Remembering today the unveiling of the statue of Helen Keller in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol in October, 2009, and still in awe of the experience.
First the blind children present, then the adults came forward to “see” the statue with their fingers. Reverence played on their faces, followed by tears of joy, and I was very moved. And proud to have served on the committee in Alabama. It wasn’t easy.
Each state is allotted two statues in Statuary Hall, and most made their selections about a hundred years ago, meaning most are long-forgotten men. Alabama wanted to update their representative and chose Helen Keller as the subject.
Helen Keller lost her sight, hearing, and speech as an infant, yet she became a world-reknowned educator, humanitarian, and advocate for the handicapped, women, and children. She met with world leaders, wrote many books, co-founded the ACLU, and influenced legislation and policy in many countries.
The statue the committee chose shows Helen as a child standing at the pump behind her house in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The pump represents her breakthrough, the moment she realized that the water she felt on her hand from the pump corresponded to the word “water,” which opened the world to her.
Problem was, the architect of the US Capitol has authority over everything about the statues. While there were eight women honored already, our Helen would be the first child. And she was standing at a pump, not in a traditional formal pose. Both were departures from all precedent and tradition, and the Alabama delegation wrangled with the architect for almost two years before he conceded and approved the statue.
Almost another two years to sculpt and cast the statue, so that the unveiling was a long time coming. The smiles on the faces of the deaf and blind who lined up to touch the statue made every minute worth the effort. My thanks go to Helen Keller Johnson, niece of Helen Keller, and then governor Bob Riley and Mrs. Riley for taking the lead.
My grandchildren visited the statue today on a spring break trip to Washington, which brought back memories for me.