Some Fun Facts About the Birthplace of Helen Keller at Ivy Green, Tuscumbia Alabama

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An international icon well-known for her advocacy of issues relevant to blind and/or deaf people, Helen Keller was born at Ivy Green Tuscumbia Alabama. The birthplace of Helen Keller in the former family home of the Kellers, has been turned into a museum celebrating the accomplishments of Helen Keller. When you visit Ivy Green Tuscumbia AL, you learn lots of facts about Helen Keller as well as see lots of images of Helen Keller. In the summer you have a production of the Miracle Worker play in the back garden. Ivy Green really is a shrine to this remarkable woman and definitely worth a detour if you are on a road trip anywhere near North Alabama.

Ivy Green

Helen Keller’s Birthplace, Ivy Green was established in 1820 by her grandparents who came to Alabama from Virginia. They laid claim to 640 acres (a square mile) which is how land was partitioned out in the Alabama Territory at the time. 

Helen Keller’s grandparents from Virginia built Ivy Green.
Helen Keller’s grandparents from Virginia built Ivy Green.

The plantation was called Ivy Green because English ivy grew on part of the house. Like other plantations in the area, Ivy Green grew cotton, corn and enough other products to be self-sufficient. 

Ivy Green itself is a white clapboard house which was not damaged by the American Civil War. During the Civil War, Ivy Green was used as a hospital. 

Ivy Green is a small but gracious plantation house.
Ivy Green is a small but gracious plantation house.

There are four rooms on the ground floor and two bedrooms and a box room upstairs. For a fairly wealthy family, I was a little surprised at how small the house was. The Kellers had five kids and an elderly aunt in a house with two bedrooms? It really shows how much space we require nowadays. 

Where is the kitchen? Outside in a separate building. There is a path from the back door leading to the kitchen building. Pre-civil war, this cook’s house and the plantation would have been worked by the enslaved. 

Did you know? The path connecting the separate kitchen to the main house is called a whistle walk because the enslaved were expected to whistle when they carried the cooked food to the dining room. The whistling was a means to ensure no food was eaten along the way. 

Next door to Ivy Green there is a smaller cottage which was the actual Helen Keller’s birthplace. Originally this cottage was where the plantation’s books were kept. When Mr. Keller remarried, the main house was getting crowded so the cottage was turned into a bridal suite for him and his second wife.

The cottage which was the actual Helen Keller birthplace
The cottage next door to the main house which was the actual Helen Keller birthplace

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan eventually used this smaller cottage as a school room. Back in the day it didn’t seem strange to have the school also be the birthplace of Helen Keller.

Although the grounds of Ivy Green have now been reduced to 10 acres, there is still plenty of room for visitors. There is an ice house which was reconstructed in 2009. In Helen’s time, Captain Keller would travel the four miles to the Tennessee River in winter to harvest ice for the summer months.The ice would have been hauled to the ice house by horse and wagon. 

The gardens at Ivy Green have been planted and maintained in keeping with Helen Keller’s memories from her books. There is a charming kitchen garden and a rose garden as well as the original large trees providing shade against the Alabama heat.

The beautiful gardens at Ivy Green Florence AL
The beautiful gardens at Ivy Green Florence AL

Among the grounds, there is a walkway with tributes from various countries as well as a Lions Club International fountain. The back of the house is set up as a theatre for summer showings of The Miracle Worker play in June and July.

Steven Tyler of Arrowsmith fame came to Ivy Green when he was recording nearby at Muscle Shoals.
Steven Tyler of Arrowsmith fame came to Ivy Green when he was recording nearby at Muscle Shoals.

Helen Keller’s Birthplace

On your visit you learn lots of fun facts about Helen Keller and Helen Keller’s birthplace. There is a self-guided tour but the docents are lovely and happy to chat with you. They love to regale children with facts about Helen Keller for kids.

Although there are still Kellers left,, Ivy Green is currently owned and operated by a charitable foundation dedicated to the story of Helen Keller. The birth place of Helen Keller is located on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The birthplace of Helen Keller was bought in 1951 by the state of Alabama. Helen Keller, herself, came to the opening of Ivy Green as a museum in 1954.

