Reading Comprehension - Literature: 'The Story of My Life'

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This is Helen Keller's autobiography first published in 1903. It is an inspirational account of the world of a blind and deaf girl, and how she triumphs over her disabilities, going to school and college, facing exams and learning to enjoy the simple things in life.
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Title: Story of My Life
Author: Helen Keller
Release Date: November, 2000 [EBook #2397]
Last Updated: February 4, 2013
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII
Produced by Diane Bean and David Widger
By Helen Keller
With Her Letters (1887-1901) And Supplementary Account of Her
Education, Including Passages from the Reports and Letters of her
Teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, By John Albert Macy
Special Edition 1/202
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Who has taught the deaf to speak
and enabled the listening ear to hear speech
from the Atlantic to the Rockies,
I dedicate this Story of My Life.
Editor's Preface
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II. LETTERS(1887-1901)
CHAPTER I. The Writing of the Book
Editor's Preface
This book is in three parts. The first two, Miss Keller's story and the extracts from her letters,
form a complete account of her life as far as she can give it. Much of her education she cannot
explain herself, and since a knowledge of that is necessary to an understanding of what she has
written, it was thought best to supplement her autobiography with the reports and letters of her
teacher, Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan. The addition of a further account of Miss Keller's personality
and achievements may be unnecessary; yet it will help to make clear some of the traits of her
character and the nature of the work which she and her teacher have done.
For the third part of the book the Editor is responsible, though all that is valid in it he owes to
authentic records and to the advice of Miss Sullivan.
The Editor desires to express his gratitude and the gratitude of Miss Keller and Miss Sullivan to
The Ladies' Home Journal and to its editors, Mr. Edward Bok and Mr. William V. Alexander, who
have been unfailingly kind and have given for use in this book all the photographs which were taken 3/202
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expressly for the Journal; and the Editor thanks Miss Keller's many friends who have lent him her
letters to them and given him valuable information; especially Mrs. Laurence Hutton, who supplied
him with her large collection of notes and anecdotes; Mr. John Hitz, Superintendent of the Volta
Bureau for the Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge relating to the Deaf; and Mrs. Sophia C.
Hopkins, to whom Miss Sullivan wrote those illuminating letters, the extracts from which give a better
idea of her methods with her pupil than anything heretofore published.
Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin and Company have courteously permitted the reprinting of Miss
Keller's letter to Dr. Holmes, which appeared in "Over the Teacups," and one of Whittier's letters to
Miss Keller. Mr. S. T. Pickard, Whittier's literary executor, kindly sent the original of another letter
from Miss Keller to Whittier.
John Albert Macy.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 1, 1903.
It is with a kind of fear that I begin to write the history of my life. I have, as it were, a superstitious
hesitation in lifting the veil that clings about my childhood like a golden mist. The task of writing an
autobiography is a difficult one. When I try to classify my earliest impressions, I find that fact and
fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present. The woman paints the child's
experiences in her own fantasy. A few impressions stand out vividly from the first years of my life;
but "the shadows of the prison-house are on the rest." Besides, many of the joys and sorrows of
childhood have lost their poignancy; and many incidents of vital importance in my early education
have been forgotten in the excitement of great discoveries. In order, therefore, not to be tedious I
shall try to present in a series of sketches only the episodes that seem to me to be the most
interesting and important.
I was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, a little town of northern Alabama.
The family on my father's side is descended from Caspar Keller, a native of Switzerland, who
settled in Maryland. One of my Swiss ancestors was the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich and wrote
a book on the subject of their education—rather a singular coincidence; though it is true that there is
no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among
My grandfather, Caspar Keller's son, "entered" large tracts of land in Alabama and finally settled 4/202
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there. I have been told that once a year he went from Tuscumbia to Philadelphia on horseback to
purchase supplies for the plantation, and my aunt has in her possession many of the letters to his
family, which give charming and vivid accounts of these trips.
My Grandmother Keller was a daughter of one of Lafayette's aides, Alexander Moore, and
granddaughter of Alexander Spotswood, an early Colonial Governor of Virginia. She was also
second cousin to Robert E. Lee.
My father, Arthur H. Keller, was a captain in the Confederate Army, and my mother, Kate
Adams, was his second wife and many years younger. Her grandfather, Benjamin Adams, married
Susanna E. Goodhue, and lived in Newbury, Massachusetts, for many years. Their son, Charles
Adams, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and moved to Helena, Arkansas. When the Civil
War broke out, he fought on the side of the South and became a brigadier-general. He married Lucy
Helen Everett, who belonged to the same family of Everetts as Edward Everett and Dr. Edward
Everett Hale. After the war was over the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee.
I lived, up to the time of the illness that deprived me of my sight and hearing, in a tiny house
consisting of a large square room and a small one, in which the servant slept. It is a custom in the
South to build a small house near the homestead as an annex to be used on occasion. Such a house
my father built after the Civil War, and when he married my mother they went to live in it. It was
completely covered with vines, climbing roses and honeysuckles. From the garden it looked like an
arbour. The little porch was hidden from view by a screen of yellow roses and Southern smilax. It
was the favourite haunt of humming-birds and bees.
The Keller homestead, where the family lived, was a few steps from our little rose-bower. It was
called "Ivy Green" because the house and the surrounding trees and fences were covered with
beautiful English ivy. Its old-fashioned garden was the paradise of my childhood.
Even in the days before my teacher came, I used to feel along the square stiff boxwood hedges,
and, guided by the sense of smell would find the first violets and lilies. There, too, after a fit of
temper, I went to find comfort and to hide my hot face in the cool leaves and grass. What joy it was
to lose myself in that garden of flowers, to wander happily from spot to spot, until, coming suddenly
upon a beautiful vine, I recognized it by its leaves and blossoms, and knew it was the vine which
covered the tumble-down summer-house at the farther end of the garden! Here, also, were trailing
clematis, drooping jessamine, and some rare sweet flowers called butterfly lilies, because their fragile
petals resemble butterflies' wings. But the roses—they were loveliest of all. Never have I found in the
greenhouses of the North such heart-satisfying roses as the climbing roses of my southern home.
They used to hang in long festoons from our porch, filling the whole air with their fragrance, untainted
by any earthy smell; and in the early morning, washed in the dew, they felt so soft, so pure, I could
not help wondering if they did not resemble the asphodels of God's garden.
The beginning of my life was simple and much like every other little life. I came, I saw, I
conquered, as the first baby in the family always does. There was the usual amount of discussion as
to a name for me. The first baby in the family was not to be lightly named, every one was emphatic
about that. My father suggested the name of Mildred Campbell, an ancestor whom he highly
esteemed, and he declined to take any further part in the discussion. My mother solved the problem
by giving it as her wish that I should be called after her mother, whose maiden name was Helen
Everett. But in the excitement of carrying me to church my father lost the name on the way, very
naturally, since it was one in which he had declined to have a part. When the minister asked him for
it, he just remembered that it had been decided to call me after my grandmother, and he gave her
name as Helen Adams.
I am told that while I was still in long dresses I showed many signs of an eager, self-asserting
disposition. Everything that I saw other people do I insisted upon imitating. At six months I could 5/202
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pipe out "How d'ye," and one day I attracted every one's attention by saying "Tea, tea, tea" quite
plainly. Even after my illness I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It
was the word "water," and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was
lost. I ceased making the sound "wah-wah" only when I learned to spell the word.
They tell me I walked the day I was a year old. My mother had just taken me out of the bath-tub
and was holding me in her lap, when I was suddenly attracted by the flickering shadows of leaves
that danced in the sunlight on the smooth floor. I slipped from my mother's lap and almost ran toward
them. The impulse gone, I fell down and cried for her to take me up in her arms.
