Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on 27th June, 1880. Her father, Arthur H. Keller, was the editor for the North Alabamian, and had fought in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. At 19 months she suffered "an acute congestion of the stomach and brain (probably scarlet fever) which left her deaf and blind.
She later wrote in The Story of My Life: "In the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new born baby. They called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain. The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning, however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again." As a child she was taken to see Alexander G. Bell. He suggested that the family should contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston.
In 1886 the Perkins Institute provided Keller with the teacher Anne Sullivan. She later recalled: "We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten - a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away." The 21 year old Sullivan worked out an alphabet by which she spelled out words on Helen's hand. Gradually Keller was able to connect words with objects.
Sullivan's teaching skills and Keller's abilities, enabled her at the age of 16 to pass the admissions examinations for Radcliffe College. While at college she wrote the first volume of her autobiography, The Story of My Life. It was published serially in the Ladies' Home Journal and, in 1902, as a book. By the time she had graduated in 1904 she had mastered five languages.
While at college she developed a strong interest in women's rights and became a militant campaigner in favour of universal suffrage. She also became friends with several notable public figures including John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes and William Dean Howells. The journalist, Max Eastman, became a friend during this period. He later recalled: "The gleam of true, courageous and unaffected joy in living that shone out of her gray-blue eyes. Her face was round; she was a round-limbed girl, perpetually young in her bearing, as though her limitations had made it easy instead of hard to grow older."
Keller's political views were influenced by conversations she had with John Macy (Anne Sullivan's husband) and reading New Worlds for Old by H. G. Wells. In 1909 Keller became a socialist and was active in various campaigns including those in favour of birth control, trade unionism and against child labour and capital punishment.
Keller was a supporter of Emmeline Pankhurst and the militant Women's Social and Political Union in Britain. She told the New York Times: "I believe the women of England are doing right. Mrs Pankhurst is a great leader. The women of America should follow her example. They would get the ballot much faster if they did. They cannot hope to get anything unless they are willing to fight and suffer for it.
In 1912 Keller was interviewed by Ernest Gruening, a young journalist working for the Boston American. He later wrote about it in his autobiography, Many Battles (1973): "She had never before been interviewed for publication, so I communicated with her teacher-companion, Anne Sullivan Macy, and on securing assent went to their home in Wrentham... Helen Keller who, besides being deaf since infancy, was also blind. Miss Keller's voice was high-pitched with a peculiar metallic ring, but her speech was remarkably clear.... Miss Keller came out of the porch to greet me and, asking me to sit beside her, told me to put the fore and middle fingers on her right hand on my lips. By that means she could understand everything I said. She spoke with enthusiasm of her aspirations to help others who were deaf and blind, and revealed that she was a socialist, repeatedly referring to socialism as the cure for the nation's ills."
Keller joined the Socialist Party of America and campaigned for Eugene Debs and his running-mate, Emil Seidel, in the 1912 Presidential Election. During the campaign Debs explained why people should vote for him: "You must either vote for or against your own material interests as a wealth producer; there is no political purgatory in this nation of ours, despite the desperate efforts of so-called Progressive capitalists politicians to establish one. Socialism alone represents the material heaven of plenty for those who toil and the Socialist Party alone offers the political means for attaining that heaven of economic plenty which the toil of the workers of the world provides in unceasing and measureless flow. Capitalism represents the material hell of want and pinching poverty of degradation and prostitution for those who toil and in which you now exist, and each and every political party, other than the Socialist Party, stands for the perpetuation of the economic hell of capitalism." Debs and Seidel won 901,551 votes (6.0%). This was the most impressive showing of any socialist candidate in the history of the United States.
A book on Keller's socialist views, Out of the Dark, was published in 1913. She later wrote "I had once believed that we are all masters of our fate - that we could mould our lives into any form we pleased. I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life's struggle. But as I went more and more about the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. I forgot that I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment. Now, however, I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone." Hattie Schlossberg wrote in the New York Call: "Helen Keller is our comrade, and her socialism is a living vital thing for her. All her speeches are permeated with the spirit of socialism."
In 1912 Keller joined the theIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW). A socialist trade union group that opposed the policies of American Federation of Labour. Keller wrote later: "Surely the demands of the IWW are just. It is right that the creators of wealth should own what they create. When shall we learn that we are related one to the other; that we are members of one body; that injury to one is injury to all? Until the spirit of love for our fellow-workers, regardless of race, color, creed or sex, shall fill the world, until the great mass of the people shall be filled with a sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice cannot be attained, and there can never be lasting peace upon earth."
Keller also wrote articles for the socialist journal, The Masses. Keller, a pacifist, believed that the First World War had been caused by the imperialist competitive system and that the USA should remain neutral. After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, the journal came under government pressure to change its policy. When it refused to do this, the journal lost its mailing privileges. In July, 1917, it was claimed by the authorities that cartoons by Art Young, Boardman Robinson and Henry J. Glintenkamp and articles by Max Eastman and Floyd Dell had violated the Espionage Act. Under this act it was an offence to publish material that undermined the war effort. One of the journals main writers, Randolph Bourne, commented: "I feel very much secluded from the world, very much out of touch with my times. The magazines I write for die violent deaths, and all my thoughts are unprintable."
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TheIndustrial Workers of the World also came under pressure for its opposition to the First World War. In 1914, one of the leaders of the IWW, Joe Haaglund Hill was accused of the murder of a Salt Lake City businessman. Convicted on circumstantial evidence and despite of mass protests, Hill was shot by a firing squad on 19th November, 1915. Whereas another IWW leader, Frank Little, was lynched in Butte, Montana. Another leader of the IWW, William Haywood, was arrested under the Espionage Act.
In an article published in The Liberator, Keller argued: "During the last few months, in Washington State, at Pasco and throughout the Yakima Valley, many IWW members have been arrested without warrants, thrown into bull-pens without access to attorney, denied bail and trial by jury, and some of them shot. Did any of the leading newspapers denounce these acts as unlawful, cruel, undemocratic? No. On the contrary, most of them indirectly praised the perpetrators of these crimes for their patriotic service! On August 1st, of 1917, in Butte, Montana, a cripple, Frank Little, a member of the Executive Board of the IWW, was forced out of bed at three o’clock in the morning by masked citizens, dragged behind an automobile and hanged on a railroad trestle. Were the offenders punished? No. A high government official has publicly condoned this murder, thereby upholding lynch-law and mob rule."
Newspapers that had previously praised Keller's courage and intelligence now drew attentions to her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote that her "mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development." Keller was furious and wrote a letter of complaint to the newspaper. "At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error.... Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent."
In 1919 Keller appeared in an autobiographical film, Deliverance, in an attempt to spread "a message of courage, a message of a brighter, happier future for all men". Keller as a young girl was played by Etna Ross and as a young woman by Ann Mason. According to one critic: "In the final and most inspirational sequence, we see the real Helen Keller working tirelessly as a public figure to improve conditions for other blind people, and helping them to learn useful trades."
