The World’s Largest Collection Of Helen Keller Artifacts Is Moving To Louisville

Oct 11, 2019
Originally published on October 11, 2019 9:56 am

The American Printing House For the Blind, headquartered in Louisville, will soon house the world’s largest collection of Helen Keller artifacts.

Officials announced the acquisition Thursday. More than 80,000 individual pieces from the life of Keller, an iconic advocate for the deaf and blind, will now be housed at the printing house. Eventually many will be on exhibit; some of Keller’s artifacts, including an Oscar, a letter she wrote to Nazi students and a Zulu shield are already on display. APH CEO Craig Meador said the exhibit will underscore Louisville’s mission to highlight advocacy.

“Louisville [has] already set itself as a city that has such a strong focus on social justice and civil rights,” Meador said, citing the Muhammad Ali Museum as an example. “Now to have Helen [Keller] coming to the American Printing House, again, highlights what this city is about — highlights what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the announcement in a tweet Thursday, calling it a “major honor.”

“I have long been an advocate of APH & I am proud of the work they do to help provide educational opportunities for many blind & visually impaired Americans,” McConnell tweeted.

Helen Keller, born in 1880, was an author and activist who became deaf and blind when she was nearly two years old. After teacher Anne Sullivan taught her how to read, speak and write, Keller used her skills to graduate college, write books, and advocate for human rights through writing. She died in 1968, after years of recognition through honorary doctorate degrees, an Academy Award and a humanitarian award for her lifetime service.

The exhibit is part of a new 10-year loan and partnership between APH and the American Foundation for the Blind, a national nonprofit which has housed Keller’s artifacts until now. APH Museum Director Mike Hudson said the foundation considered the Smithsonian Institution and New-York Historical Society to house the Keller archives, but picked Louisville because of APH’s commitment to sharing Keller’s story. 

“We talked a lot with AFB and figured out what they were looking for in a partner, and I think we were able to package an agreement that met those needs,” Hudson said.

That agreement includes building a new $300,000 facility to store some of Keller’s artifacts, and potentially erecting a new building to hold the rest of the items. APH officials said there is not a specific date set for when the full exhibit will be ready, but work on a feasibility study to explore new building options has already started. Hudson expects the study will finish by January, and said he could not imagine the new facility “not being right here at [APH].”

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