to that blind read­ers and writ­ers were sub­ject­ed to a num­ber of com­pet­ing sys­tems, a sit­u­a­tion she decried as “absurd.”

Some of these sys­tems had their basis in the Roman alpha­bet, includ­ing Boston Line Type, the brain­child of Perkins’ Found­ing Direc­tor, Samuel Gri­d­ley Howe, an oppo­nent of Braille. Stu­dents may have pre­ferred dot-based sys­tems for tak­ing notes and writ­ing let­ters, but Boston Line Type remained Perkins’ approved print­ing sys­tem until 1908.

There’s more than an echo of Boston Line Type in Keller’s blocky char­ac­ters, as well as her spac­ing. Devi­at­ing from pen­man­ship forms learned at school is a lux­u­ry exclu­sive to the sight­ed. Until for­ma­tion became instinc­tu­al, Keller relied on a grooved board to help her size her char­ac­ters cor­rect­ly, an exhaust­ing process. Small won­der that she end­ed many of her ear­ly let­ters with “I am too tired to write more.”

Perkins has pub­lished a Flickr album of let­ters Keller wrote between the ages of 8 and 11 to then-direc­tor Michael Anag­nos, includ­ing 3 pages in French. Leaf­ing through them, I mar­veled less at her abil­i­ty and deter­mi­na­tion than my (sight­ed) 16-year-old son’s lack of inter­est in devel­op­ing a respectable-look­ing hand.

Keller’s hand­writ­ing is so above reproach that it quick­ly fades to the back­ground, upstaged by her charm­ing man­ners and girl­ish pre­oc­cu­pa­tions. A sam­ple:

If you go to Rou­ma­nia, please ask the good queen Eliz­a­beth about her lit­tle invalid broth­er and tell her that I am very sor­ry that her dar­ling lit­tle girl died. I should like to send a kiss to Vit­to­rio, the lit­tle prince of Naples, but teacher says she is afraid you will not remem­ber so many mes­sages.

Browse Perkins’ col­lec­tion of Keller’s hand­writ­ten let­ters to Michael Anag­nos here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Helen Keller Speaks About Her Great­est Regret — Nev­er Mas­ter­ing Speech

Mark Twain & Helen Keller’s Spe­cial Friend­ship: He Treat­ed Me Not as a Freak, But as a Per­son Deal­ing with Great Dif­fi­cul­ties

“A Glo­ri­ous Hour”: Helen Keller Describes The Ecsta­sy of Feel­ing Beethoven’s Ninth Played on the Radio (1924)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and wine­mak­er who played Annie Sul­li­van in her high school’s pro­duc­tion of The Mir­a­cle Work­er. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.