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Southie History: Charles Dickens and Helen Keller

Written by Anna White

Without Southie, the late great Patty Duke never wins an Oscar and the ACLU might not be a thing

In 1842, the most famous writer in the world came to Boston. Imagine if Harry Styles, Julian Edelman and Neil Degrasse Tyson were one person. Imagine how popular that person would be. That’s how famous Charles Dickens was when he came to Boston at the age of thirty. (Check out a portrait of Dickens here – just scroll down the page.) You might be shrugging to yourself now, “Eh Scrooge, Miss Havisham, best of times, worst of times etcetera. High School English would have been better without Mr. Dickens.” Just so you know, I’m shaking my head at you in judgement. Ahem, anyway, back in the day he was one of the most famous celebrities in the world.

And, of course, like the celebrities of today, he came to Southie. If you remember your History Lesson from a few months ago, the Perkins School for the Blind used to be located in our neighborhood. Charles Dickens spent a day in Southie, at the Perkins, which impressed him so much he wrote about in his travel book, “American Notes.”

The passage in “American Notes” about the Perkins and its students really resonated with Kate Adams Keller when she read it decades later. Kate was so moved that she wrote to the school requesting a tutor for her daughter, Helen. The Perkins School then sent Anne Sullivan to Alabama to work with her daughter, Helen, in 1887. Anne and Helen both came back to live and study in Southie at the Perkins for 5 years.

Without our neighborhood connecting people:
-Helen Keller was the co-founder of the ACLU. Without the education she received because of the Perkins, the ACLU might not exist, and
-The Miracle Worker wouldn’t go on to win two Oscars, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe in the early 1960s because it might also not exist. One of the Oscars went to the amazing Patty Duke for her portrayal of Helen Keller.

 

 

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