Helen Keller was born 139 years ago today! Keller worked for AFB for 44 years. Within that time, and after her death in 1968, AFB amassed an enormous trove of materials by and about her. This extraordinary collection is a goldmine of social, political, and cultural history. It also presents a unique opportunity to teach and learn about Keller’s life, the times in which she lived, the history of disabilities, and the importance of universal accessibility.
As a result of generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), AFB moved full-steam-ahead in 2015 to digitize its Helen Keller Archive. There are now over 176,000 digital images available online, and it keeps growing!
This project is pioneering – the digital archive is the most accessible archival collection currently available – meaning it is accessible to those who are blind, deaf, and deafblind as well as those who can see and hear. A diverse array of materials are now available at one’s fingertips, such as:
- Correspondence with nine U.S. Presidents including this letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Keller.
- Fan mail from thousands of individuals around the globe, including a letter from a woman in Argentina who wishes to donate her eyes to Keller
- Speeches spanning the first five decades of the twentieth century on a breadth of subjects from women’s rights to advocacy on behalf of those with vision loss, such as this speech Keller gave in Brazil
- Press clippings and articles spanning over six decades, including this tribute to Jane Addams attended by Helen Keller and Lillian Wald in 1929
- Hundreds of artifacts, such as this incense burner from the Empress of Japan
- Thousands of photographs from childhood to old age and her travels around the globe
- And a host of film clips from the documentary Helen Keller in Her Story, including this film clip of Keller’s first flight in 1918
We are delighted and honored that the NEH continues to fund the project as do other organizations such as the American Express Company and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, without whose support we cannot succeed. The costs and work of digitizing this huge collection are considerable, so if you would like to contribute to these ongoing efforts, we welcome your support!
Happy Birthday, Helen—your archive has become a gift to the world!