Last Updated on July 7, 2023

Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, makes for an inspiring visit. The home is now a museum and a national landmark.

Many people know something of Keller’s remarkable story, but few understand the depths of this extraordinary woman’s amazing courage and determination.

Entering Ivy Green

Upon entering the gates of Ivy Green, you know you are visiting an extraordinary place. A long sidewalk leads to a perfectly manicured landscape. The peaceful surroundings of the clapboard home evoke a sense of nostalgia. 

A tour guide greeted my group outside and provided a detailed history of Helen Keller. The guide shared a wealth of intimate knowledge about Keller’s life, her family, and the profound impact she had on the world.

I was astonished to learn that Keller wasn’t born blind and deaf, it was an illness with a high fever at 19-months which left her without either sense.

As a child, she was extremely unruly, wreaking havoc throughout the house and at the dinner table. She behaved like an animal because she was unable to communicate in any way.

Amazingly, once she overcame the incredible hurdles in her life, Keller became a prolific writer, advocate for social justice, political activist, and lifelong learner.

In my visit to Ivy Green, I learned about her teacher Anne Sullivan for the first time. Sullivan painstakingly helped Helen learn words and put meaning to the things she could only feel and taste. 

Helen Keller’s Life

Photo of Helen Keller touching President Eisenhower's face.
Photo of Helen Keller touching President Eisenhower’s face. Photo credit Robin O’Neal Smith

After Keller’s fever at 19-months, she spent five years in total darkness and profound silence. Her family hired many teachers and helpers who were woefully unable to handle the child and quickly resigned.

Anne Mansfield Sullivan was only 21 years of age and had eye problems herself when she accepted the challenging job of helping Helen Keller. 

Sullivan endured several horrible months of the child’s behavior until the famous pump incident (more on that below) when figuratively, the lights went on in Helen’s dark prison and the world opened up before her. From that point on, Helen’s ability to communicate grew rapidly and she eventually learned to read, write and even speak.

She met with President Grover Cleveland when she was a mere 10-years-old. Keller attended college at age 19 and was the first deaf and blind person to graduate. She went on to meet every president during her lifetime up until her death.

I especially enjoyed seeing the photograph of Keller with President Eisenhower where she was using her hands to touch his face. 

In her remarkable life, she wrote 12 books, gave lectures, and helped standardize braille. She worked with the Lions Clubs of America and helped start the drive for used glasses and was an advocate for others with disabilities. Helen traveled to 39 different countries lobbying foreign governments to establish schools for the blind and deaf.

Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was an honor well-deserved.

She became close friends with others who made their marks on American history: Mark Twain, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Alexander Graham Bell.

Our guide invited us to explore the home where Helen was born and lived till her death in 1968. We also had an opportunity to walk the grounds and admire the gardens, pumps, and sculptures.

The Home of Helen Keller

I was impressed with how well the house has been meticulously preserved over the years. Every nook and corner are testaments to Keller’s awe-inspiring life and achievements.

Walking through the rooms, I could imagine what it must have been like living without seeing or hearing what was happening around you. What a cold and dark world it must have been despite the beautiful surroundings.

We viewed the dining room table where Helen Keller ate her meals and the bedroom she shared with Sullivan. As I looked at the two beds, I thought how difficult it must have been for Sullivan never to have a break from the child, even at night. 

Helen’s home has been designated and preserved as a National Historic Landmark. It became a house museum in 1954 and has been open to the public ever since.

The Grounds at Ivy Green

The Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller water pump sculpture at Ivy Green.
The Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller water pump sculpture at Ivy Green. Photo credit Robin O’Neal Smith

Besides the house tour, many other attractions on the Ivy Green property are worth seeing.

One of the most moving moments of the tour was seeing the famous water pump where Keller’s life was forever changed. The guide explained how, despite being deaf and blind, Keller’s curiosity and intelligence were evident from a young age.

Her first real communication was when she touched the water from the pump. As she felt the cool, running water over her one hand, Anne Sullivan spelled “water” into her other hand, and suddenly, a new world of communication and learning opened up for Keller.

The water pump remains one of the most iconic symbols of Keller’s life, and seeing it brought tears to my eyes. There is also an evocative statue of Helen, Anne, and the pump on the grounds capturing that magic moment with timeless elegance.

The Miracle Worker

Several movies were made about Helen Keller’s life. The most popular was “The Miracle Worker.” It was derived from The Story of My Life, an autobiography.

Behind her home is an outdoor theater where during the summer months, Alabama’s official state outdoor drama, “The Miracle Worker at Ivy Green,” is performed live on Fridays and Saturdays. The play re-enacts various scenes depicting the relationship between Keller and Sullivan.

Keller considered Sullivan the true miracle worker who brought her out of darkness and opened up a new world for her.

In addition to Ivy Green’s physical site, various programs are associated with the museum. Camp Courage…A Helen Keller Experience is a 3-day program for children with visual and/or hearing impairments in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. The Camp takes place on the Ivy Green grounds.

Planning A Visit

Ivy Green is located at 300 North Commons Street W. Tuscumbia, AL.

The hours are Monday through Saturday, 8:30 am – 4:00 pm. The last tour starts at 3:00 pm each day. The home is closed on Easter, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, December 24-26th, and New Year’s Day.

Tour fees for adults are $10.00. Students age 5 -18 are $5.00. Seniors & AAA members are $8.00.

Visiting Ivy Green was an unforgettable experience, inspiring and humbling me. The house and its surroundings offer a glimpse into the remarkable life of a woman who overcame incredible odds and whose contributions to society were nothing short of extraordinary.

Helen Keller’s story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and her legacy continues to inspire people around the world.

Author

  • Robin O'Neal Smith

    Robin O’Neal Smith is a freelance travel writer. A young baby boomer, Robin and her husband have traveled throughout North America, many of the Caribbean Islands, and Europe. She loves cruising and inspiring others to live their dreams of travel.