These happy days did not last long. One brief spring, musical with the song of robin and mocking-
bird, one summer rich in fruit and roses, one autumn of gold and crimson sped by and left their gifts
at the feet of an eager, delighted child. Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness which
closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby. They called
it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning,
however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in
the family that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again.
I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with
which my mother tried to soothe me in my waling hours of fret and pain, and the agony and
bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to
the wall away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But,
except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal, like a
nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had
ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free. But during the first
nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and
flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, "the day is
ours, and what the day has shown."
I cannot recall what happened during the first months after my illness. I only know that I sat in my
mother's lap or clung to her dress as she went about her household duties. My hands felt every
object and observed every motion, and in this way I learned to know many things. Soon I felt the
need of some communication with others and began to make crude signs. A shake of the head meant
"No" and a nod, "Yes," a pull meant "Come" and a push, "Go." Was it bread that I wanted? Then I
would imitate the acts of cutting the slices and buttering them. If I wanted my mother to make ice-
cream for dinner I made the sign for working the freezer and shivered, indicating cold. My mother,
moreover, succeeded in making me understand a good deal. I always knew when she wished me to
bring her something, and I would run upstairs or anywhere else she indicated. Indeed, I owe to her
loving wisdom all that was bright and good in my long night.
I understood a good deal of what was going on about me. At five I learned to fold and put away
the clean clothes when they were brought in from the laundry, and I distinguished my own from the
rest. I knew by the way my mother and aunt dressed when they were going out, and I invariably
begged to go with them. I was always sent for when there was company, and when the guests took
their leave, I waved my hand to them, I think with a vague remembrance of the meaning of the
gesture. One day some gentlemen called on my mother, and I felt the shutting of the front door and 6/202
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other sounds that indicated their arrival. On a sudden thought I ran upstairs before any one could
stop me, to put on my idea of a company dress. Standing before the mirror, as I had seen others do,
I anointed mine head with oil and covered my face thickly with powder. Then I pinned a veil over my
head so that it covered my face and fell in folds down to my shoulders, and tied an enormous bustle
round my small waist, so that it dangled behind, almost meeting the hem of my skirt. Thus attired I
went down to help entertain the company.
I do not remember when I first realized that I was different from other people; but I knew it before
my teacher came to me. I had noticed that my mother and my friends did not use signs as I did when
they wanted anything done, but talked with their mouths. Sometimes I stood between two persons
who were conversing and touched their lips. I could not understand, and was vexed. I moved my lips
and gesticulated frantically without result. This made me so angry at times that I kicked and
screamed until I was exhausted.
I think I knew when I was naughty, for I knew that it hurt Ella, my nurse, to kick her, and when
my fit of temper was over I had a feeling akin to regret. But I cannot remember any instance in which
this feeling prevented me from repeating the naughtiness when I failed to get what I wanted.
In those days a little coloured girl, Martha Washington, the child of our cook, and Belle, an old
setter, and a great hunter in her day, were my constant companions. Martha Washington understood
my signs, and I seldom had any difficulty in making her do just as I wished. It pleased me to
domineer over her, and she generally submitted to my tyranny rather than risk a hand-to-hand
encounter. I was strong, active, indifferent to consequences. I knew my own mind well enough and
always had my own way, even if I had to fight tooth and nail for it. We spent a great deal of time in
the kitchen, kneading dough balls, helping make ice-cream, grinding coffee, quarreling over the cake-
bowl, and feeding the hens and turkeys that swarmed about the kitchen steps. Many of them were so
tame that they would eat from my hand and let me feel them. One big gobbler snatched a tomato
from me one day and ran away with it. Inspired, perhaps, by Master Gobbler's success, we carried
off to the woodpile a cake which the cook had just frosted, and ate every bit of it. I was quite ill
afterward, and I wonder if retribution also overtook the turkey.
The guinea-fowl likes to hide her nest in out-of-the-way places, and it was one of my greatest
delights to hunt for the eggs in the long grass. I could not tell Martha Washington when I wanted to
go egg-hunting, but I would double my hands and put them on the ground, which meant something
round in the grass, and Martha always understood. When we were fortunate enough to find a nest I
never allowed her to carry the eggs home, making her understand by emphatic signs that she might
fall and break them.
The sheds where the corn was stored, the stable where the horses were kept, and the yard where
the cows were milked morning and evening were unfailing sources of interest to Martha and me. The
milkers would let me keep my hands on the cows while they milked, and I often got well switched by
the cow for my curiosity.
The making ready for Christmas was always a delight to me. Of course I did not know what it
was all about, but I enjoyed the pleasant odours that filled the house and the tidbits that were given
to Martha Washington and me to keep us quiet. We were sadly in the way, but that did not interfere
with our pleasure in the least. They allowed us to grind the spices, pick over the raisins and lick the
stirring spoons. I hung my stocking because the others did; I cannot remember, however, that the
ceremony interested me especially, nor did my curiosity cause me to wake before daylight to look
for my gifts.
Martha Washington had as great a love of mischief as I. Two little children were seated on the
veranda steps one hot July afternoon. One was black as ebony, with little bunches of fuzzy hair tied
with shoestrings sticking out all over her head like corkscrews. The other was white, with long 7/202
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golden curls. One child was six years old, the other two or three years older. The younger child was
blind—that was I—and the other was Martha Washington. We were busy cutting out paper dolls;
but we soon wearied of this amusement, and after cutting up our shoestrings and clipping all the
leaves off the honeysuckle that were within reach, I turned my attention to Martha's corkscrews. She
objected at first, but finally submitted. Thinking that turn and turn about is fair play, she seized the
scissors and cut off one of my curls, and would have cut them all off but for my mother's timely
Belle, our dog, my other companion, was old and lazy and liked to sleep by the open fire rather
than to romp with me. I tried hard to teach her my sign language, but she was dull and inattentive.
She sometimes started and quivered with excitement, then she became perfectly rigid, as dogs do
when they point a bird. I did not then know why Belle acted in this way; but I knew she was not
doing as I wished. This vexed me and the lesson always ended in a one-sided boxing match. Belle
would get up, stretch herself lazily, give one or two contemptuous sniffs, go to the opposite side of
the hearth and lie down again, and I, wearied and disappointed, went off in search of Martha.
Many incidents of those early years are fixed in my memory, isolated, but clear and distinct,
making the sense of that silent, aimless, dayless life all the more intense.
One day I happened to spill water on my apron, and I spread it out to dry before the fire which
was flickering on the sitting-room hearth. The apron did not dry quickly enough to suit me, so I drew
nearer and threw it right over the hot ashes. The fire leaped into life; the flames encircled me so that
in a moment my clothes were blazing. I made a terrified noise that brought Viny, my old nurse, to the
rescue. Throwing a blanket over me, she almost suffocated me, but she put out the fire. Except for
my hands and hair I was not badly burned.
About this time I found out the use of a key. One morning I locked my mother up in the pantry,
where she was obliged to remain three hours, as the servants were in a detached part of the house.
She kept pounding on the door, while I sat outside on the porch steps and laughed with glee as I felt
the jar of the pounding. This most naughty prank of mine convinced my parents that I must be taught
as soon as possible. After my teacher, Miss Sullivan, came to me, I sought an early opportunity to
lock her in her room. I went upstairs with something which my mother made me understand I was to
give to Miss Sullivan; but no sooner had I given it to her than I slammed the door to, locked it, and
hid the key under the wardrobe in the hall. I could not be induced to tell where the key was. My
father was obliged to get a ladder and take Miss Sullivan out through the window—much to my
delight. Months after I produced the key.
When I was about five years old we moved from the little vine-covered house to a large new one.
