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Photo of Helen Keller’s 1937 visit to Gifu school discovered

Chunichi Shimbun

A photo taken during a visit by Helen Keller, a noted humanitarian who overcame being deaf and blind, to Gifu Prefectural School for the Blind in 1937 has been discovered at a late student’s house and was donated to the school.

School officials were delighted at the discovery since many of the school’s photos and documents of the time had been destroyed in the July 1945 air raids.

“It is a precious photo and we would like to carry on the message of what Helen Keller tried to convey her entire life,” said Toru Hayashi, 58, the school principal.

The photo, which shows Keller wearing a hat and smiling while surrounded by students and teachers, was taken in a hall at the school, the fifth for the blind nationwide, during Keller’s visit on June 8, 1937.

Kanemitsu Takahashi, who graduated from the school and eventually became head of the Gifu welfare association for the blind, had kept the photo at his house. Takahashi passed away at the age of 80 in 2011 and his family donated the photo to the school last November.

During her first Japan visit, which lasted three months, Keller, who was 56 at the time, visited schools for the blind and deaf in cities including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Shizuoka, where she strongly advocated the need for education for the disabled.

When she was in Gifu, she experienced cormorant fishing, a traditional fishing method in which trained cormorants are used to fish in rivers.

Keller returned to Japan after World War II in 1948 and 1955, and the speeches she gave during her visits were believed to have helped lead to the enactment of a law to promote the welfare of the physically disabled.

Her visit to Gifu Prefectural School for the Blind was reported in a newsletter for the graduates in braille, and in a written document stored at the school.

The article said Keller had received a warm applause from a large audience.

When one of the people who accompanied her asked if she could hear the sound of the applause, she replied that she could tell from their breathing and through the vibration of the floor.

Before taking the photo, Keller told the students they should study hard and noted they were blessed to have the opportunity to study in such a distinguished school.

The photo was reused in a newsletter published in 1994 to commemorate the school’s 100th anniversary. While its existence was not a secret, the whereabouts of the original had been unknown.

The school plans to put the photo on display for students during school events.

According to the Tokyo Helen Keller Association website, Helen Keller (1880-1968), who was born in the U.S. state of Alabama, fell ill with a high fever when she was 19 months old, leaving her blind and deaf.

Under the tutelage of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Keller eventually graduated from Radcliffe College, which was later merged with Harvard University. She traveled the world, advocating for the welfare and education of people with disabilities and delving into political and social issues.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Jan. 6.