- Associated Press - Sunday, March 1, 2015

BREWSTER, Mass. (AP) - One of the earliest and best known photographs of Helen Keller with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, has found a permanent home at the Brewster Historical Society Museum.

Taken in 1888 in Brewster by Cornelius Chenery, it shows 8-year-old Keller with her devoted teacher when the two of them were on vacation at the Freeman-Hopkins House at 1491 Main Street.

The photograph received international attention when another donor, the late Thaxter Spencer, of Waltham, gave a print of it to the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 2008. At the time, it was regaled as an amazing discovery - thought to be the earliest photo of pupil and teacher together and the only one that included a doll, said Sally Gunning, of the historical society. Sullivan’s gift of a doll when she first came to teach deaf, blind, and mute Helen, then 6, at her Alabama home inspired Keller to spell her first word D-O-L-L in her teacher’s hand.

Reading about the donation in 2008 in her local newspaper, Alys Walker, of New Hampshire and formerly of Whitman, recognized the image as one taken by her great-great-Uncle Cornelius. She and her mother had kept this photograph with her uncle’s other belongings.

Walker said she took it out when her Whitman Middle School teacher colleagues did units on Helen Keller. Walker never realized the photo had any real significance until the matching print received all that attention.

Walker’s print, she quickly realized, was probably even more significant because it included a little note written in neat, blocky print by Keller’s own hand, Walker said in a phone interview.

“With much love, Helen A. Keller,” it stated.

Also, her uncle had kept a precious note from Helen, which she wrote to him in 1889. She wrote to tell him she could not sit for another portrait because, at age 9, she was helping her school, the Perkins School for the Blind, organize a tea fundraiser for the kindergarten.

“Teacher asks me to write you that she fears she cannot give you another sitting at present,” Keller begins.

It ends with, “With much love from your Little Friend Helen Keller.”

Walker donated the letter and photo to the museum on Jan. 20.

“We felt it was taken in Brewster so it should stay in Brewster,” Walker said.

Appraiser estimated the photograph to be worth $10,000 in 2014, and the letter $2,000, Walker said.

It’s hard to call a photograph original, since the only original is the negative, said Leah Kingman, who specializes in European antiques and photography at Eldred’s Auctioneers and Appraisers in East Dennis.

Chenery had his negatives destroyed upon his death, Walker said. Many photographers marred or marked their negatives so they could not be reproduced without their knowledge, Kingman said.

The genealogical society, however, acknowledged that Walker’s gift to the Brewster museum is as close to an original as you can get for a print.

“I’m so glad that it found a home,” said Judy Lucey, an archivist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society. “Brewster is the appropriate place for it.”

At the age of 8, when the photo was taken, Keller had been with Sullivan for just over a year. Sullivan, an orphaned and impoverished woman whose intelligence led her to give the valedictory address when she graduated from Perkins School for the Blind, had been sent after graduation to teach Keller in Alabama.

There she was able to transform an unruly and frustrated Keller into a young celebrity by teaching her to communicate. Keller would go on to be the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college, Radcliffe, with her teacher by her side.

Keller co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, according to the Perkins School website. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Keller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, according to Perkins.

Keller summered in Brewster with her teacher at the home of Sophia Hopkins, a sea captain’s widow and a house mother at the Perkins School for the Blind. Hopkins and Sullivan were friends.

The Brewster Historical Society members have not decided how to display the photograph and letter, said Thomas Slezak, manager of the museum. The museum will be moving to the Elijah Cobb House at 739 Lower Road in 2016, he added.

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