The family consisted of my father and mother, two older half-brothers, and, afterward, a little sister,
Mildred. My earliest distinct recollection of my father is making my way through great drifts of
newspapers to his side and finding him alone, holding a sheet of paper before his face. I was greatly
puzzled to know what he was doing. I imitated this action, even wearing his spectacles, thinking they
might help solve the mystery. But I did not find out the secret for several years. Then I learned what
those papers were, and that my father edited one of them.
My father was most loving and indulgent, devoted to his home, seldom leaving us, except in the
hunting season. He was a great hunter, I have been told, and a celebrated shot. Next to his family he
loved his dogs and gun. His hospitality was great, almost to a fault, and he seldom came home
without bringing a guest. His special pride was the big garden where, it was said, he raised the finest
watermelons and strawberries in the county; and to me he brought the first ripe grapes and the
choicest berries. I remember his caressing touch as he led me from tree to tree, from vine to vine,
and his eager delight in whatever pleased me.
He was a famous story-teller; after I had acquired language he used to spell clumsily into my hand 8/202
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his cleverest anecdotes, and nothing pleased him more than to have me repeat them at an opportune
I was in the North, enjoying the last beautiful days of the summer of 1896, when I heard the news
of my father's death. He had had a short illness, there had been a brief time of acute suffering, then all
was over. This was my first great sorrow—my first personal experience with death.
How shall I write of my mother? She is so near to me that it almost seems indelicate to speak of
For a long time I regarded my little sister as an intruder. I knew that I had ceased to be my
mother's only darling, and the thought filled me with jealousy. She sat in my mother's lap constantly,
where I used to sit, and seemed to take up all her care and time. One day something happened
which seemed to me to be adding insult to injury.
At that time I had a much-petted, much-abused doll, which I afterward named Nancy. She was,
alas, the helpless victim of my outbursts of temper and of affection, so that she became much the
worse for wear. I had dolls which talked, and cried, and opened and shut their eyes; yet I never
loved one of them as I loved poor Nancy. She had a cradle, and I often spent an hour or more
rocking her. I guarded both doll and cradle with the most jealous care; but once I discovered my
little sister sleeping peacefully in the cradle. At this presumption on the part of one to whom as yet no
tie of love bound me I grew angry. I rushed upon the cradle and over-turned it, and the baby might
have been killed had my mother not caught her as she fell. Thus it is that when we walk in the valley
of twofold solitude we know little of the tender affections that grow out of endearing words and
actions and companionship. But afterward, when I was restored to my human heritage, Mildred and
I grew into each other's hearts, so that we were content to go hand-in-hand wherever caprice led us,
although she could not understand my finger language, nor I her childish prattle.
Meanwhile the desire to express myself grew. The few signs I used became less and less
adequate, and my failures to make myself understood were invariably followed by outbursts of
passion. I felt as if invisible hands were holding me, and I made frantic efforts to free myself. I
struggled—not that struggling helped matters, but the spirit of resistance was strong within me; I
generally broke down in tears and physical exhaustion. If my mother happened to be near I crept
into her arms, too miserable even to remember the cause of the tempest. After awhile the need of
some means of communication became so urgent that these outbursts occurred daily, sometimes
My parents were deeply grieved and perplexed. We lived a long way from any school for the
blind or the deaf, and it seemed unlikely that any one would come to such an out-of-the-way place
as Tuscumbia to teach a child who was both deaf and blind. Indeed, my friends and relatives
sometimes doubted whether I could be taught. My mother's only ray of hope came from Dickens's
"American Notes." She had read his account of Laura Bridgman, and remembered vaguely that she
was deaf and blind, yet had been educated. But she also remembered with a hopeless pang that Dr.
Howe, who had discovered the way to teach the deaf and blind, had been dead many years. His
methods had probably died with him; and if they had not, how was a little girl in a far-off town in
Alabama to receive the benefit of them?
When I was about six years old, my father heard of an eminent oculist in Baltimore, who had been 9/202
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successful in many cases that had seemed hopeless. My parents at once determined to take me to
Baltimore to see if anything could be done for my eyes.
The journey, which I remember well was very pleasant. I made friends with many people on the
train. One lady gave me a box of shells. My father made holes in these so that I could string them,
and for a long time they kept me happy and contented. The conductor, too, was kind. Often when
he went his rounds I clung to his coat tails while he collected and punched the tickets. His punch,
with which he let me play, was a delightful toy. Curled up in a corner of the seat I amused myself for
hours making funny little holes in bits of cardboard.
My aunt made me a big doll out of towels. It was the most comical shapeless thing, this
improvised doll, with no nose, mouth, ears or eyes—nothing that even the imagination of a child
could convert into a face. Curiously enough, the absence of eyes struck me more than all the other
defects put together. I pointed this out to everybody with provoking persistency, but no one seemed
equal to the task of providing the doll with eyes. A bright idea, however, shot into my mind, and the
problem was solved. I tumbled off the seat and searched under it until I found my aunt's cape, which
was trimmed with large beads. I pulled two beads off and indicated to her that I wanted her to sew
them on my doll. She raised my hand to her eyes in a questioning way, and I nodded energetically.
The beads were sewed in the right place and I could not contain myself for joy; but immediately I
lost all interest in the doll. During the whole trip I did not have one fit of temper, there were so many
things to keep my mind and fingers busy.
When we arrived in Baltimore, Dr. Chisholm received us kindly: but he could do nothing. He said,
however, that I could be educated, and advised my father to consult Dr. Alexander Graham Bell of
Washington, who would be able to give him information about schools and teachers of deaf or blind
children. Acting on the doctor's advice, we went immediately to Washington to see Dr. Bell, my
father with a sad heart and many misgivings, I wholly unconscious of his anguish, finding pleasure in
the excitement of moving from place to place. Child as I was, I at once felt the tenderness and
sympathy which endeared Dr. Bell to so many hearts, as his wonderful achievements enlist their
admiration. He held me on his knee while I examined his watch, and he made it strike for me. He
understood my signs, and I knew it and loved him at once. But I did not dream that that interview
would be the door through which I should pass from darkness into light, from isolation to friendship,
companionship, knowledge, love.
Dr. Bell advised my father to write to Mr. Anagnos, director of the Perkins Institution in Boston,
the scene of Dr. Howe's great labours for the blind, and ask him if he had a teacher competent to
begin my education. This my father did at once, and in a few weeks there came a kind letter from
Mr. Anagnos with the comforting assurance that a teacher had been found. This was in the summer
of 1886. But Miss Sullivan did not arrive until the following March.
Thus I came up out of Egypt and stood before Sinai, and a power divine touched my spirit and
gave it sight, so that I beheld many wonders. And from the sacred mountain I heard a voice which
said, "Knowledge is love and light and vision."
The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield
Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between
the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven 10/202
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years old.
On the afternoon of that eventful day, I stood on the porch, dumb, expectant. I guessed vaguely
from my mother's signs and from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual was
about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the steps. The afternoon sun penetrated the
mass of honeysuckle that covered the porch, and fell on my upturned face. My fingers lingered
almost unconsciously on the familiar leaves and blossoms which had just come forth to greet the
sweet southern spring. I did not know what the future held of marvel or surprise for me. Anger and
bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks and a deep languor had succeeded this
passionate struggle.
Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you
in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and
sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before
my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how
near the harbour was. "Light! give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love
shone on me in that very hour.
I felt approaching footsteps, I stretched out my hand as I supposed to my mother. Some one took
it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me,
and, more than all things else, to love me.
