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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

That Girl Helen

That Girl Helen

by Angela C. Orlando

November 18, 1892

Dear Nellie,

It was so lovely to read your last letter. I'm pleased to
learn that you and Robert like it there in Virginia. I
hope his new job works out well. You and the children
deserve a fine life. Maybe you will become one of those
rich politician wives down there near the Capital.
Wouldn't that be just splendid?

We miss you dearly here in Boston. I told Mother I'd
write you a letter every single week so you won't feel so
lonely. Why, there's nothing I like better than writing
letters to my darling younger sister.

Well, there's been quite a scandal here. Have you heard the
news about that blind and deaf girl from Alabama? I
remember we were talking all about her back before you
moved. You were quite taken by that girl Helen and her
teacher. You always did love a sappy story. Just tell you
about some deformed child, and you'd get all teary-eyed.
That's my sister Nellie, always giving food and money to
them poor people.

I told you there was something not right about that girl
Helen. All that funny stuff in her hands... I never did
trust it. I bet the teacher was making it all up. That
blind and deaf girl never knew what was going on. That's
what I think.

Now it's all over the newspapers. They say this girl
Helen wrote some fancy story about fairy jewels that melt
in the sun and cover all the leaves in the trees such
pretty colors-- All ruby, emerald, gold and brown... like
the leaves were painted by fairest.

Now, I ask you, Nellie. How can a blind and deaf girl know
about such things? She doesn't even know what colors are.
How can she write about what autumn leaves look like if she
hasn't ever even seen colors? Oh, they say her teacher told
her what the leaves look like, and then that girl Helen
went and wrote the story. It's all piles of hogwash, if
you ask me.

They are saying now that some other woman wrote a story just
like this. It was in a book called Birdie and His Fairy
Friends. Did we read that as Children? I can't remember.
It was so long ago.

Anyway, they say this Helen girl copied the story. It was
fake! I'm not at all surprised. I bet it was the teacher
who did it. That girl Helen probably can't even read or

The teacher is saying it was an accident. Someone must have
read the story to the blind and deaf girl. That girl Helen
doesn't even remember the story. She claims she thought it
was her own writing. It is such a scandal.

The Blind school here in Boston is doing a big
investigation. I'm sure they will find out the truth about
that girl and her teacher. The boss at the blind school says
he will never forgive that girl Helen for this. He doesn't
even care about the investigation. He feels so betrayed. I
don't blame him. It was all lies.

Now, I bet that girl Helen and her teacher go back to
Alabama, and we never hear about them again. I'm telling
you, Nellie, nothing good will ever come out of that pair.
Blind and deaf.... It's just not natural. They should lock
that girl Helen in a mad house. That's what I think

Well, write again soon, Nellie. Give my love to Robert
and the children. We all miss you so much.

Your Sister, Mary

Note: Helen Keller was eight-years-old when she began working
with her teacher, Anne Sullivan. At this time, Helen began a
remarkable journey to understand the concept of language and
communication. In 1892, at age 11, Helen wrote "The Frost
King," a short story about fairies who paint jewel-like colors on
autumn leaves. This story was based on Anne Sullivan's
description of the beautiful Fall leaves in the Keller's yard.

The Keller family sent the story to Michael Anagnos, head of the
Perkins School for the Blind. Anagnos was a friend and strong
supporter of both Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. He was so
pleased by "The Frost King" that he had it print in the Perkins
School magazine.

Shortly after, another publication picked up and re-printed the
story. It was then discovered that Helen's story closely
resemble one of the stories in Birdie and His Fairy Friends, a
book written by Margaret Canby. Many, including Anagnos,
believed that Helen was guilty of plagiarism or that Anne
Sullivan was lying about Helen's abilities.

The Perkins School for the Blind launched an investigation to
determine how Helen came in contact with Canby's story. It was
uncovered that Anne Sullivan's own mentor, Sophia Hopkins, had
read the book to Helen during a visit three years before. Helen,
herself, maintained that she had no memory of the story and
believed that her writing was her own work.

Anne Sullivan and helen Keller were narrowly cleared of fraud by
the Perkins School for the Blind. The investigating committee
decided that Helen's re-production of Canby's story was an
accident. However, Michael Anagnos never forgave Helen and
Anne Sullivan for the scandal and insisted they had deliberately
betrayed his trust. This loss of a friend was devastated to
young Helen. At age 12, she suffered a nervous breakdown over
the incident. Although Helen would become famous as an author
and motivational speaker, she never wrote fiction again.

Revised August, 2011

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