When Helen Keller decided after 1921 that her main work was to be devoted to raising funds for the American Foundation of the Blind, her activities for the socialist movement diminished but did not cease. Philip S. Foner has argued: "No matter what social cause she espoused, Keller was always on the radical side of the movement." As a left-wing socialist she disliked "parlor socialists" who quickly abandoned the struggle when the situation became difficult and later became "hopelessly reactionary."
In 1929 she published her book Mainstream. It included the following: "I had once believed that we are all masters of our fate - that we could mould our lives into any form we pleased ... I forgot that I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment ... Now, however, I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone."
Keller's childhood education was depicted in The Miracle Worker, a play by William Gibson, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. An Oscar-winning feature film in 1962, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, appeared two years later.
Helen Keller died in Westport, Connecticut, on 1st June, 1968.
In the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new born baby. There was great rejoicing in the family that morning, but no one not even the doctor, knew that I should never see or hear again.
I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my waking hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall, away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But, except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal
like a nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came - my teacher - who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, "the day is ours, and what the day has shown."
We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.
I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher were among them - words that were to make the world blossom for me, "like Aaron's rod, with flowers." It would have been difficult to find a happier child than r was as I lay in my crib at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.
The gleam of true, courageous and unaffected joy in living that shone out of her gray-blue eyes. Her face was round; she was a round-limbed girl, perpetually young in her bearing, as though her limitations had made it easy instead of hard to grow older.
The more I study Mr. Warren's case in the light of the United States constitution, which I have under my fingers, the more I am persuaded either that I do not understand, or that the judges do not. To what twistings, turnings and dark interpretation must the judges of the circuit court be driven in order to send Mr. warren to prison! As I understand it, a federal law defining the kind of matter which it is a crime to mail has been stretched to cover his act. What was the act? The offer of a reward was printed on the outside of envelopes mailed from Girard by Mr. Warren. This was construed as threatening because it was an encouragement to others to kidnap a man under indictment.
Several years ago three officers of the Western Federation of Miners were indicted for a murder committed in Idaho. They were in Colorado, and the governor of that state did not extradite them. They were kidnapped and brought to an Idaho prison. They applied to the supreme court for a writ of habeas corpus, on the ground that they were illegally held because they had been illegally captured. The supreme court replied: "Even if it be true that the arrest and deportation of Pettibone, Moyer and Hayward from Colorado was by fraud and connivance to which the governor of Colorado was a party, this does not make out a case of violation of the rights of the appellants under the constitution and the laws of the United States."
One need not be a Socialist to realize the significance, the gravity, not of Mr. Warren's offense, but of the offense of the judges against the constitution, and against democratic rights. It is provided that "congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." Surely this means that we are free to print and mail any innocent matter. What Mr. Warren printed and mailed had been established by the supreme court as innocent. What beam was in the eye of the honorable judges of the supreme court? Or what mote was in the eye of the justices of the circuit courts?
It has been my duty, my life-work to study physical blindness, its causes and its prevention. I learn that our physicians are making great progress in the cure and the prevention of blindness. What surgery of politics, what antiseptic of common sense and right thinking, shall be applied to cure the blindness of the people, who are the court of last resort?
Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats, We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
You ask for votes for women. What good can votes do when ten-elevenths of the land of Great Britain belongs to 200,000 and only one-eleventh to the rest of the 40,000,000? Have your men with their millions of votes freed themselves from this injustice?
No one has ever given me a good reason why we should obey unjust laws. When a government depends for "law and order" upon the militia and the police, its mission in the world is nearly finished. We believe, at least we hope, that our capitalist government is near its end. We wish to hasten its end. I am sure this book will go on its way thrilling to new courage those who fight for freedom. It will move some to think and keep them glad that they have thought.
Down through the long, weary years the will of the ruling class has been to suppress either the man or his message when they antagonized its interests. From the execution of the propagandist and the burning of books, down through the various degrees of censorship and expurgation to the highly civilized legal indictment and winking at mob crime by constituted authorities, the cry has ever been “crucify him!” The ideas and activities of minorities are misunderstood and misrepresented. It is easier to condemn than to investigate. It takes courage to steer one’s course through a storm of abuse and ignominy. But I believe that discussion of even the most bitterly controverted matters is demanded by our love of justice, by our sense of fairness and an honest desire to understand the problems that are rending society. Let us review the facts relating to the situation of the IWWs since the United States of America entered the war with the declared purpose to conserve the liberties of the free peoples of the world.
During the last few months, in Washington State, at Pasco and throughout the Yakima Valley, many “IWW” members have been arrested without warrants, thrown into “bull-pens” without access to attorney, denied bail and trial by jury, and some of them shot. On the contrary, most of them indirectly praised the perpetrators of these crimes for their patriotic service!
On August 1st, of 1917, in Butte, Montana, a cripple, Frank Little, a member of the Executive Board of the IWW, was forced out of bed at three o’clock in the morning by masked citizens, dragged behind an automobile and hanged on a railroad trestle. A high government official has publicly condoned this murder, thereby upholding lynch-law and mob rule.
On the 12th of last July , 1200 miners were deported from Bisbee, Arizona, without legal process. Among them were many who were not IWWs or even in sympathy with them. They were all packed into freight cars like cattle and flung upon the desert of New Mexico, where they would have died of thirst and hunger if an outraged society had not protested. President Wilson telegraphed the Governor of Arizona that it was a bad thing to do, and a commission was sent to investigate. But nothing has been done. No measures have been taken to return the miners to their homes and families.
Last September the 5th, an army of officials raided every hall and office of the IWW from Maine to California. They rounded up 166 IWW officers, members and sympathizers, and now they are in jail in Chicago, awaiting trial on the general charge of conspiracy.
In a short time these men will be tried in a Chicago court. The newspapers will be full of stupid, if not malicious comments on their trial. Let us keep an open mind. Let us try to preserve the integrity of our judgment against the misrepresentation, ignorance and cowardice of the day. Let us refuse to yield to conventional lies and censure. Let us keep our hearts tender towards those who are struggling mightily against the greatest evils of the age. Who is truly indicted, they or the social system that has produced them? A society that permits the conditions out of which the IWWs have sprung, stands self-condemned.
The IWW is pitted against the whole profit-making system. It insists that there can be no compromise so long as the majority of the working class live in want, while the master class lives in luxury. According to its statement, “there can be no peace until the workers organize as a class, take possession of the resources of the earth and the machinery of production and distribution, and abolish the wage-system.” In other words, the workers in their collectivity must own and operate all the essential industrial institutions and secure to each laborer the full value of his produce. I think it is for this declaration of democratic purpose, and not for any wish to betray their country, that the IWW members are being persecuted, beaten, imprisoned and murdered.