The morning after my teacher came she led me into her room and gave me a doll. The little blind
children at the Perkins Institution had sent it and Laura Bridgman had dressed it; but I did not know
this until afterward. When I had played with it a little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand
the word "d-o-l-l." I was at once interested in this finger play and tried to imitate it. When I finally
succeeded in making the letters correctly I was flushed with childish pleasure and pride. Running
downstairs to my mother I held up my hand and made the letters for doll. I did not know that I was
spelling a word or even that words existed; I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like
imitation. In the days that followed I learned to spell in this uncomprehending way a great many
words, among them pin, hat, cup and a few verbs like sit, stand and walk. But my teacher had been
with me several weeks before I understood that everything has a name.
One day, while I was playing with my new doll, Miss Sullivan put my big rag doll into my lap also,
spelled "d-o-l-l" and tried to make me understand that "d-o-l-l" applied to both. Earlier in the day we
had had a tussle over the words "m-u-g" and "w-a-t-e-r." Miss Sullivan had tried to impress it upon
me that "m-u-g" is mug and that "w-a-t-e-r" is water, but I persisted in confounding the two. In
despair she had dropped the subject for the time, only to renew it at the first opportunity. I became
impatient at her repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the floor. I was keenly
delighted when I felt the fragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed
my passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no
strong sentiment or tenderness. I felt my teacher sweep the fragments to one side of the hearth, and I
had a sense of satisfaction that the cause of my discomfort was removed. She brought me my hat,
and I knew I was going out into the warm sunshine. This thought, if a wordless sensation may be
called a thought, made me hop and skip with pleasure.
We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with
which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the
spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first
slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly
I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the
mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool
something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, 11/202
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joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new
thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That
was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door
I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried
vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the
first time I felt repentance and sorrow.
I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what they all were; but I do know
that mother, father, sister, teacher were among them—words that were to make the world blossom
for me, "like Aaron's rod, with flowers." It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was
as I lay in my crib at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for
the first time longed for a new day to come.
I recall many incidents of the summer of 1887 that followed my soul's sudden awakening. I did
nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I
handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of
kinship with the rest of the world.
When the time of daisies and buttercups came Miss Sullivan took me by the hand across the
fields, where men were preparing the earth for the seed, to the banks of the Tennessee River, and
there, sitting on the warm grass, I had my first lessons in the beneficence of nature. I learned how the
sun and the rain make to grow out of the ground every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for
food, how birds build their nests and live and thrive from land to land, how the squirrel, the deer, the
lion and every other creature finds food and shelter. As my knowledge of things grew I felt more and
more the delight of the world I was in. Long before I learned to do a sum in arithmetic or describe
the shape of the earth, Miss Sullivan had taught me to find beauty in the fragrant woods, in every
blade of grass, and in the curves and dimples of my baby sister's hand. She linked my earliest
thoughts with nature, and made me feel that "birds and flowers and I were happy peers."
But about this time I had an experience which taught me that nature is not always kind. One day
my teacher and I were returning from a long ramble. The morning had been fine, but it was growing
warm and sultry when at last we turned our faces homeward. Two or three times we stopped to rest
under a tree by the wayside. Our last halt was under a wild cherry tree a short distance from the
house. The shade was grateful, and the tree was so easy to climb that with my teacher's assistance I
was able to scramble to a seat in the branches. It was so cool up in the tree that Miss Sullivan
proposed that we have our luncheon there. I promised to keep still while she went to the house to
fetch it.
Suddenly a change passed over the tree. All the sun's warmth left the air. I knew the sky was
black, because all the heat, which meant light to me, had died out of the atmosphere. A strange
odour came up from the earth. I knew it, it was the odour that always precedes a thunderstorm, and
a nameless fear clutched at my heart. I felt absolutely alone, cut off from my friends and the firm
earth. The immense, the unknown, enfolded me. I remained still and expectant; a chilling terror crept
over me. I longed for my teacher's return; but above all things I wanted to get down from that tree.
There was a moment of sinister silence, then a multitudinous stirring of the leaves. A shiver ran 12/202
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through the tree, and the wind sent forth a blast that would have knocked me off had I not clung to
the branch with might and main. The tree swayed and strained. The small twigs snapped and fell
about me in showers. A wild impulse to jump seized me, but terror held me fast. I crouched down in
the fork of the tree. The branches lashed about me. I felt the intermittent jarring that came now and
then, as if something heavy had fallen and the shock had traveled up till it reached the limb I sat on. It
worked my suspense up to the highest point, and just as I was thinking the tree and I should fall
together, my teacher seized my hand and helped me down. I clung to her, trembling with joy to feel
the earth under my feet once more. I had learned a new lesson—that nature "wages open war
against her children, and under softest touch hides treacherous claws."
After this experience it was a long time before I climbed another tree. The mere thought filled me
with terror. It was the sweet allurement of the mimosa tree in full bloom that finally overcame my
fears. One beautiful spring morning when I was alone in the summer-house, reading, I became aware
of a wonderful subtle fragrance in the air. I started up and instinctively stretched out my hands. It
seemed as if the spirit of spring had passed through the summer-house. "What is it?" I asked, and the
next minute I recognized the odour of the mimosa blossoms. I felt my way to the end of the garden,
knowing that the mimosa tree was near the fence, at the turn of the path. Yes, there it was, all
quivering in the warm sunshine, its blossom-laden branches almost touching the long grass. Was
there ever anything so exquisitely beautiful in the world before! Its delicate blossoms shrank from the
slightest earthly touch; it seemed as if a tree of paradise had been transplanted to earth. I made my
way through a shower of petals to the great trunk and for one minute stood irresolute; then, putting
my foot in the broad space between the forked branches, I pulled myself up into the tree. I had some
difficulty in holding on, for the branches were very large and the bark hurt my hands. But I had a
delicious sense that I was doing something unusual and wonderful so I kept on climbing higher and
higher, until I reached a little seat which somebody had built there so long ago that it had grown part
of the tree itself. I sat there for a long, long time, feeling like a fairy on a rosy cloud. After that I spent
many happy hours in my tree of paradise, thinking fair thoughts and dreaming bright dreams.
I had now the key to all language, and I was eager to learn to use it. Children who hear acquire
language without any particular effort; the words that fall from others' lips they catch on the wing, as
it were, delightedly, while the little deaf child must trap them by a slow and often painful process. But
whatever the process, the result is wonderful. Gradually from naming an object we advance step by
step until we have traversed the vast distance between our first stammered syllable and the sweep of
thought in a line of Shakespeare.
At first, when my teacher told me about a new thing I asked very few questions. My ideas were
vague, and my vocabulary was inadequate; but as my knowledge of things grew, and I learned more
and more words, my field of inquiry broadened, and I would return again and again to the same
subject, eager for further information. Sometimes a new word revived an image that some earlier
experience had engraved on my brain.
I remember the morning that I first asked the meaning of the word, "love." This was before I knew
many words. I had found a few early violets in the garden and brought them to my teacher. She tried
to kiss me: but at that time I did not like to have any one kiss me except my mother. Miss Sullivan
put her arm gently round me and spelled into my hand, "I love Helen." 13/202
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"What is love?" I asked.
She drew me closer to her and said, "It is here," pointing to my heart, whose beats I was
conscious of for the first time. Her words puzzled me very much because I did not then understand
anything unless I touched it.
I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a question which meant, "Is
love the sweetness of flowers?"
"No," said my teacher.
Again I thought. The warm sun was shining on us.
"Is this not love?" I asked, pointing in the direction from which the heat came. "Is this not love?"
It seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose warmth makes all
things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was greatly puzzled and disappointed. I
thought it strange that my teacher could not show me love.
