In 1873 Alexander Graham Bell was employed to teach George Sanders, a five year-old congenitally deaf boy. As part of his instruction of Sanders, Bell used the ‘talking glove’ found in the 1680 book, Didascalocophus, or the Deaf and Dumb Man’s Tutor, by George Dalgarno (1628-1687), with slight modification. The letters of the alphabet were written on a glove in specific places on the glove’s surface. A sighted person would then spell words by touching the appropriate letter on the glove.
Because of his success with this method of communication with George Sanders, Bell employed it when he met with Helen Keller in Washington in May of 1888. Keller, who was anxious to utilize any method that would allow her to communicate with others, was quite interested in this technology. On 15 May 1888, Anne Sullivan wrote to her former teacher at Perkins Institute for the Blind, Sophia Hopkins, to tell her that when the then-former Governor of Maine, Dr. Alonzo Garcelon, asked Keller what she would like to have as a present, Keller responded with “‘Some beautiful gloves to talk with.” Sullivan continues, writing that the “Doctor was puzzled. He had never heard of ‘talking-gloves’; but I explained that she had seen a glove on which the alphabet was printed, and evidently thought they could be bought. I told him he could buy some gloves if he wished, and that I would have the alphabet stamped on them” (Keller 261-62).
While she could understand the potential the glove presented as a method of communication, Sullivan was also concerned by the accessibility of communication she saw with the glove. Dorothy Herrmann quotes an undated letter from Sullivan to Michael Anagnos, the director of the Perkins School for the Blind, in Helen Keller: A Life. In this letter, Sullivan is reluctant to have Keller use the talking glove as she saw its potential to allow anyone the ability to communicate with Keller, giving Sullivan little control over what Keller was exposed to:
I cannot bring myself to the mental state, where I can feel contented to allow irresponsible and unreasoning persons to have easy access to my darling’s pure and loving little heart. I am sure that while I stay with her, she will never have occasion to feel the solitude of her life, and when I go, the glove, I doubt not, will add greatly to her enjoyment. But until then I am determined to keep my beautiful treasure pure and unspotted from the world. (quoted in Herrmann 71)
In the end, although Keller herself was, initially, enthusiastic about the glove, it became inconvenient, as she grew more skilled at fingerspelling. Keller expressed her thoughts and opinions so rapidly with fingerspelling that the glove became slow and awkward for her. Indeed, the talking glove, or alphabet glove as it is now commonly called, is still used today by deafblind individuals, but, according to the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland, it “is a cumbersome communication method, but it works well when no other system is available.”
As early as 1868, Bell had been involved in teaching deaf students how to speak through his father’s system called Visible Speech. However, rather than challenging Bell’s beliefs that the deaf could be integrated into American society through articulation, the alphabet glove was a part of his larger method of instruction intended to achieve this goal. Bell envisioned that the introduction to language through the alphabet glove and other tools would eventually lead to his students being able to lip-read and speak. While Keller did go on to realize Bell’s problematic oralist agenda and eventually learn to speak, Sanders was not able to master articulation. Sanders was, nevertheless, skilfully educated by Bell at least in part through the use of the alphabet glove. Bell’s success in instructing Sanders, who would go on to attend The National Deaf-Mute College in Washington, D.C. in 1882 and work as a printer, added to Bell’s growing reputation as an accomplished instructor to the deaf. Additionally, Thomas Sanders and Gardiner Greene Hubbard were so impressed with the alphabet glove and Bell’s success in educating George that they became major investors in Bell’s phone company. Building on the reputation that came from his use of tools such as the alphabet glove in his teaching and the proceeds from his invention of the telephone, Bell became one of the most influential figures in the oralist movement, a movement that sought to suppress sign language in favour of speaking and lip-reading and would have, and still has today, significant negative ramifications for deaf communities throughout the world.
 In a forced emotional scene in the 1939 The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, George Sanders is depicted as being able to eventually say “father” while his father, Thomas, weeps with happiness.