Surely the demands of the IWW are just. When shall we learn that we are related one to the other; that we are members of one body; that injury to one is injury to all? Until the spirit of love for our fellow-workers, regardless of race, color, creed or sex, shall fill the world, until the great mass of the people shall be filled with a sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice cannot be attained, and there can never be lasting peace upon earth.
I know those men are hungry for more life, more opportunity. They are tired of the hollow mockery of mere existence in a world of plenty. I am glad of every effort that the working men make to organize. I realize that all things will never be better until they are organized, until they stand all together like one man. That is my one hope of world democracy. Despite their errors, their blunders and the ignominy heaped upon them, I sympathize with the IWWs. Their cause is my cause. While they are threatened and imprisoned, I am manacled. If they are denied a living wage, I, too, am defrauded. While they are industrial slaves, I cannot be free. My hunger is not satisfied while they are unfed. I cannot enjoy the good things of life that come to me while they are hindered and neglected.
The mighty mass-movement of which they are a part is discernible all over the world. Under the fire of the great guns, the workers of all lands, becoming conscious of their class, are preparing to take possession of their own.
That long struggle in which they have successively won freedom of body from slavery and serfdom, freedom of mind from ecclesiastical despotism, and more recently a voice in government, has arrived at a new stage. The workers are still far from being in possession of themselves or their labor. They do not own and control the tools and materials which they must use in order to live, nor do they receive anything like the full value of what they produce. Workingmen everywhere are becoming aware that they are being exploited for the benefit of others, and that they cannot be truly free unless they own themselves and their labor. The achievement of such economic freedom stands in prospect - and at no distant date- as the revolutionary climax of the age.
I had once believed that we are all masters of our fate - that we could mould our lives into any form we pleased ... Now, however, I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone.
In 1909 she (Helen Keller) joined the Socialist party in Massachusetts. For many years she was an active member, writing incisive articles in defense of Socialism, lecturing for the party, supporting trade unions and strikes and opposing American entry into World War I. She was among those Socialists who welcomed the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917.
Although Miss Keller's Socialist activities diminished after 1921, when she decided that her chief life work was to raise funds for the American Foundation for the Blind, she was always responsive to Socialist and Communist appeals for help in causes involving oppression or exploitation of labor. As late as 1957 she sent a warm greeting to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the Communist leader, then in jail on charges of violating the Smith Act.
Co-Founding the ACLU, Fighting for Labor Rights and Other Helen Keller Accomplishments Students Don't Learn in School
W hile the world marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3, the history of people with disabilities is still not fully taught in schools. In the U.S., if American schoolchildren learn about any person with disabilities, they learn that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once had polio and used a wheelchair in office, and they learn about Deafblind activist Helen Keller.
Most students learn that Keller, born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Ala., was left deaf and blind after contracting a high fever at 19 months, and that her teacher Anne Sullivan taught her braille, lip-reading, finger spelling and eventually, how to speak. Students may watch the Oscar-winning 1962 movie The Miracle Worker, which depicts these milestones as miraculous. Keller has become a worldwide symbol for children to overcome any obstacle. At the U.S. Capitol, there is even a bronze statue of 7-year-old Keller at a water pump, inspired by the movie’s depiction of a real milestone in Keller’s life in which she recognizes water coming out of the pump after Sullivan spells the word “water” into the youngster’s hand. However, there is still a great deal about her life and her accomplishments that many people don’t know.
What scholars of disability point out is that when students learn about Helen Keller, they often learn about her efforts to communicate as a child, and not about the work she did as an adult. This limited instruction has implications for how students perceive people with disabilities.
If students learn about any of Keller’s accomplishments as an adult, they learn that she became the first Deafblind graduate of Radcliffe College (now Harvard University) in 1904, and worked for American Foundation for the Blind from the mid-1920s until her death in 1968, advocating for schools for the blind and braille reading materials.
But they don’t learn that she co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 that she was an early supporter of the NAACP, and an opponent of lynchings that she was an early proponent of birth control.
Sascha Cohen, who teaches American Studies at Brandeis University, and wrote the 2015 TIME article “Helen Keller’s Forgotten Radicalism”, argues that Keller’s involvement in workers’ rights can help students understand the roots of the workers’ rights and inequality issues that persist today: “The Progressive Era when she was sort of working politically in different organizations was a period of rapid industrialization and so there were these new conditions in which workers were subjected to this sort of heightened inequality and even danger and risk physically. So she pointed out that a lot of times people went blind from accidents on the shop floor. She saw this real kind of imbalance in power between the workers…and the sort of what we would call the 1% or the very few owners and managers at the top who were exploiting the workers.”
Some of the reason schools don’t teach much about Keller’s adult life is because she was involved in groups that have been perceived as too radical throughout American history. She was a member of the Socialist Party, and corresponded with Eugene Debs, the party’s most prominent member and a five-time presidential candidate. She also read Marx, and her associations with all of these far-left groups landed her on the radar of the FBI, which monitored her for ties to the Communist Party.
However, to some Black disability rights activists, like Anita Cameron, Helen Keller is not radical at all, “just another, despite disabilities, privileged white person,” and yet another example of history telling the story of privileged white Americans. Critics of Helen Keller cite her writings that reflected the popularity of now-dated eugenics theories and her friendship with one of the movement’s supporters Alexander Graham Bell. The American Foundation for the Blind archivist Helen Selsdon says Keller “moved away from that position.”
People with disabilities and activists are pushing for more education on important contributions to U.S. history by people of disabilities, such as the Capitol Crawl. On Mar. 12, 1990, Cameron and dozens of disabled people climbed up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to urge the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was considered a moment that raised awareness and helped get the law passed four months later, but one rarely included in public school education.
Thirty years later, one in four Americans have a disability. At least three other states have made efforts to incorporate disability history into school curricula. It’s the law in California and New Jersey to teach the contributions of people with disabilities, and Massachusetts guidelines urge state educators to do the same.
In Sep. 2018, the Texas Board of Education approved a draft of changes to state social studies standards, which included the removal of some historical figures, such as Helen Keller. Shortly after the board opened the draft for public comment, Haben Girma, a Black disability rights lawyer and the first Deafblind Harvard Law School graduate, was one of many who spoke out on the importance of teaching Helen Keller. Girma argued that if Keller’s life is not taught, students might not learn about any history-makers with disabilities. Two months later, the Texas Board of Education approved a revised draft with Keller’s name back in the standards.
Girma agrees that more should be done to teach the full life and career of Helen Keller, and encourages students to read more of her writings to learn more about who she was as an adult. Keller wrote 14 books and more than 475 speeches and essays.
“Since society only portrays Helen Keller as a little girl, a lot of people subconsciously learn to infantilize disabled adults. And I&rsquove been treated like a child. Many disabled adults have been treated like children,” Girma says. “That makes it difficult to get a job, to be treated with respect, to get good quality education and healthcare as an adult.”
Or just look back at what Keller herself articulated in her 1926 memoir My Key of Life about the impact of inclusive education: “The highest result of education is tolerance.”