A day or two afterward I was stringing beads of different sizes in symmetrical groups—two large
beads, three small ones, and so on. I had made many mistakes, and Miss Sullivan had pointed them
out again and again with gentle patience. Finally I noticed a very obvious error in the sequence and
for an instant I concentrated my attention on the lesson and tried to think how I should have arranged
the beads. Miss Sullivan touched my forehead and spelled with decided emphasis, "Think."
In a flash I knew that the word was the name of the process that was going on in my head. This
was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea.
For a long time I was still—I was not thinking of the beads in my lap, but trying to find a meaning
for "love" in the light of this new idea. The sun had been under a cloud all day, and there had been
brief showers; but suddenly the sun broke forth in all its southern splendour.
Again I asked my teacher, "Is this not love?"
"Love is something like the clouds that were in the sky before the sun came out," she replied. Then
in simpler words than these, which at that time I could not have understood, she explained: "You
cannot touch the clouds, you know; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and the
thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either; but you feel the sweetness
that it pours into everything. Without love you would not be happy or want to play."
The beautiful truth burst upon my mind—I felt that there were invisible lines stretched between my
spirit and the spirits of others.
From the beginning of my education Miss Sullivan made it a practice to speak to me as she would
speak to any hearing child; the only difference was that she spelled the sentences into my hand
instead of speaking them. If I did not know the words and idioms necessary to express my thoughts
she supplied them, even suggesting conversation when I was unable to keep up my end of the
This process was continued for several years; for the deaf child does not learn in a month, or even
in two or three years, the numberless idioms and expressions used in the simplest daily intercourse.
The little hearing child learns these from constant repetition and imitation. The conversation he hears
in his home stimulates his mind and suggests topics and calls forth the spontaneous expression of his
own thoughts. This natural exchange of ideas is denied to the deaf child. My teacher, realizing this,
determined to supply the kinds of stimulus I lacked. This she did by repeating to me as far as
possible, verbatim, what she heard, and by showing me how I could take part in the conversation.
But it was a long time before I ventured to take the initiative, and still longer before I could find
something appropriate to say at the right time.
The deaf and the blind find it very difficult to acquire the amenities of conversation. How much
more this difficulty must be augmented in the case of those who are both deaf and blind! They cannot 14/202
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distinguish the tone of the voice or, without assistance, go up and down the gamut of tones that give
significance to words; nor can they watch the expression of the speaker's face, and a look is often
the very soul of what one says.
The next important step in my education was
learning to read.
As soon as I could spell a few words my teacher gave me slips of cardboard on which were
printed words in raised letters. I quickly learned that each printed word stood for an object, an act,
or a quality. I had a frame in which I could arrange the words in little sentences; but before I ever put
sentences in the frame I used to make them in objects. I found the slips of paper which represented,
for example, "doll," "is," "on," "bed" and placed each name on its object; then I put my doll on the
bed with the words is, on, bed arranged beside the doll, thus making a sentence of the words, and at
the same time carrying out the idea of the sentence with the things themselves.
One day, Miss Sullivan tells me, I pinned the word girl on my pinafore and stood in the wardrobe.
On the shelf I arranged the words, is, in, wardrobe. Nothing delighted me so much as this game. My
teacher and I played it for hours at a time. Often everything in the room was arranged in object
From the printed slip it was but a step to the printed book. I took my "Reader for Beginners" and
hunted for the words I knew; when I found them my joy was like that of a game of hide-and-seek.
Thus I began to read. Of the time when I began to read connected stories I shall speak later.
For a long time I had no regular lessons. Even when I studied most earnestly it seemed more like
play than work. Everything Miss Sullivan taught me she illustrated by a beautiful story or a poem.
Whenever anything delighted or interested me she talked it over with me just as if she were a little girl
herself. What many children think of with dread, as a painful plodding through grammar, hard sums
and harder definitions, is to-day one of my most precious memories.
I cannot explain the peculiar sympathy Miss Sullivan had with my pleasures and desires. Perhaps it
was the result of long association with the blind. Added to this she had a wonderful faculty for
description. She went quickly over uninteresting details, and never nagged me with questions to see if
I remembered the day-before-yesterday's lesson. She introduced dry technicalities of science little by
little, making every subject so real that I could not help remembering what she taught.
We read and studied out of doors, preferring the sunlit woods to the house. All my early lessons
have in them the breath of the woods—the fine, resinous odour of pine needles, blended with the
perfume of wild grapes. Seated in the gracious shade of a wild tulip tree, I learned to think that
everything has a lesson and a suggestion. "The loveliness of things taught me all their use." Indeed,
everything that could hum, or buzz, or sing, or bloom had a part in my education-noisy-throated
frogs, katydids and crickets held in my hand until forgetting their embarrassment, they trilled their
reedy note, little downy chickens and wildflowers, the dogwood blossoms, meadow-violets and
budding fruit trees. I felt the bursting cotton-bolls and fingered their soft fiber and fuzzy seeds; I felt
the low soughing of the wind through the cornstalks, the silky rustling of the long leaves, and the
indignant snort of my pony, as we caught him in the pasture and put the bit in his mouth—ah me!
how well I remember the spicy, clovery smell of his breath! 15/202
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Sometimes I rose at dawn and stole into the garden while the heavy dew lay on the grass and
flowers. Few know what joy it is to feel the roses pressing softly into the hand, or the beautiful
motion of the lilies as they sway in the morning breeze. Sometimes I caught an insect in the flower I
was plucking, and I felt the faint noise of a pair of wings rubbed together in a sudden terror, as the
little creature became aware of a pressure from without.
Another favourite haunt of mine was the orchard, where the fruit ripened early in July. The large,
downy peaches would reach themselves into my hand, and as the joyous breezes flew about the
trees the apples tumbled at my feet. Oh, the delight with which I gathered up the fruit in my pinafore,
pressed my face against the smooth cheeks of the apples, still warm from the sun, and skipped back
to the house!
Our favourite walk was to Keller's Landing, an old tumbledown lumber-wharf on the Tennessee
River, used during the Civil War to land soldiers. There we spent many happy hours and played at
learning geography. I built dams of pebbles, made islands and lakes, and dug river-beds, all for fun,
and never dreamed that I was learning a lesson. I listened with increasing wonder to Miss Sullivan's
descriptions of the great round world with its burning mountains, buried cities, moving rivers of ice,
and many other things as strange. She made raised maps in clay, so that I could feel the mountain
ridges and valleys, and follow with my fingers the devious course of rivers. I liked this, too; but the
division of the earth into zones and poles confused and teased my mind. The illustrative strings and
the orange stick representing the poles seemed so real that even to this day the mere mention of
temperate zone suggests a series of twine circles; and I believe that if any one should set about it he
could convince me that white bears actually climb the North Pole.
Arithmetic seems to have been the only study I did not like. From the first I was not interested in
the science of numbers. Miss Sullivan tried to teach me to count by stringing beads in groups, and by
arranging kintergarten straws I learned to add and subtract. I never had patience to arrange more
than five or six groups at a time. When I had accomplished this my conscience was at rest for the
day, and I went out quickly to find my playmates.
In this same leisurely manner I studied zoology and botany.
Once a gentleman, whose name I have forgotten, sent me a collection of fossils—tiny mollusk
shells beautifully marked, and bits of sandstone with the print of birds' claws, and a lovely fern in
bas-relief. These were the keys which unlocked the treasures of the antediluvian world for me. With
trembling fingers I listened to Miss Sullivan's descriptions of the terrible beasts, with uncouth,
unpronounceable names, which once went tramping through the primeval forests, tearing down the
branches of gigantic trees for food, and died in the dismal swamps of an unknown age. For a long
time these strange creatures haunted my dreams, and this gloomy period formed a somber
background to the joyous Now, filled with sunshine and roses and echoing with the gentle beat of my
pony's hoof.
