Out of all the politicians, authors, artists, movie stars, singers, and activists in the world, who do you most admire? Whose famous grave would you visit that would most give you a sense of awe? Perhaps you would like to visit Marilyn Monroe’s grave in Los Angeles. Maybe you would like to visit Beethoven’s plot in Vienna. Or perhaps you have always been fascinated by the life of Helen Keller, and you would love to visit her final resting place to honor the activist and author.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Helen Keller’s Life, Burial, and Grave
- What Was Helen Keller’s Funeral Like?
- Other Memorials or Buildings That Honor Helen Keller
Here is what you need to know about Helen Keller’s final days, death, and burial. We will also discuss other places you can visit across the country that honor Keller’s contributions to 20th century America.
Helen Keller’s Life, Burial, and Grave
As a toddler, Helen Keller suffered an illness that left her both blind and deaf. The family had a series of consultations, including one with Alexander Graham Bell, who advised them to seek advice from the Perkins Institute for the Blind. The Perkins Institute connected the Kellers with Anne Sullivan, a visually impaired woman who had graduated from the school.
Sullivan was sent to the Keller home in Alabama, to work with the young child. She first taught Keller to sign as a form of communication. Later, Keller learned Braille as well. Keller was the first blind and deaf person to earn a Bachelor’s degree.
Keller became famous not only for overcoming tremendous odds to receive a formal education, but she was recognized for her political activism as well. She was known for her work in both the blind and deaf communities, but she also campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, and antimilitarism.
Keller had an extraordinary career as an author and speaker. She spoke in 25 different countries and met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson.
Keller died in her sleep in 1968 at the age of 87. Sullivan had died years before in 1936 with Keller holding her hand.
Keller’s ashes are interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Her ashes were placed next to Sullivan’s.
To find the grave of Helen Keller, one first needs to visit the National Cathedral during their regular hours of operation. Under normal circumstances, the National Cathedral is open seven days a week.
Once there, find your way to the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea. A Cathedral crypt is just off that chapel. Look for a small, bronze plaque on the wall that shows Keller’s final resting place.
The plaque simply states: “Helen Keller and her lifelong companion Anne Sullivan Macy are interred in the columbarium behind this chapel.” Those same words are also written in Braille.
On a side-note, Sullivan married a Harvard instructor named John Albert Macy. The marriage fell apart, but the couple never divorced. This is why Anne Sullivan is buried with her friend and listed with Macy as her last name.
Although only Keller’s and Sullivan’s names are listed on the plaque, many reliable sources say that the remains of Polly Thomson are interred with the other two women’s ashes. Thomson was Keller’s companion later in life.
What Was Helen Keller’s Funeral Like?
Even though Keller died in 1968, she quit making public appearances in 1961 after she suffered a series of strokes. She was unable to attend the ceremony when President Johnson awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Keller’s funeral was held at the National Cathedral, and over 1,200 people were in attendance. Alabama Senator Lister Hill gave the eulogy. He said, “She will live on, one of the few, the immortal names not born to die. Her spirit will endure as long as man can read and stories can be told of the woman who showed the world there are no boundaries to courage and faith.”
Other Memorials or Buildings That Honor Helen Keller
Hill’s eulogy was correct. Keller’s spirit has endured and in fact, Keller still is the recipient of honors and memorials. Here are a few of the honors the activist has received.
U.S. Capitol Building
Visitors to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. only have to travel a short distance to visit the U.S. Capitol Building. Inside the Capitol is the National Statuary Hall Collection.
In this hall, each state is allowed to honor two individuals by placing two statues in the display. Keller’s birth state, Alabama, chose to give Keller this honor in 2009.
Perkins School for the Blind
Sullivan was a graduate of the Perkins School of the Blind, and Keller attended the school in her childhood as well.
The school honored both women by naming the home of the deafblind program the Keller-Sullivan Cottage. The school dedicated a memorial garden to the women as well.
Keller’s birthplace and childhood home has been named a National Historic Landmark. The house, called Ivy Green, is located in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
National Women’s Hall of Fame
Keller was honored with an induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1973.
White House Walk
Keller’s image was depicted on the Point of Light Volunteer Pathway in Washington, D.C. Keller’s own words are inscribed on the path: “A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human being and encouraged to shape his own life.”
Alabama State Quarter
Keller’s image was chosen to be placed on the Alabama state quarter. This quarter is the only one that has words written in Braille.
U.S. Postage Stamp
The U.S. Post Office unveiled a stamp featuring an image of both Keller and Sullivan. The stamp was issued in 1980 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Keller’s birth.
Streets have been named for Keller all over the world. Some of the international locations include Switzerland, Portugal, Israel, France, and Spain.
Several schools and hospitals across the country have been named in honor of Keller.
Visiting Other Famous Graves
As you visit the National Cathedral, you may also stop to pay your respects to President Woodrow Wilson, Admiral George Dewey, Bishop Satterlee, and the architects Henry Vaughan and Philip Frohman. These individuals are also interred at the National Cathedral.
Of course, you may consider visiting some of our country’s national cemeteries as well. By visiting Arlington National Cemetery, you could see John F. Kennedy’s and Robert Kennedy’s final resting places.
Visiting the graves of famous people is a way to acknowledge and honor the contributions individuals have made to our society. As you visit the graves, remember that other visitors may be mourning their deceased family members and to pay your respects in a respectful fashion.
- “Chronology of Helen Keller’s Life.” American Foundation for the Blind. www.afb.org/about-afb/history/helen-keller/biography-and-chronology/chronology
- “Helen Keller.” National Parks Service. www.nps.gov/people/helen-keller.htm
- “Helen Keller.” Washington National Cathedral. cathedral.org/what-to-see/interior/helen-keller-2/
- McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. “Campus Place Names.” Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. www.perkins.org/history/places/buildings#westside