Out of the Darkness and Silence
Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Arthur Keller and Kate Adams Keller. Her first nineteen months were unremarkable, until she contracted a brief unidentifiable illness, characterized by a high fever that left her deaf and blind, and with only snippet memories of the broad fields, wide sky, and tall trees of Tuscumbia. Physicians declared the Kellers’ daughter a hopeless case, suggesting that she be permanently institutionalized, but the devoted parents kept searching for ways to lift her from dark silence. They discovered the Perkins Institute, a training school for the blind in Boston, and inquired about a teacher for Helen. After some discussion, the headmaster sent Anne Sullivan to Tuscumbia, where she was met with an out-of-control, frustrated, and depressed six-year-old child—yet one with a hidden radiance and an eagerness which Sullivan was anxious to tap.
The outstanding results of the relationship between student and teacher were made famous by the 1962 film The Miracle Worker, which profiled Sullivan’s ability to connect with Keller and eventually provide her with the tools to learn and communicate by finger spelling words in the palm of her hand.  Keller’s quick mastery of that method launched her to organized classroom study at the Perkins Institute, where she learned to read Braille and to communicate more freely via the manual alphabet. Her vocal speaking practice was begun at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston. Although her speech would never be perfectly clear (something she regretted all her life), by the age of ten, she could at least make herself heard, and excitedly reported to Sullivan, “I am not dumb now.” 
3. Helen became the ‘socialist Joan of arc’
Helen figured two things:
– things couldn’t get better for disabled people until workers actually started getting treated like people
– Nobody wanted to treat workers like people
So, when she was in her late twenties, Helen joined The American Socialist Party.
She threw herself into socialism and within months she was BFFs with the movements leaders, and was travelling the country giving lectures on socialism.
If Helen couldn’t fix the system, she wanted to use socialism to smash it and start a new one!
Her intense stance and use of religion in her speeches soon lead to Joan of Arc comparisons Helen bloody loved this, even saying:
‘ I too, hear the voices that say ‘come,’ and I will follow no matter what the cost, no matter what the trials I am placed under. Jail, poverty, calumny—they matter not. Truly He has said, ‘Woe unto you that permit the least of mine to suffer’
Ok bit intense… but you do you Helen
Helen Keller - History
A brief timeline of Helen Keller's life and work.
In February, Keller contracts scarlet fever or meningitis and becomes deaf and blind at the age of 19 months.
Keller and her parents meet Alexander Graham Bell in July for guidance about how to communicate with and educate Helen.
In January, Helen Keller's father, Captain Arthur Keller, writes a letter to Perkins Director Michael Anagnos about employing a teacher for his daugther. Read the letter.
On March 3, Anne Sullivan, a graduate of Perkins School for the Blind who is visually impaired, arrives in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to begin teaching Keller.
On April 5, Keller feels water from a water pump as Sullivan fingerspells "W-A-T-E-R" into her hand and realizes that objects have names. Sullivan wrote, "A new light came into her face. Within hours she had learned thirty new vocabulary words."
In September, Sullivan brings Keller to Perkins to further her education and to meet other children who are blind and deafblind.
Keller writes "Frost King," a short story, as a gift to Director Michael Anagnos for his birthday. The short story is published in The Mentor resulting in controversy.
Keller attends the Wright-Humason School in New York City.
Meets Mark Twain for the first time they remain friends for the rest of Twain's life.
Keller enters the Camrbidge School for Young Ladies under the tutelage of Arthur Gilman. View the Helen Keller and Arthur Gilman Collection from the Perkins Archives.
Keller's father, Captain Arthur Keller dies.
Keller begins her studies at Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard University) in September. Read a blog post about Keller's college entrance exams.
The Story of My Life, Keller's autobiography and her first book, is published. Read or listen to the book online.
Graduates cum laude from Radcliffe, becoming the first person who is deafblind to earn a college degree.
Keller purchases a home in Wrentham, Massachusetts.
On May 3, Anne Sullivan marries John Macy, who joins the Wrentham household. (They separate in 1914.)
Keller is appointed to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.
Keller's book, The World I Live In, is published. Read or listen to the book online.
Polly Thomson joins the household as a secretary, beginning her 46 years of service to Keller. Read a blog post about Polly Thomson.
Co-founds American Foundation for Overseas Blind to support World War I veterans who were blinded in the war. (Later becomes Helen Keller International.)
Keller falls in love with and plans to elope with Peter Fagan, but her family objects and prevents the marriage.
Keller, Sullivan, and Thomson move the household to Forest Hills, located on Long Island in New York.
Braille is established as the single writing system in the United States for people who were blind, due in part to the advocacy of Helen Keller.
Stars in the silent film, Deliverance, about her life. Watch the film online from the Library of Congress.
Assisted by Sullivan, Keller begins a successful five-year carer on the vaudeville circuit. Read a blog post about Keller's vaudeville performances.
Keller helps found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Keller's mother, Kate Keller, dies.
Keller lectures and tours all over the United States while her fame worldwide increases.
Begins work as the public spokesperson for the American Foundation for the Blind. She continues this work for the rest of her life.
In an address to the Lions Club International, Keller challenges them to become "Knights of the Blind."
Keller's book, My Religion, is published.
Keller's book, Midstream: My Later Life, is published. Read the book online.
Anne Sullivan Macy, Keller's "Teacher", and companion dies on October 20. Browse a collection of condolence messages received by Keller.
Visits Japan for the first time.
Keller's book, Helen Keller's Journal, 1936-1937, is published.
Meets First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who remains a friend for many years. Browse photos from the visit.
Moves to Arcan Ridge in Easton Connecticut, where should lives for the rest of her life. View a picture of the house.
Visits wounded and blinded war veterans in military hospitals, providing support and encouragement.
Begins a series of world tours that took her to 35 countries in 11 years. She advocates on behalf of people with disabilities, inspiring many governments to establish schools for students who are blind and deaf.
Begins touring on behalf of the American Foundation for Overseas Blind.
Keller returns to Japan, visiting over thirty cities. Her civil diplomacy on this trip is credited with improving U.S. and Japanese relations at the end of World War II.
Keller receives the Gold Medal award from The National Institute of Social Sciences for her service to humanity.
Ivy Green, the house where Helen Keller was born, is restored, and becomes a National Historic Landmark.
Keller wins an Oscar for Helen Keller in Her Story, a documentary about her life, directed by Nancy Hamilton. View the film on YouTube.
Keller's book, Teacher - Anne Sullivan Macy, is published.
The Miracle Worker (William Gibson) debuts on Broadway, with Patty Duke as Helen Keller and Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan.
Meets with President John F. Kennedy, the tenth and the last United States President she met.
Keller suffers from a stroke and retires from public appearances and work.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Visitors to the New York World's Fair elected Keller to be one of twenty inductees into the Women's Hall of Fame, tying with Eleanor Roosevelt for the most votes.