Another time a beautiful shell was given me, and with a child's surprise and delight I learned how a
tiny mollusk had built the lustrous coil for his dwelling place, and how on still nights, when there is no
breeze stirring the waves, the Nautilus sails on the blue waters of the Indian Ocean in his "ship of
pearl." After I had learned a great many interesting things about the life and habits of the children of
the sea—how in the midst of dashing waves the little polyps build the beautiful coral isles of the
Pacific, and the foraminifera have made the chalk-hills of many a land—my teacher read me "The
Chambered Nautilus," and showed me that the shell-building process of the mollusks is symbolical of
the development of the mind. Just as the wonder-working mantle of the Nautilus changes the material
it absorbs from the water and makes it a part of itself, so the bits of knowledge one gathers undergo
a similar change and become pearls of thought.
Again, it was the growth of a plant that furnished the text for a lesson. We bought a lily and set it in 16/202
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a sunny window. Very soon the green, pointed buds showed signs of opening. The slender, fingerlike
leaves on the outside opened slowly, reluctant, I thought, to reveal the loveliness they hid; once
having made a start, however, the opening process went on rapidly, but in order and systematically.
There was always one bud larger and more beautiful than the rest, which pushed her outer, covering
back with more pomp, as if the beauty in soft, silky robes knew that she was the lily-queen by right
divine, while her more timid sisters doffed their green hoods shyly, until the whole plant was one
nodding bough of loveliness and fragrance.
Once there were eleven tadpoles in a glass globe set in a window full of plants. I remember the
eagerness with which I made discoveries about them. It was great fun to plunge my hand into the
bowl and feel the tadpoles frisk about, and to let them slip and slide between my fingers. One day a
more ambitious fellow leaped beyond the edge of the bowl and fell on the floor, where I found him to
all appearance more dead than alive. The only sign of life was a slight wriggling of his tail. But no
sooner had he returned to his element than he darted to the bottom, swimming round and round in
joyous activity. He had made his leap, he had seen the great world, and was content to stay in his
pretty glass house under the big fuchsia tree until he attained the dignity of froghood. Then he went to
live in the leafy pool at the end of the garden, where he made the summer nights musical with his
quaint love-song.
Thus I learned from life itself. At the beginning I was only a little mass of possibilities. It was my
teacher who unfolded and developed them. When she came, everything about me breathed of love
and joy and was full of meaning. She has never since let pass an opportunity to point out the beauty
that is in everything, nor has she ceased trying in thought and action and example to make my life
sweet and useful.
It was my teacher's genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my
education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it
so pleasant and acceptable to me. She realized that a child's mind is like a shallow brook which
ripples and dances merrily over the stony course of its education and reflects here a flower, there a
bush, yonder a fleecy cloud; and she attempted to guide my mind on its way, knowing that like a
brook it should be fed by mountain streams and hidden springs, until it broadened out into a deep
river, capable of reflecting in its placid surface, billowy hills, the luminous shadows of trees and the
blue heavens, as well as the sweet face of a little flower.
Any teacher can take a child to the classroom, but not every teacher can make him learn. He will
not work joyously unless he feels that liberty is his, whether he is busy or at rest; he must feel the
flush of victory and the heart-sinking of disappointment before he takes with a will the tasks
distasteful to him and resolves to dance his way bravely through a dull routine of textbooks.
My teacher is so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her. How much of my
delight in all beautiful things is innate, and how much is due to her influence, I can never tell. I feel that
her being is inseparable from my own, and that the footsteps of my life are in hers. All the best of me
belongs to her—there is not a talent, or an aspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by
her loving touch.
The first Christmas after Miss Sullivan came to Tuscumbia was a great event. Every one in the
family prepared surprises for me, but what pleased me most, Miss Sullivan and I prepared surprises 17/202
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for everybody else. The mystery that surrounded the gifts was my greatest delight and amusement.
My friends did all they could to excite my curiosity by hints and half-spelled sentences which they
pretended to break off in the nick of time. Miss Sullivan and I kept up a game of guessing which
taught me more about the use of language than any set lessons could have done. Every evening,
seated round a glowing wood fire, we played our guessing game, which grew more and more
exciting as Christmas approached.
On Christmas Eve the Tuscumbia schoolchildren had their tree, to which they invited me. In the
centre of the schoolroom stood a beautiful tree ablaze and shimmering in the soft light, its branches
loaded with strange, wonderful fruit. It was a moment of supreme happiness. I danced and capered
round the tree in an ecstasy. When I learned that there was a gift for each child, I was delighted, and
the kind people who had prepared the tree permitted me to hand the presents to the children. In the
pleasure of doing this, I did not stop to look at my own gifts; but when I was ready for them, my
impatience for the real Christmas to begin almost got beyond control. I knew the gifts I already had
were not those of which friends had thrown out such tantalizing hints, and my teacher said the
presents I was to have would be even nicer than these. I was persuaded, however, to content myself
with the gifts from the tree and leave the others until morning.
That night, after I had hung my stocking, I lay awake a long time, pretending to be asleep and
keeping alert to see what Santa Claus would do when he came. At last I fell asleep with a new doll
and a white bear in my arms. Next morning it was I who waked the whole family with my first
"Merry Christmas!" I found surprises, not in the stocking only, but on the table, on all the chairs, at
the door, on the very window-sill; indeed, I could hardly walk without stumbling on a bit of
Christmas wrapped up in tissue paper. But when my teacher presented me with a canary, my cup of
happiness overflowed.
Little Tim was so tame that he would hop on my finger and eat candied cherries out of my hand.
Miss Sullivan taught me to take all the care of my new pet. Every morning after breakfast I prepared
his bath, made his cage clean and sweet, filled his cups with fresh seed and water from the well-
house, and hung a spray of chickweed in his swing.
One morning I left the cage on the window-seat while I went to fetch water for his bath. When I
returned I felt a big cat brush past me as I opened the door. At first I did not realize what had
happened; but when I put my hand in the cage and Tim's pretty wings did not meet my touch or his
small pointed claws take hold of my finger, I knew that I should never see my sweet little singer
The next important event in my life was my visit to Boston, in May, 1888. As if it were yesterday I
remember the preparations, the departure with my teacher and my mother, the journey, and finally
the arrival in Boston. How different this journey was from the one I had made to Baltimore two years
before! I was no longer a restless, excitable little creature, requiring the attention of everybody on the
train to keep me amused. I sat quietly beside Miss Sullivan, taking in with eager interest all that she
told me about what she saw out of the car window: the beautiful Tennessee River, the great cotton-
fields, the hills and woods, and the crowds of laughing negroes at the stations, who waved to the
people on the train and brought delicious candy and popcorn balls through the car. On the seat
opposite me sat my big rag doll, Nancy, in a new gingham dress and a beruffled sunbonnet, looking 18/202
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at me out of two bead eyes. Sometimes, when I was not absorbed in Miss Sullivan's descriptions, I
remembered Nancy's existence and took her up in my arms, but I generally calmed my conscience
by making myself believe that she was asleep.
As I shall not have occasion to refer to Nancy again, I wish to tell here a sad experience she had
soon after our arrival in Boston. She was covered with dirt—the remains of mud pies I had
compelled her to eat, although she had never shown any special liking for them. The laundress at the
Perkins Institution secretly carried her off to give her a bath. This was too much for poor Nancy.
When I next saw her she was a formless heap of cotton, which I should not have recognized at all
except for the two bead eyes which looked out at me reproachfully.
When the train at last pulled into the station at Boston it was as if a beautiful fairy tale had come
true. The "once upon a time" was now; the "far-away country" was here.
