Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Helen Keller the Maid of Honor

Helen Keller, Radcliffe, 1904Helen Keller, the famed deaf-blind social activist, was living with her teacher, Annie Sullivan, on a 7-acre farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts in 1905. She had graduated from Radcliffe College the year before, and she and Sullivan had purchased the farm at about the same time.

Helen had published her first book, The Story of My Life, in 1903, and a young Harvard English instructor, John Macy, had worked with Helen as the book's editor. Macy became a friend of Helen's, and of Annie Sullivan's as well, and on May 3, 1905 Macy and Sullivan were married in the sitting room at the Wrentham farm.

Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, Wrentham farm
An article in the May 3, 1905 Boston Daily Globe indicates that Edward Everett Hale performed the ceremony. (Hale, a minister, activist, and author, was well-known for his story, "The Man Without a Country," and was the great-nephew of patriot Nathan Hale.)

Even then, Annie took second billing to Helen, with the headline for the article reading "Helen Keller the Maid of Honor", and Annie and John (and Dr. Hale) mentioned in the sub-heading.

The bride wore "a dark traveling gown and the groom a gray prince albert with light vest and tie." The ceremony was small, with only a few dozen guests, and was conducted "in a quiet and unostentatious manner."

Among the wedding gifts received was a "handsome clock and candelabras from Prof. Alexander Graham Bell." Interestingly enough, I have found (online--and still looking for corroboration) the text of a letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Helen Keller, dated April 14, 1905, which reads in part as follows:

I wonder whether you could keep a secret from teacher, and from Mr. Macey? I have just received $194 which I never expected to get, and your note of April 7, telling me of teacher's proposed marriage to Mr. Macey has suggested the thought - why not spend this on a wedding present for Miss Sullivan. The trouble is I don't know what to get that would please her and I want someone to help me. Why not you? I enclose a check for $194 payable to your order and would be very much please if you could spend the money for me on a wedding present for Miss Sullivan and not tell her anything about it until you give her the present for me.

Illustration Credits and References

The two photos above both appear on the website of the Annie Mansfield Sullivan Foundation. The photo of Helen Keller is her 1904 Radcliffe graduation portrait. The farm photograph was taken in the 1920s. The site also contains additional information about the history of the farm.


SantaFeKate said...

Thanks to Marilyn and Jan at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts for providing excellent corroboration of the Alexander Graham Bell letter above!

SantaFeKate said...

And one more follow-up! Refer to my July 8, 2009 post for an image of the actual letter from A.G. Bell to Helen Keller.