Keller dies on June 1, a few weeks before her 88th birthday, at Arcan Ridge.
On June 5, Keller's memorial service in the National Cathedral is attended by 1,200 mourners, and the choral music is performed by the choir of Perkins School for the Blind.
Keller is inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
The United States Postal Service issues a stamp depicting Keller and Sullivan to commemorate the centennial of Keller's births. View a collection of the stamp.
The Miracle Continues, a TV movie about Keller's college years and early adult life is aired.
More than 30 years after her death, Keller is listed as one of the most important figures of the 20th century on Time Magazine's 100 list.
Keller is honored on the Alabama state quarter.
A bronze statue of Keller is added to the National Statuary Hall Collection.
What did Helen Keller do to help people who cannot see?
Helen Keller made enormous differences in two key ways. Firstly, she changed perceptions about blindness and secondly, she was instrumental in getting laws passed to benefit those who could not see.
Perceptions of Blindness
Helen Keller was born in 1880, in a world still dominated by the centuries-old belief that blindness was a punishment from God, barring you from a normal and productive life. Keller was instrumental in changing negative perceptions that were still prevalent when she was growing up.
Helen Keller led by example. Her life embodied the possibilities of what a blind child, adult, and senior citizen could do, and raised expectations for the daily lives of those with vision loss in the process. As a six-year-old child who was both blind and deaf, she famously learned extraordinarily rapidly how to communicate using the manual sign language and then equally quickly, how to write. Helen Keller witnessed extraordinary change in society and cultural attitudes over the course of her life. She lived through two world wars, as well as the Korean War, saw women gain the right to vote, and witnessed hard-fought triumphs in the arena of civil rights. As a leading disability activist, she successfully campaigned for funding for Talking Books, and for rehabilitation services for those who are deaf and blind as well as for wounded veterans.
Keller's Achievements as an Adult
But her achievements as an adult went on to surpass those of her childhood. She became an advocate on behalf of those with disabilities, a feminist, suffragist, social activist, pacifist, and published author — and that was just in the public sphere! Helen Keller loved nature and physical activity. She rode horses and bicycles and she played chess and backgammon. Keller’s life showed what can be done with extraordinary hard work, determination, and joy.
Portrait of Helen, 1950
Effecting Real Change
Keller worked for the blind as a private individual, beginning in 1906, and then as an employee of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) for 44 years beginning in 1924.
To mention but a few of her accomplishments:
- Between 1931 and 1947 she crisscrossed the nation, personally appearing before at least 13 state legislatures and targeting 18 with demands that included the creation of State Commissions for the Blind and the construction of schools for those with vision loss.
- At the federal level, among her many achievements, she successfully lobbied the government to print and distribute books in braille for use by the adult blind across the United States
- And from 1942-1944, she supported Senator Robert Wagner’s efforts to secure funding for the rehabilitation, special vocational training, placement, and supervision of blind persons, including those blinded in World War II.
Helen Keller and a wounded soldier at the Thayer Military Hospital, Nashville, June 19, 1945. For more information on Keller’s visits to military hospitals try browsing under Military in the Helen Keller Archive.
Did Helen help both deaf and blind people?
Disability advocacy is frequently partitioned, with advocacy groups specializing in blindness or deaf-blindness or deafness. Although Keller insisted that the American Foundation for the Blind create a special fund for the benefit of those who are deafblind, her primary mandate was to advocate on behalf of those with visual rather than auditory impairments.
Helen Keller seated by a window reading a book in braille at her home in Westport, CT, circa 1955. Learn more about Keller's advocacy efforts by browsing the Correspondence: Legislation: Federal series in the Helen Keller Archive.
How has Helen Keller’s work affected the lives of those with vision loss today?
The laws Helen Keller helped enact directly benefit those with vision loss today — braille books in libraries, additional social security measures for those with vision loss, rehabilitation services for wounded veterans — these are outcomes of her determination to leave the world a better place than she found it.
In the big picture, Keller made it clear that those who cannot see have as much right to happiness as their sighted counterparts. Keller fought for the civil rights of those who cannot see.
Is Helen Keller still relevant today?
Sadly, the fight Keller fought is not over, and some of the challenges she faced remain our challenges too, especially in the area of employment for those with visual impairments. At the American Foundation for the Blind we continue to work towards greater equality for those with vision loss—our programs and services address the most pressing needs of people who are blind. We change lives—breaking through barriers, challenging misconceptions, and expanding possibilities. In the spirit of Helen Keller, we do so with optimism and determination.
This image shows Helen Keller arriving in India’s Mumbai airport in 1955. Keller traveled to 39 countries around the globe, advocating for those with vision loss worldwide. For more information, explore the Travel subject in AFB's digital Helen Keller Archive. Grade-school students may enjoy exploring the World Leader gallery in the Helen Keller Kids Museum.
Was Helen Keller ever in love?
In 1916 when she was about 36 years of age, she was preparing to elope with a young writer and her secretarial assistant Peter Fagan. Fagan had learned manual sign language to be able to talk to Helen and translate texts to her. Helen’s mother Kate Keller prevented the elopement. There was a common belief that if you had a disability you should not be allowed to marry and have children. Keller wrote the following:
"What earthly consolation is there for one like me whom fate has denied a husband and the joy of motherhood? At the moment my loneliness seems a void that will always be immense. Fortunately I have much work to do — more than ever before in fact."
- Helen Keller's journal, 1938
How many dogs did Helen Keller have?
Helen Keller with her arms around a big dog, circa 1925.
Explore the Helen Keller Archive for more photographs of Helen with dogs.
Here’s a list of 18 dogs whose names we know, but you can be sure there were many more!
- Bounce – Labrador puppy (c.1963)
- Darky – Possibly a female Scottish Terrier
- Dileas – Male Shetland Collie
- Ettu – Female German Shepherd
- Hans – Possibly a Danish Baron
- Helga – Great Dane
- Kaiser – Male French Bull Terrier
- Kamikaze-Go – Akita dog
- Kenzan-Go – Akita dog
- Lioness – Female Mastiff (1890)
- Maida – Female Lakeland Terrier
- Nimrod – Male Great Dane
- Phiz – Male Scottie
- Sieglende – Female Great Dane, puppy of Thora
- Thora – Female Brindle Dane
- Tinker – Dachshund (c.1963)
How many teachers did Helen Keller have?
Anne Sullivan Macy
Helen was taught by teachers at the Horace Mann School in New York City, the Arthur Gilman School in Cambridge, MA and Radcliffe College in Cambridge, MA. However, the key teacher in Keller’s life was Anne Sullivan. Anne became Helen’s teacher in March 1887 when Helen was six years old and remained with Keller until Anne died in 1936. Helen always referred to Anne as "Teacher."
How many pupils did Anne Sullivan Macy have?
Anne had only one pupil: Helen Keller. There were times in her life when the possibility of her teaching other children was discussed, but these did not materialize. For more information on Anne Sullivan Macy’s life visit the Anne Sullivan Macy: Miracle Worker online museum.