We had scarcely arrived at the Perkins Institution for the Blind when I began to make friends with
the little blind children. It delighted me inexpressibly to find that they knew the manual alphabet.
What joy to talk with other children in my own language! Until then I had been like a foreigner
speaking through an interpreter. In the school where Laura Bridgman was taught I was in my own
country. It took me some time to appreciate the fact that my new friends were blind. I knew I could
not see; but it did not seem possible that all the eager, loving children who gathered round me and
joined heartily in my frolics were also blind. I remember the surprise and the pain I felt as I noticed
that they placed their hands over mine when I talked to them and that they read books with their
fingers. Although I had been told this before, and although I understood my own deprivations, yet I
had thought vaguely that since they could hear, they must have a sort of "second sight," and I was not
prepared to find one child and another and yet another deprived of the same precious gift. But they
were so happy and contented that I lost all sense of pain in the pleasure of their companionship.
One day spent with the blind children made me feel thoroughly at home in my new environment,
and I looked eagerly from one pleasant experience to another as the days flew swiftly by. I could not
quite convince myself that there was much world left, for I regarded Boston as the beginning and the
end of creation.
While we were in Boston we visited Bunker Hill, and there I had my first lesson in history. The
story of the brave men who had fought on the spot where we stood excited me greatly. I climbed the
monument, counting the steps, and wondering as I went higher and yet higher if the soldiers had
climbed this great stairway and shot at the enemy on the ground below.
The next day we went to Plymouth by water. This was my first trip on the ocean and my first
voyage in a steamboat. How full of life and motion it was! But the rumble of the machinery made me
think it was thundering, and I began to cry, because I feared if it rained we should not be able to
have our picnic out of doors. I was more interested, I think, in the great rock on which the Pilgrims
landed than in anything else in Plymouth. I could touch it, and perhaps that made the coming of the
Pilgrims and their toils and great deeds seem more real to me. I have often held in my hand a little
model of the Plymouth Rock which a kind gentleman gave me at Pilgrim Hall, and I have fingered its
curves, the split in the centre and the embossed figures "1620," and turned over in my mind all that I
knew about the wonderful story of the Pilgrims.
How my childish imagination glowed with the splendour of their enterprise! I idealized them as the
bravest and most generous men that ever sought a home in a strange land. I thought they desired the
freedom of their fellow men as well as their own. I was keenly surprised and disappointed years later
to learn of their acts of persecution that make us tingle with shame, even while we glory in the
courage and energy that gave us our "Country Beautiful."
Among the many friends I made in Boston were Mr. William Endicott and his daughter. Their
kindness to me was the seed from which many pleasant memories have since grown. One day we 19/202
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visited their beautiful home at Beverly Farms. I remember with delight how I went through their rose-
garden, how their dogs, big Leo and little curly-haired Fritz with long ears, came to meet me, and
how Nimrod, the swiftest of the horses, poked his nose into my hands for a pat and a lump of sugar.
I also remember the beach, where for the first time I played in the sand. It was hard, smooth sand,
very different from the loose, sharp sand, mingled with kelp and shells, at Brewster. Mr. Endicott
told me about the great ships that came sailing by from Boston, bound for Europe. I saw him many
times after that, and he was always a good friend to me; indeed, I was thinking of him when I called
Boston "the City of Kind Hearts."
Just before the Perkins Institution closed for the summer, it was arranged that my teacher and I
should spend our vacation at Brewster, on Cape Cod, with our dear friend, Mrs. Hopkins. I was
delighted, for my mind was full of the prospective joys and of the wonderful stories I had heard
about the sea.
My most vivid recollection of that summer is the ocean. I had always lived far inland and had
never had so much as a whiff of salt air; but I had read in a big book called "Our World" a
description of the ocean which filled me with wonder and an intense longing to touch the mighty sea
and feel it roar. So my little heart leaped high with eager excitement when I knew that my wish was
at last to be realized.
No sooner had I been helped into my bathing-suit than I sprang out upon the warm sand and
without thought of fear plunged into the cool water. I felt the great billows rock and sink. The
buoyant motion of the water filled me with an exquisite, quivering joy. Suddenly my ecstasy gave
place to terror; for my foot struck against a rock and the next instant there was a rush of water over
my head. I thrust out my hands to grasp some support, I clutched at the water and at the seaweed
which the waves tossed in my face. But all my frantic efforts were in vain. The waves seemed to be
playing a game with me, and tossed me from one to another in their wild frolic. It was fearful! The
good, firm earth had slipped from my feet, and everything seemed shut out from this strange, all-
enveloping element—life, air, warmth and love. At last, however, the sea, as if weary of its new toy,
threw me back on the shore, and in another instant I was clasped in my teacher's arms. Oh, the
comfort of the long, tender embrace! As soon as I had recovered from my panic sufficiently to say
anything, I demanded: "Who put salt in the water?"
After I had recovered from my first experience in the water, I thought it great fun to sit on a big
rock in my bathing-suit and feel wave after wave dash against the rock, sending up a shower of
spray which quite covered me. I felt the pebbles rattling as the waves threw their ponderous weight
against the shore; the whole beach seemed racked by their terrific onset, and the air throbbed with
their pulsations. The breakers would swoop back to gather themselves for a mightier leap, and I
clung to the rock, tense, fascinated, as I felt the dash and roar of the rushing sea!
I could never stay long enough on the shore. The tang of the untainted, fresh and free sea air was
like a cool, quieting thought, and the shells and pebbles and the seaweed with tiny living creatures
attached to it never lost their fascination for me. One day Miss Sullivan attracted my attention to a
strange object which she had captured basking in the shallow water. It was a great horseshoe crab
—the first one I had ever seen. I felt of him and thought it very strange that he should carry his house
on his back. It suddenly occurred to me that he might make a delightful pet; so I seized him by the 20/202
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tail with both hands and carried him home. This feat pleased me highly, as his body was very heavy,
and it took all my strength to drag him half a mile. I would not leave Miss Sullivan in peace until she
had put the crab in a trough near the well where I was confident he would be secure. But next
morning I went to the trough, and lo, he had disappeared! Nobody knew where he had gone, or
how he had escaped. My disappointment was bitter at the time; but little by little I came to realize
that it was not kind or wise to force this poor dumb creature out of his element, and after awhile I felt
happy in the thought that perhaps he had returned to the sea.
In the autumn I returned to my Southern home with a heart full of joyous memories. As I recall
that visit North I am filled with wonder at the richness and variety of the experiences that cluster
about it. It seems to have been the beginning of everything. The treasures of a new, beautiful world
were laid at my feet, and I took in pleasure and information at every turn. I lived myself into all things.
I was never still a moment; my life was as full of motion as those little insects that crowd a whole
existence into one brief day. I met many people who talked with me by spelling into my hand, and
thought in joyous sympathy leaped up to meet thought, and behold, a miracle had been wrought! The
barren places between my mind and the minds of others blossomed like the rose.
I spent the autumn months with my family at our summer cottage, on a mountain about fourteen
miles from Tuscumbia. It was called Fern Quarry, because near it there was a limestone quarry, long
since abandoned. Three frolicsome little streams ran through it from springs in the rocks above,
leaping here and tumbling there in laughing cascades wherever the rocks tried to bar their way. The
opening was filled with ferns which completely covered the beds of limestone and in places hid the
streams. The rest of the mountain was thickly wooded. Here were great oaks and splendid
evergreens with trunks like mossy pillars, from the branches of which hung garlands of ivy and
mistletoe, and persimmon trees, the odour of which pervaded every nook and corner of the wood—
an illusive, fragrant something that made the heart glad. In places the wild muscadine and
scuppernong vines stretched from tree to tree, making arbours which were always full of butterflies
and buzzing insects. It was delightful to lose ourselves in the green hollows of that tangled wood in
the late afternoon, and to smell the cool, delicious odours that came up from the earth at the close of
Our cottage was a sort of rough camp, beautifully situated on the top of the mountain among oaks
and pines. The small rooms were arranged on each side of a long open hall. Round the house was a
wide piazza, where the mountain winds blew, sweet with all wood-scents. We lived on the piazza
most of the time—there we worked, ate and played. At the back door there was a great butternut
tree, round which the steps had been built, and in front the trees stood so close that I could touch
them and feel the wind shake their branches, or the leaves twirl downward in the autumn blast.
