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What Is Ivy Green?

By C. Mitchell
Updated: May 17, 2024

Ivy Green is a historic home in the U.S. state of Alabama that is famed as the childhood residence of Helen Keller, a deaf-blind American who gained great notoriety for her breakthroughs in communication and advocacy for the disabled. The estate has largely been preserved to look as it would have during Keller’s childhood in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It operates today as a museum that is open to the public and holds a place on the United States’ list of National Historic Landmarks.

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the estate in terms of its land or architecture. Far more significant is what happened there and what the home represents. In terms of construction, the house is of average size, and was made in traditional clapboard style. There are four rooms on the ground floor, each with a fireplace, and three more on a modest, loft-style second level.

Just outside of the main house is what is known as “the cottage,” a small annex originally used as a library, but believed to be the site of Keller’s birth. Later in her childhood, Keller came to use the cottage as a playroom and site for lessons. Ivy Green curators have configured this space to resemble the classroom in which Keller and her assistant and companion, Anne Sullivan, spent most of their days.

The U.S. National Register of Historic Places added Ivy Green to its ranks in 1954, while Keller was still alive. She left Alabama during her adolescence in order to pursue higher education and, ultimately, travel the world advocating for issues important to the deaf-blind community. The house and its grounds are significant primarily because it was here that the young Keller learned to communicate, found her strength, and won her independence.

Ivy Green is operated as a museum and is open for tours on most days. In addition to preserved rooms, restored furniture, and time period-appropriate details, the house also has a number of exhibits. It is widely regarded as one of the first American museums to deal directly with disability, particularly deafness and blindness.

Some of the museum’s exhibits are on the specifics of Keller’s life, especially her struggles to learn words and communicate thoughts. Visitors can see Keller’s Braille books and Braille typewriter, for instance, as well as and examples of her early penmanship practice. The museum also features permanent exhibitions connected to advancements in deaf-blind education and outreach more generally. Visiting museums like Ivy Green allows people to feel immersed in history while learning about modern advancements.

Each summer, the estate hosts a Helen Keller festival, which usually takes place on a weekend close to Keller’s birthday of June 27. The house is open for regular tours during this festival, but the grounds also come to life with displays, reenactments, and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages. Musicians and artists also host regular performances as a part of the festival’s mission to celebrate the senses.

Ivy Green is also home to a number of kid-friendly exhibits, programming, and shows, even outside of festival time. The American Foundation for the Blind sponsors the Helen Keller Kids Museum Online, a web-based interactive guide to both Ivy Green and the life and times of Helen Keller. Museums and kids go particularly well with this resource, as children can arrive at the estate with some idea of what to expect, as well as a list of things to look out for.

Children in the Tuscumbia, Alabama area can also participate in the “Keller Kids” organization that is sponsored in part by the estate. This program is designed for 5th and 6th grade students, and teaches about the struggles associated with sight and hearing disabilities. Participants are exposed to basic sign language and Braille, and often have the opportunity for community outreach to the blind and deaf in the area.

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Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Sep 23, 2014

Is "The Miracle Worker" still performed at Ivy Green every summer? I know it used to be. I had a friend who played one of the Keller children. But that was years ago.

I know Ivy Green used to be a regular field trip for most third grade classes in north Alabama. There are actually a good many things to see in that area. When we went when I was in third grade, we saw Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, and then Pope's Tavern, the Indian Mound Museum and the W.C. Handy Home and Museum, all in Florence. Those towns are all very close together.

But I'm with you, Pippinwhite. I can't believe the article didn't mention the water pump. That's what everybody wants to see.

By Pippinwhite — On Sep 23, 2014

I've been to Ivy Green, and I can't believe the article didn't mention a word about the water pump! The original pump where Keller learned the word "water," which opened the door to her learning to communicate, is still on the property, behind the house. That's one of the main highlights of Keller's story!

No, the house is a modest home, but is kept well-maintained and relies on donations from admission to the home and outside donors.

Many of the items in the home belonged to Helen, or to the Keller family. It's worth seeing if you happen to be in the area.

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