Did Helen have a happy childhood?
Keller became deaf and blind as a result of illness at nineteen months. In The Story of My Life she recounts her childhood in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She describes enjoying her garden, even as a very young child:
"Even in the days before my teacher came, I used to feel along the square stiff boxwood hedges, and, guided by the sense of smell would find the first violets and lilies. There, too, after a fit of temper, I went to find comfort and to hide my hot face in the cool leaves and grass. What joy it was to lose myself in that garden of flowers, to wander happily from spot to spot, until, coming suddenly upon a beautiful vine, I recognized it by its leaves and blossoms, and knew it was the vine which covered the tumble-down summer-house at the farther end of the garden!"
Keller continues to describe her daily life as a young child in the house — imitating adults, making hand signs to communicate and playing with the daughter of the family’s cook. Helen was well aware that her mother Kate Keller loved her and wanted the best for her.
"I owe to her loving wisdom [Kate Keller] all that was bright and good in my long night."
However, Helen was also an unruly child with a fearsome temper, the result of frustration at her inability to communicate fully with those around her. Helen’s life changed irrevocably on March 3rd 1887 when Anne Sullivan Macy arrived to work as a governess in the Keller household. Keller was just a few months shy of her seventh birthday. She wrote the following in The Story of My Life:
The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. the light of love shone on me in that very hour.
Helen’s tantrums and rebellious spirit are famously captured in the movie The Miracle Worker. Here you see Helen physically lashing out at her new teacher, but love rapidly replaces frustration and antagonism. Anne Sullivan Macy wrote the following letter on March 28, 1888 to Michael Anagnos, the Director of the Perkins School for the Blind:
"I saw clearly that it was useless to try to teach her language or anything else until she learned to obey me. I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child."
The famous water pump where Helen Keller first understood that the words Annie was spelling into her palm had meaning.
Some one was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.
Did Annie Sullivan have a happy childhood?
Unfortunately, no, Annie Sullivan did not have a happy childhood. Anne Mansfield Sullivan was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts on April 14, 1866. She was raised in poverty. She was the eldest of five children, only two of whom reached adulthood. Her father, Thomas Sullivan, was an alcoholic and her mother, Alice Chloesy Sullivan died from tuberculosis when Anne was 9 years old.
When Anne was 7 years old she developed trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eyes. This infection went untreated and affected her vision. She had almost no usable sight until she had an operation at the age of 15, which restored some of her vision, but she remained visually impaired for the rest of her life. Learn more about Annie's life in AFB's Anne Sullivan Macy online museum.
Annie Sullivan, age 15
In what way was Annie Sullivan's teaching different from other teachers?
Anne was aware of the new teaching methods of Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Montessori developed a child-centered educational approach to teaching children. One that “values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.” (From: https://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori)
Anne powerfully engaged her young pupil by using the child’s remaining senses of touch and smell. She took Keller outside for classes, to smell flowers and surround her with nature. Learning was a fun activity that connected the young girl to the physical world around her.
In 2003 Anne Sullivan Macy was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Browse the Artifacts in the Helen Keller Archive to learn about the beautiful objects in Keller’s collection.
I want to undertake more research about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy, where do I go for more information?
Be sure to explore the main Helen Keller area on AFB’s website. And here are other areas that might be useful as well:
- A biography of Helen Keller, and chronology of her life
- In-depth research is possible by taking the time to search the Helen Keller Digital Archive of materials Helen left to AFB when she died. This contains digitized images of the correspondence, photographs, press clippings, scrapbooks, artifacts and audio visual that are contained in her extraordinary collection. Take your time, and don’t forget to look under the Browse by subject tab to help you discover subjects that you never even imagined she was interested and involved in!
- And don't forget to check out the wonderful materials now online and belonging to the Perkins School for the Blind
Besides hearing aids and braille, what other communication tools are there for blind and deaf people?
There are so many more communications tools today for people who are blind and/or deaf today. These include:
Assistive Listening Devices: These devices can be used with or without a hearing aid to enhance a person's voice
Captioned Phones: These phones display what the caller is saying on the screen
Amplified Phones: These phones amplify the sound so that people who are hard of hearing can understand what the caller is saying.
Audible, visual, and vibrating signalers provided to alert the user to a phone ringing, e-mails, texts and other types of distance communications.
Screen Reader and Magnifier Software
Screen reader and screen magnifier software programs. A screen reader can serve as an interface between a computer and a braille display, and for those with some usable hearing, it also provides synthesized speech output of what is on the computer screen.
CART: (Communication Access Realtime Translation)
This is verbatim text of spoken presentations provided for live events. Only the text is provided on a computer screen or projected for display on a larger screen. CART is helpful in one on one as well as group settings.
Helen Keller Hospital began in 1921 when the city of Sheffield and the Colbert County government pooled their resources to purchase the New Belmont Hospital, a two-story structure located at 300 E. 4th Street, Sheffield. The name was changed to “Colbert County Hospital” and had a bed capacity of about 25. The overwhelming demand for services at the new hospital prompted local politicians and physicians to consider expansion and relocation. The new hospital opened at its present location on September 17, 1927. The hospital featured three levels, 60 patient beds, a maternity room with sun porch, two operating rooms, an X-ray room, a lab, and doctors’ and nurses’ rooms. A nurses’ home, a tradition in the early 1900’s, was built in 1927 and was located next to the hospital. It housed 17 nurses. Several renovations and additions occurred throughout the years, including a four-story addition in 1960. This raised the bed capacity to 214 and added new surgery, maternity, emergency, pharmacy, radiology, and lab, which included pathology. Also in 1960, the Helen Keller Hospital Volunteer Auxiliary was formed. In 1979, Colbert County became Helen Keller Memorial Hospital, in honor of the courageous Tuscumbia resident. A dedication celebration marking the renaming was hosted in 1980.
Constant updates and renovations allowed Helen Keller Hospital to offer leading edge technology and services, including new ER and surgery suites, a hospital-based ambulance service, the Sleep Disorders Center, and more. In 1999, a grand opening was held for the new ER, Women’s Center, Radiology, and Admitting areas. These renovations brought the ER up to 18 beds, with dedicated trauma rooms and rooms equipped with x-ray capabilities. The Women’s Center added larger, LDRP-capable rooms, with a larger nursery.
In 2003, the Keller Wellcare Center was expanded. A therapeutic pool, hot tub, sauna, and state-of-the-art cardiopulmonary rehab equipment were added. Outpatient rehab and sports medicine relocated to the Wellcare Center, allowing for additional equipment treatment rooms and services.