Many visitors came to Fern Quarry. In the evening, by the campfire, the men played cards and
whiled away the hours in talk and sport. They told stories of their wonderful feats with fowl, fish and
quadruped—how many wild ducks and turkeys they had shot, what "savage trout" they had caught,
and how they had bagged the craftiest foxes, outwitted the most clever 'possums and overtaken the
fleetest deer, until I thought that surely the lion, the tiger, the bear and the rest of the wild tribe would
not be able to stand before these wily hunters. "To-morrow to the chase!" was their good-night shout
as the circle of merry friends broke up for the night. The men slept in the hall outside our door, and I 21/202
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could feel the deep breathing of the dogs and the hunters as they lay on their improvised beds.
At dawn I was awakened by the smell of coffee, the rattling of guns, and the heavy footsteps of
the men as they strode about, promising themselves the greatest luck of the season. I could also feel
the stamping of the horses, which they had ridden out from town and hitched under the trees, where
they stood all night, neighing loudly, impatient to be off. At last the men mounted, and, as they say in
the old songs, away went the steeds with bridles ringing and whips cracking and hounds racing
ahead, and away went the champion hunters "with hark and whoop and wild halloo!"
Later in the morning we made preparations for a barbecue. A fire was kindled at the bottom of a
deep hole in the ground, big sticks were laid crosswise at the top, and meat was hung from them and
turned on spits. Around the fire squatted negroes, driving away the flies with long branches. The
savoury odour of the meat made me hungry long before the tables were set.
When the bustle and excitement of preparation was at its height, the hunting party made its
appearance, struggling in by twos and threes, the men hot and weary, the horses covered with foam,
and the jaded hounds panting and dejected—and not a single kill! Every man declared that he had
seen at least one deer, and that the animal had come very close; but however hotly the dogs might
pursue the game, however well the guns might be aimed, at the snap of the trigger there was not a
deer in sight. They had been as fortunate as the little boy who said he came very near seeing a rabbit
—he saw his tracks. The party soon forgot its disappointment, however, and we sat down, not to
venison, but to a tamer feast of veal and roast pig.
One summer I had my pony at Fern Quarry. I called him Black Beauty, as I had just read the
book, and he resembled his namesake in every way, from his glossy black coat to the white star on
his forehead. I spent many of my happiest hours on his back. Occasionally, when it was quite safe,
my teacher would let go the leading-rein, and the pony sauntered on or stopped at his sweet will to
eat grass or nibble the leaves of the trees that grew beside the narrow trail.
On mornings when I did not care for the ride, my teacher and I would start after breakfast for a
ramble in the woods, and allow ourselves to get lost amid the trees and vines, with no road to follow
except the paths made by cows and horses. Frequently we came upon impassable thickets which
forced us to take a round about way. We always returned to the cottage with armfuls of laurel,
goldenrod, ferns and gorgeous swamp-flowers such as grow only in the South.
Sometimes I would go with Mildred and my little cousins to gather persimmons. I did not eat
them; but I loved their fragrance and enjoyed hunting for them in the leaves and grass. We also went
nutting, and I helped them open the chestnut burrs and break the shells of hickory-nuts and walnuts
—the big, sweet walnuts!
At the foot of the mountain there was a railroad, and the children watched the trains whiz by.
Sometimes a terrific whistle brought us to the steps, and Mildred told me in great excitement that a
cow or a horse had strayed on the track. About a mile distant there was a trestle spanning a deep
gorge. It was very difficult to walk over, the ties were wide apart and so narrow that one felt as if
one were walking on knives. I had never crossed it until one day Mildred, Miss Sullivan and I were
lost in the woods, and wandered for hours without finding a path.
Suddenly Mildred pointed with her little hand and exclaimed, "There's the trestle!" We would have
taken any way rather than this; but it was late and growing dark, and the trestle was a short cut
home. I had to feel for the rails with my toe; but I was not afraid, and got on very well, until all at
once there came a faint "puff, puff" from the distance.
"I see the train!" cried Mildred, and in another minute it would have been upon us had we not
climbed down on the crossbraces while it rushed over our heads. I felt the hot breath from the engine
on my face, and the smoke and ashes almost choked us. As the train rumbled by, the trestle shook
and swayed until I thought we should be dashed to the chasm below. With the utmost difficulty we 22/202
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regained the track. Long after dark we reached home and found the cottage empty; the family were
all out hunting for us.
After my first visit to Boston, I spent almost every winter in the North. Once I went on a visit to a
New England village with its frozen lakes and vast snow fields. It was then that I had opportunities
such as had never been mine to enter into the treasures of the snow.
I recall my surprise on discovering that a mysterious hand had stripped the trees and bushes,
leaving only here and there a wrinkled leaf. The birds had flown, and their empty nests in the bare
trees were filled with snow. Winter was on hill and field. The earth seemed benumbed by his icy
touch, and the very spirits of the trees had withdrawn to their roots, and there, curled up in the dark,
lay fast asleep. All life seemed to have ebbed away, and even when the sun shone the day was
Shrunk and cold,
As if her veins were sapless and old,
And she rose up
decrepitly For a last dim look at earth and sea.
The withered grass and the bushes were transformed into a forest of icicles.
Then came a day when the chill air portended a snowstorm. We rushed out-of-doors to feel the
first few tiny flakes descending. Hour by hour the flakes dropped silently, softly from their airy height
to the earth, and the country became more and more level. A snowy night closed upon the world,
and in the morning one could scarcely recognize a feature of the landscape. All the roads were
hidden, not a single landmark was visible, only a waste of snow with trees rising out of it.
In the evening a wind from the northeast sprang up, and the flakes rushed hither and thither in
furious melee. Around the great fire we sat and told merry tales, and frolicked, and quite forgot that
we were in the midst of a desolate solitude, shut in from all communication with the outside world.
But during the night the fury of the wind increased to such a degree that it thrilled us with a vague
terror. The rafters creaked and strained, and the branches of the trees surrounding the house rattled
and beat against the windows, as the winds rioted up and down the country.
On the third day after the beginning of the storm the snow ceased. The sun broke through the
clouds and shone upon a vast, undulating white plain. High mounds, pyramids heaped in fantastic
shapes, and impenetrable drifts lay scattered in every direction.
Narrow paths were shoveled through the drifts. I put on my cloak and hood and went out. The air
stung my cheeks like fire. Half walking in the paths, half working our way through the lesser drifts,
we succeeded in reaching a pine grove just outside a broad pasture. The trees stood motionless and
white like figures in a marble frieze. There was no odour of pine-needles. The rays of the sun fell
upon the trees, so that the twigs sparkled like diamonds and dropped in showers when we touched
them. So dazzling was the light, it penetrated even the darkness that veils my eyes.
As the days wore on, the drifts gradually shrunk, but before they were wholly gone another storm
came, so that I scarcely felt the earth under my feet once all winter. At intervals the trees lost their icy
covering, and the bulrushes and underbrush were bare; but the lake lay frozen and hard beneath the
Our favourite amusement during that winter was tobogganing. In places the shore of the lake rises 23/202