Clothes from Helen Keller and her mother are in the wardrobes just like they had just left the house.
Clothes from Helen Keller and her mother are in the wardrobes just like they had just left the house.

The rooms at Ivy Green are filled with photographs and mementos of Hellen Keller. One room is filled with her Braille books and her Braille typewriter. There is even a machine that shows how to punch holes for Braille by hand.

NB  Some of the archival information related to Helen Keller was held at the American Foundation for the Blind which had offices in the Twin Towers. These archives were destroyed during the 9/11 attacks on New York.

Ivy Green still has much of the original furniture from the Kellers’ time at the house. Everyday items and heirlooms used by the Kellers is still in evidence such as a a silver service tea set that is 200 years old and came from England. In addition, there is still clothing worn by Helen Keller and her mother left at Ivy Green. 

The antique silver tea set from England as well as the sugar chest. The Kellers received sugar only twice a year and so it was kept in a locked chest and strictly rationed.
The antique silver tea set from England as well as the sugar chest. The Kellers received sugar only twice a year and so it was kept in a locked chest and strictly rationed.

10 Facts About Helen Keller

Born on June 27, 1880, Helen Adams Keller was the first child of Confederate Captain Arthur Keller and his second wife, Kate Adams.

Helen Keller’s family was fairly illustrious. A Southern belle from Memphis Tennessee, Kate Adams was a descendant of John Adams, the second president of the USA. Ironically, Kate Adams was also the daughter of a Confederate general. Helen Keller was also descended from an early governor of Virginia.

A quilt made by Helen Keller’s aunt is among the many family pieces present at the birth place of Helen Keller
A quilt made by Helen Keller’s aunt is among the many family pieces present at the birth place of Helen Keller

Helen Keller was one of 5 children. She had two older half-brothers from her father’s first marriage. She also had a sister and a brother younger than her. 

At 19 months old, Helen Keller contracted an illness (which could have been scarlet fever or meningitis) which left her blind and deaf. 

Helen’s behaviour was totally out of control at Ivy Green. For example, she locked her mother in a closet just because she could. Her doting parents let her have her tantrums. She was friendly with the African-American cooks’ child who was about the same age and they had a sort of secret language.

The separate kitchen and whistle walk of Ivy Green Florence Alabama
The separate kitchen and whistle walk of Ivy Green Florence Alabama

Things came to a head though when her mother had her baby sister when Helen was six years old. The family were worried that Helen would hurt inadvertently hurt her sister.

When she was six years old, her parents took her to see Dr. Alexander Graham Bell to see if he could help their child. He suggested getting a teacher from the Perkins School of the Blind to help young Helen. 

Did you know? Although Alexander Graham Bell is famous for inventing the telephone, he considered himself first and foremost a teacher of the deaf. 

The Kellers settled on Anne Sullivan to work with the young Helen Keller at the suggestion of the director of the Perkins School For The Blind.

Anne Sullivan’s Story:

Frankly, Anne Sullivan had limited choices so leaving Boston for the back of beyond Alabama was a good option for her. Anne’s family had been poor Irish potato farmers who left Ireland during the Great Famine. After her mother died, her father abandoned her and her brother to a poorhouse when she was 10 years old. She managed to get to Perkins School for the Blind because a childhood infection left her legally blind.

The Kellers offered Anne Sullivan $25/month and room and board at Ivy Green for the education of Helen Keller. In true Yankee fashion, Anne Sullivan gave the Kellers grief about the Civil War and their previous ownership of enslaved people. Yet, she formed a close and loving bond with Helen Keller. 

As documented in the Miracle Worker play, Helen Keller initially wanted a governess as much as the Sound of Music kids wanted theirs. With persistence Anne Sullivan was able to control Helen’s tantrums and teach her sign language and braille. 

The water pump at Ivy Green Tuscumbia AL where Helen Keller made her breakthrough that words were related to things.
The water pump at Ivy Green Tuscumbia AL where Helen Keller made her breakthrough that words were related to things.

Ivy Green is known as Helen Keller’s birthplace because she left the family home in 1888 to attend Perkins School For the Blind in Boston.  Her governess Anne Sullivan accompanied Helen for the rest of Anne’s life. In addition to Perkins, Helen went to schools in New York and Massachusetts before attending Radcliffe for university.