The Keller Imaging Center opened in 2010, providing a full array of imaging equipment in a convenient outpatient setting. The center also features a dedicated women’s imaging center. The Keller Outpatient Surgery Pavilion opened in 2009, featuring leading edge surgical suites and equipment, private parking, and a comfortable waiting area. In 2020 we completely renovated our pediatric unit and renamed it Kanuru Pediatrics in honor of Dr. Das Kanuru, a 44 year Keller Pediatrician. In 2014, Helen Keller Hospital entered into a long-term lease agreement with the Huntsville Hospital Health System. This is a 40 year agreement, where Huntsville Hospital Health System will assume all responsibility for the operations and facilities. The Huntsville Hospital Health System board of directors approved a 13 member Hospital board for Helen Keller Hospital, comprised of seven community members and six members of the medical staff.
In 2021 Helen Keller Hospital celebrated its 100 th birthday. This hospital has seen many changes over the years, and through these changes, has managed to grow, in more ways than its founders every dreamed possible. We are proud to celebrate 100 years of serving as the premier health care provider for Colbert County and the surrounding areas and look forward to many more.
What Were Helen Keller's Contributions to Society?
Among Helen Keller's contributions to society were her fundraising and awareness initiatives with the American Foundation for the Blind, her efforts to make Braille the standard system used to write books for the blind, and her work to have blind people included in the government's definition of "disabled," making them eligible for government aid. In addition, Keller radically change public perception regarding what a disabled person could accomplish.
Keller's fundraising efforts for the American Foundation for the Blind led to the organization being able to help blind individuals in the areas of education, employment and independent living. The overseas wings of the organization focus on medical care and blindness prevention.
At the 1931 World Council for the Blind, Keller pushed for Braille to become the worldwide standard used in books for the blind, replacing several other similar systems. Her efforts led to the standardization of Braille around the globe.
Keller wrote several books and numerous articles regarding her own life. She also went on worldwide lecture tours that allowed her to connect with people personally and even took her own story on the vaudeville circuit for a few years. Her celebrity status led to the television program, Broadway play and movie, "The Miracle Worker," which in turn helped people understand and change their attitudes regarding the blind and deaf. As a result, Keller was instrumental in the founding of many schools for the blind and deaf.
62 Facts About Helen Keller
Helen Keller was literally a historical phenomenon. She was the first blind and deaf person to achieve a BA degree, and if that wasn’t enough, she learned to speak, to give lectures, and to write books. Be inspired today by her story, and join us as we travel through Helen’s life. Here are 62 facts about this amazing woman for you.
Fact 1: Helen Adams Keller, a lecturer, activist, writer, and national, icon was born on 27 June 1880.
Fact 2: Helen’s dad, Arthur, was an editor for the Tuscumbia North Alabamian paper. It’s clear that writing and creativity flowed through this family from early on. In his younger years, Arthur was a Captain in the Confederate Army.
Fact 3: Sadly, when Keller was only around 19 months of age she became ill, and although her family was not poor, medicine and medical treatments were nowhere near as good as today. Unfortunately for Keller, this illness, which could’ve been scarlet fever or meningitis caused her to go blind and deaf.
Fact 4: Helen came from a blended family, meaning that she had 2 real siblings: Mildred and Phillip, and 2 half-siblings: James and William. Her half-siblings came from her Father’s previous relationship.
Fact 5: Although she had a good-sized family, one of her earliest companions was actually her house chef’s daughter, Martha.
Fact 6: Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Interestingly, her birthplace is so fond of her that they turned her home, Ivy Green, into a museum. You can go and take a tour here if you like.
Fact 7: She is the first deaf and blind person to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree! This is an incredible feat, particularly because of the era she was doing this degree in, and the extra pressure upon her.
Fact 8: Catherine, or Kate, was Helen’s Mother. She was the daughter of a Confederate General. Her Father was Charles. W. Adams.
Fact 9: It was only late on in her childhood did Helen learn to communicate through hand-language and speech with her family. When Helen was younger she made up about 60 home-signs to communicate with her family.
Fact 10: This is incredible, Keller could say who a family member was by listening to the way they walked. She would listen to the vibrations coming off the floor and determine who was coming towards her or near her. It has been noted that because of her lack of other senses her ‘touch’ sense became even more powerful.
Fact 11: This could be a coincidence or it could just be bizarre, but Helen Keller actually had a distant relative living in Switzerland, that taught deaf people in Zurich. His name was Casper Keller and was one of the first people to teach deaf people.
Fact 12: Interestingly, Helen knew Alexander Graham Bell, and in later life the two became friends. The story goes that Catherine, Helen’s Mother, was inspired by a story about a deaf girl called Laura Bridgman, and thought that Helen should go and see a specialist about her blindness and deafness. When Helen met Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, he advised her that she should go and see Alexander, who was working with deaf people.
Helen Keller holding a magnolia in 1920
Fact 13: Anne Sullivan was Helen’s long term companion and instructor. The pair had a friendship that lasted almost 50 years and they were inseparable.
Fact 14: It was thanks to Alexander Graham Bell’s suggestion that Keller should visit the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where Laura Bridgman had gone, that Helen met and found her lifelong companion Anne.
Fact 15: The woman we see in books, articles, videos, is a woman who shows great strength, but like with all great stories, there was a difficult beginning. When Anne first moved in with Helen on the 5 March 1887, she taught her the word for ‘doll’ in hand-language (spelling words out on your hand with your fingers). This was an incredibly frustrating process for Helen as she wasn’t used to this way of doing things, and on some occasions, she lost her temper and broke objects.
Fact 16: The silver lining to the story came 1 month later when Keller learned the word for ‘water,’ and she finally felt like she was getting somewhere with the new language. In her autobiography, she credited the day Anne arrived at her home as ‘my soul’s birthday’. Helen believed she was really getting somewhere, but little did she know how far her learning would really take her.
Fact 17: Sarah Fuller was allegedly the first person to give Helen actual speech lessons so that she could actually talk to people.
Fact 18: Helen liked listening to music. You might well be thinking how is this possible? But this is true, while people who are deaf may not hear the actual words of a song, they can feel the rhythm and beat by using their other senses. Modern research supports this, for example, Hauser (2011), concluded that when you lose a sense your other senses get better so, in the case of a deaf person their sensory cortex, amygdala, cerebellum, and nucleus accumbens work together to produce music in their brain.
Fact 19: Keller could use braille perfectly.
Fact 20: Helen was an animal lover. In fact, throughout her life, she had many pet dogs.
Fact 21: As time went by Helen learned to speak and she was able to give lectures to actual people in 1913. One of her biggest lectures was the 1916 Mabel Tainter Memorial Building lecture. She traveled all over the world talking about her disabilities and how one should not live up to the stigma attached to one’s disability. She would also discuss Women’s Right To Vote and the impact of war.
Helen Keller (the old woman) with Patty Duke, who portrayed Keller in both the play and film The Miracle Worker in 1962.
Fact 22: Helen Keller joined the Perkins Institute for the Blind in 1888. It is still open today.
Fact 23: By 1894, Helen was attending the Wright-Humasen school for the deaf. Then she moved on to the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in 1896. Harvard was only around the corner from here.
