Helen Almy Brownell

Helen Almy Brownell

1921 – 1967

Family Histories and Archival Materials from Fred Bridge

Exhibit Text from 2020 Special Exhibition

Helen Almy Brownell as a child on the Brownell Farm, West Main Road and Meeting House Lane. Courtesy of her nephew Fred Bridge.

Family Histories and Archival Materials from Fred Bridge

Helen Brownell was the last of seven children born to Lydora Sisson Brownell and her husband Frederick. Today local people would remember Helen best as the sister of Frederick, Hope, Carlton, Louise and Josephine Brownell.  (Brother Winthrop died at age 6.)

Helen’s birth was difficult. As time passed, her parents realized she was developing differently from their other children. Eventually she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Helen never walked, but she could communicate, especially with the people who loved and cared for her most, including her sister Louise and her nursing home caregiver, Connie (Last name unknown).

Helen’s parents chose to keep Helen at home at a time when institutionalizing children with special needs was more common than it is today. Helen’s mother made a special effort to include Helen in everyday family activities. The letter below from Caroline Burchard, who grew up across the street from the Brownells in Old Acre, reflects that. Lois Almy also remembered Helen at Brownell family birthday parties right up at the table with all the other children in her special highchair.[i]

There were other Little Compton children of a similar age to Helen with similar disabilities, and according to family stories, the Brownells felt that an incompetent doctor was to blame for these birth injuries.

In her later years Helen lived in a care facility. A set of letters from her caregiver, Connie, and her sister Louise, capture Helen’s unique personality. We encourage you to read them below. Helen died at the age of 46 and was remembered fondly by a number of people in the Little Compton community.

Women, in general, are often infrequently represented in their community histories. This is especially true for women with disabilities. Helen Brownell’s history and this small archive of materials documenting her life is an important addition to Little Compton’s history.

Please view the archival materials that preserve Helen’s history and even her personality more than 50 years after her death.

Based on family histories and archival materials shared by Helen’s nephew, Fred Bridge, Spring 2020.

Outdoor exhibit panel from the 2020 special exhibition, The Little Compton Women’s History Project.

Exhibit Text from 2020 Special Exhibition

Helen Brownell was the last of seven children born to Lydora and Frederick Brownell. Helen’s birth was difficult. As time passed, her parents realized she was developing differently from their other children. Eventually she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Helen never walked, but she could communicate, especially with the people who loved and cared for her most. Helen’s parents chose to keep her at home at a time when institutionalizing children with special needs was more common than it is today. Helen’s mother made an extra effort to include Helen in everyday family activities. Neighborhood children remembered Helen at birthday parties right up at the table in her specially designed chair.

There were other Little Compton children of a similar age to Helen with similar disabilities, and according to family stories, the Brownells felt that an incompetent doctor was to blame for these birth injuries. In her later years Helen lived in a care facility. A collection of letters written by her caregiver Connie, her sister Louise, and Little Compton neighbors, capture Helen’s unique personality and are now archived at the Historical Society.


[i] Oral history interview with Lois Almy, 2008. LCHS Collection.

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