In the Helen Keller birthplace, you even have the key with which she locked Anne Sullivan in her room.
In the Helen Keller birthplace, you even have the key with which she locked Anne Sullivan in her room.

Accomplishments of Helen Keller

The accomplishments of Helen Keller are many. Here are some facts about Helen Keller and what she was able to achieve despite her disabilities:

Helen Keller was the first deaf blind person to have a college degree. in 1904, she graduated from Radcliffe College (then the sister school to boys-only Harvard College) in 4 years with a degree AND honours. 

Helen Keller dedicated her life to improving the lives of blind and deaf/blind people all over the world. She wrote 12 published books and lectured in more than 25 countries. 

Among the many accomplishments of Helen Keller, she wrote 12 published books.
Among the many accomplishments of Helen Keller, she wrote 12 published books. This is her braille typewriter.

Helen Keller was an activist for many different social causes such as women’s rights and promotion of birth control. She was a founding member of the ACLU (a non-profit organisation that provides legal representation for people whose civil liberties are at risk).

After the American Association for the Blind was founded in 1921, Helen Keller used her celebrity status to raise awareness of, and funds for, the organisation. 

Wow! Helen Keller really was a celebrity.  She was invited to the White House to meet every president from Cleveland to Johnson. She was friends with many famous people from different walks of life fro inventor Alexander Graham Bell to financier John D. Rockefeller.

In addition to supporting liberal causes, Helen Keller was also an active socialist. A member of the socialist party, she advocated for workers’ rights. (Anne Sullivan’s husband John Macy was also a committed socialist). 

In 1964 Helen Keller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Johnson.

A US postage stamp celebrating the accomplishments of Helen Keller
A US postage stamp celebrating the accomplishments of Helen Keller

Famous Quotes Helen Keller

With so many written works and lectures to her name, there are plenty of famous quotes from Helen Keller. Here are some of my favourite quotations of Helen Keller:

The only thing being worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.

The highest result of education is tolerance.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.

What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.

These quotes of Helen Keller show how she changed adversity into a positive part of her life. 

The Miracle Worker Play 

The Miracle Worker play is based on The Story of My Life, Helen Keller’s autobiography. 

Did you know?  The Miracle Worker was the nickname given to Anne Sullivan by Mark Twain for the impressive work she did turning a 6 year old hellion into an accomplished and educated woman.

Written by William Gibson, the Miracle Worker play has been performed every June and July on a stage set up in the garden of Ivy Green for the last 30 years.

The Miracle Worker play has been turned into an Academy-Award winning movie, The Miracle Worker (1962) starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. The play has also had  two television adaptations with the most recent being in 2000.

This statue of Helen Keller is a replica of one at the State House in Montgomery Alabama
This statue of Helen Keller is a replica of one at the State House in Montgomery Alabama

Helen Keller Festival

There is also a four day Helen Keller Festival held in downtown Tuscumbia Alabama on the last weekend of June.

Images of Helen Keller are placed throughout Ivy Green including this portrait of Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson, Helen’s secretary.
Images of Helen Keller are placed throughout Ivy Green including this portrait of Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson, Helen’s secretary.

Visiting Ivy Green Tuscumbia AL

The birthplace of Helen Keller is located at:  300 North Commons, W. Tuscumbia, AL 35674. It is open Monday through Saturday and closed on holidays.

Tuscumbia is located near Florence Alabama in northwest Alabama about 69 miles from Huntsville Alabama, 112 miles from Birmingham Alabama, and 129 miles from Nashville Tennessee. Tuscumbia is actually very easy to reach – it is one of the quad cities of the greater metropolitan area of Florence-Muscle Shoals.

If you are visiting Ivy Green Tuscumbia Alabama, definitely stop by Florence Alabama as well which is a charming small college town described by the Washington Post as “Brooklyn…plunked in a Southern State”. The GunRunner Boutique Hotel in Florence is definitely the coolest place to stay in the area near Helen Keller’s birthplace, if not all of Alabama.

 

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We received free admission to Ivy Green for review purposes which in no way affected our opinion or review. This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

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