Fact 24: This exceptional student made her way to the all-female Radcliffe College of Harvard University in 1900. This was the female version of the all-male Harvard College for men.
Fact 25: Surprisingly, Mark Twain, a big fan of Helen’s, persuaded the industrialist and financier Henry Rogers to aid Helen’s studies at Harvard by paying for her education. Both Rogers and Twain saw something special in Keller and wanted her to succeed. Helen Keller later dedicated her book to Mr. and Mrs. Rogers who supported her through her academic career.
Fact 26: Not only was she the first deaf and blind person to get a BA degree, but when she graduated she was honored as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa. This is a highly prestigious award in America that is only given to those who truly deserve it because of their generous contributions to academia.
Fact 27: Helen and her companion Anne led a full life together, they traveled, they learned, and they loved, but sadly for Helen, Anne couldn’t be with her until the end of time. Having been ill for some time Anne finally passed away in 1936, leaving a huge gap to fill in Helen’s heart.
Fact 28: Not all was at a loss, some years prior to this Polly Thomson had come onto the scene and was to be Helen’s new companion. Together they would go on to see and to travel even more of the world. Between 1914-1957 Helen and Polly were inseparable.
Fact 29: Throughout her busy life Helen Keller found time to discuss and to action what needed to be actioned in the areas that mattered most to her. She was working for deaf people, campaigning for blind people, a suffragette, campaigned for birth control, and she was a keen socialist.
Fact 30: Helen supported the idea of eugenics. Eugenics is all about getting the best out of the human race, meaning that people with the ‘best’ hereditary traits should breed together so that you end up with a human race with only the best features.
Keller with Anne Sullivan in July 1888
Fact 31: In 1920 Keller became part of the American Civil Liberties Union. The aim of this organization is to protect and defend every individual’s rights and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.
Fact 32: Some of Helen’s oldest and best friends were Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charlie Chaplin.
Fact 33: In Kerala, India, there is a 10ft 7in painting of Helen Keller, called ‘The Advocate’. The painting was created by a team of 3 artists from the area, and it is there to honor her and to help blind students in the surrounding area.
Fact 34: There is a Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama.
Fact 35: According to some, Helen was once involved with a gentleman named Peter Fagan. He allegedly came onto the scene when Anne wasn’t very well, and those around Helen were very skeptical about the man. He was a worker at the Boston Herald at the time.
Fact 36: Helen outlived another companion in 1960 when poor Polly died after having multiple strokes in the years leading up to her passing away.
Fact 37: In 1915, the Helen Keller International Organization was set up to help those who are blind or suffering from malnutrition, their aim is to find answers to these big problems.
Fact 38: During her lifetime she visited over 25 countries to discuss what being deaf was like, and what it meant for those who were suffering from it.
Fact 39: Anne and Helen visited over 40 countries together, with Japan being an extremely popular destination for the pair. She would discuss various topics on her travels.
Fact 40: Helen and Mark Twain, often caused a bit of a stir in politics with their socialist views.
Helen Keller portrait
Fact 41: 1912 was the year that Helen joined the Industrial Workers of the World, she was there to campaign and to spread her concerns about working in this field when you had a disability.
Fact 42: ‘The Frost King’ written in 1891, was Helen’s first book. She was 11 years old at the time and was heavily criticized for plagiarizing the book. Although, many have come to the conclusion that she might have been suffering from some kind of cryptomnesia, meaning she heard the book as a child forgot about it and then wrote a story about it without knowing that she already knew the original story.
Fact 43: Between the years 1946-1957, her time spent with Polly, she went to 35 countries.
Fact 44: She went to New Zealand, which given the era she was from, is incredible.
Fact 45: The Helen Keller Archives are owned by the American Association for the Blind.
Fact 46: In the year 1999, Helen Keller was voted as Gallup’s ‘Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century’.
Fact 47: In 2009, the National Statuary Hall Collection, placed a bronze statue of Helen in their collection for people to see.
Fact 48: Later in her life, Helen found her third and final companion, who would be with her until the day she died. Winnie Corbally was a nurse who was actually looking after Polly when Helen met her, and Winnie decided to stay around to help Helen.
Fact 49: Keller actually met every American President that came into power from Clevland’s time to Johnson’s time.
Fact 50: Helen was a member of the socialist party and was a fixed face there from 1907-1921. During this time, she allegedly found that the tabloids would mention her disabilities more often because they might not have agreed with her views on politics.
Fact 51: Helen never got married, and she didn’t have children, but she was worried about overpopulation in the world. This means that she was concerned that there were too many people on the planet.
Fact 52: She published 12 books during her life, some of these include:
Fact 53: Alabama, where Helen grew up honored her in 2003 by having her picture placed on their quarters.
Helen Keller in 1899 with lifelong companion and teacher Anne Sullivan.
Fact 54: She has been honored in many ways, but in 1980 the United Postal Service made a touching tribute to Helen and Anne, by placing their picture on a postage stamp. Even after her passing she still managed to make her way around America, and maybe further afield.
Fact 55: You can find Helen in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Fact 56: After meeting Phillip Brookes, Helen found Christianity. She even released a book called, ‘My Religion’ in 1927.
Fact 57: Helen led a life that was filled with success, warmth, friendship, commitment, and endurance, so it was only a matter of time before someone wanted to capture all of this on film. One of the earliest films about her life is, ‘Deliverance’ (1919), directed by George Foster Platt.
Fact 58: On that note, one of the most influential documentary/films created about her life was ‘The Miracle Worker’, released by Playhouse 90, in 1957. A great portion of this story was based on Helen’s autobiography. Although, there have been other adaptations with the same title as this and starring Patty Duke.
Fact 59: In 1964, Helen received a prestigious award from the then President, Johnson. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fact 60: More recently, the New England Historic Genealogical Society discovered a precious and rare photograph of Helen and Anne together. This photograph is thought to be one of the first photos of Anne.
Fact 61: In her sleep on the 1st of June, 1968, at the great age of 87, Helen passed away. She was in Acorn Ridge, Easton, at the time, and she died peacefully.
Fact 62: Interestingly, before she died Keller requested that she be laid to rest with her most-loved companions Anne and Polly. Part of her has been put to rest in Washington National Cathedral and part of her now lies with Anne and Polly, as requested.
Helen Keller was a groundbreaker in her personal and public lives. Becoming a writer and lecturer with Annie while blind and deaf was an enormous accomplishment. Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind individual to earn a college degree.
She was an advocate for communities of people with disabilities in many ways, raising awareness through her lecture circuits and books and raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. Her political work included helping to found the American Civil Liberties Union and advocacy for increased funding for braille books and for women's suffrage.
She met with every U.S. president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson. While she was still alive, in 1964, Helen received the highest honor awarded to a U.S. citizen, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Lyndon Johnson.
Helen Keller remains a source of inspiration to all people for her enormous courage overcoming the obstacles of being both deaf and blind and for her ensuing life of humanitarian selfless service.