The History of
Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in
1880 to parents Kate Adams Keller and ex-Confederate Colonel Arthur
Keller. On Helen’s mother’s side, she was related to several
well-known New England families; on her father’s side, she was
descended from a colonial Virginia governor, Colonel Alexander
Spottswood. When Helen was 19 months old, she had become deaf and
blind, possibly from scarlet fever.
At the age of seven, Helen met a female named Anne
Sullivan, who travelled to Tuscumbia to become her teacher. Like
Helen, Anne also had serious vision problems. Within one week of her
arrival, Anne began her teachings by signing basic words and letters
into the child’s hand, like “milk” (m-i-l-k) and “doll” (d-o-l-l).
Unfortunately, Helen remained confused and had difficulty in
discriminating the verbs and nouns of words. By April, she finally
understood the relationships between words and substances, and other
things when Anne placed her hand under a water pump while water
gushed out. Eventually, Helen was able to perfect the alphabet, and
was able to write and read Braille (AFB 1).
Helen also wanted to speak. She had received training from a female
named Sarah Fuller at a Deaf and hard of hearing school in Boston.
When she was sixteen years old, she attended a training school to
help prepare her for college. In 1900, she has enrolled in Radcliffe
College and graduated cum laude in 1904, with a Bachelor of Arts
degree (Helen Keller Biography 2).
In 1902 Helen wrote her first book, an autobiography about her early
life called The Story of My Life, which was an inspiration to
the 1962 film “The Miracle Worker”. After college, Helen became a
social rights activist and toured across the United States, and gave
lectures to millions of people. In 1906, she helped form the
Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, one of America’s first
agency to provide support for the blind. Helen Keller also helped
teachers across America to establish braille as the official writing
standard for people who have serious vision impairment, and
especially those who are blind.
In 1924, she petitioned immensely for the rights of people who are
blind. She worked with the American Foundation for the Blind and
helped ensure that people have full access to education, job
employment, and citizenship. She has also worked with the Lions
Club, now known as Lions International, an organization devoted to
helping people around the world who are blind.
During World War II and into the 1950s, Helen toured in almost forty
countries to lecture and persuade governments to form schools for
people who are blind, and Deaf and hard-of-hearing. She also visited
war hospitals to hearten hundreds of veterans who were blinded
during the war. In 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of
Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson, for her vast efforts in
helping millions of people with disabilities all over the world. In
2009, a statue of Helen Keller was installed in her honor by the
state of Alabama in the National Statuary Hall in Congress (Perkins
"Helen Keller Biography." American Foundation for the Blind.
AFB, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
Keller Birthplace, Helen. "Helen Keller Biography." Helen Keller
Birthplace. Helen Keller Birthplace Foundation, Inc., 1 Jan.
2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2015.
"Helen Keller Facts." Perkins. Perkins, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 27
Helen Keller was able to live in a world unknown to her by using the eyes and ears of others around her. Her characteristics were noted as kind, generous, and enthusiastic. Even as an infant she was full of energy. She had numerous friends, however; she still had empathy for the poor of the world. (Tragedy 1995)
Helen Keller was born to Captain Arthur H. Keller and his second wife on July 27, 1880. She was a lively and healthy baby before the illness that took her sight and hearing. At nineteen months, Helen was stricken with a deadly fever that almost took her life, however it only left the distant memories of light and sounds.
She learned how to do small chores around the house by following her mother and feeling her hands. She recognized people by touching the characteristics of their faces and clothes. When in the garden, she could tell where she was by the smell of the flowers around her and the feel of the earth under her feet. (RNIB 2001) She, also, devised her own signs to communicate with her family her needs and wants. She was very intelligent and sensitive. However, she was frustrated easily because of her inability to communicate, and this caused behavior problems. (RNIB 2000)
Anne Sullivan came into her life at age seven. Anne came from the Perkins School for the Blind and was hired as a private tutor for Helen. Anne came from an impoverished background. She, too, lost her vision at a young age, five years old. However, after two successful surgeries Anne was able to see again. Her determination and patients overcame Helen's disobedience and wild tantrums. She knew that in order for Helen to learn she would have to gain control of the child's misbehavior. She, also, knew that Helen would become a different person after she learned to how communicate. (RNIB 2001)
First, Helen was taught the manual alphabet, but she did not relate the words to objects. She thought it was a game until a trip to the well. As Helen placed her hand into the water, Anne spelled out the letters of water. (Tragedy 1995) This was break through the communication barrier for Helen and it was the beginning of a lifetime of success.
As Helen grew, she learned to fingerspell complex sentences, but she did not stop there. She, also, learned Braille, to type, to write, to speak and to read lips. Speaking would be nearly impossible for someone who is both blind and
Deaf, but she did not let that stop her.
At the age of seven, Helen started studying at the Perkins School for the Blind. From 1894 to 1896, Helen attended the Wright Humason School for the
Deaf. Then, she went to Cambridge School for Young Ladies from 1896 to 1900. (Liukkonan 2000) She was determined to further her education by going to college. She went to the one college that did not think that she could compete with the students who could hear and see, Radcliffe. However, she passed all of the entry exams and was admitted to attend school there. She graduated cum laude in 1904 with the aid of Anne as her translator.
By the use of a Braille machine and a typewriter, Helen wrote her first book. The Story of My Life was published in 1903. In addition to writing books, Helen appeared in vaudeville shows along with Anne. She, also, was involved with the handicapped, made lecture tours, and appeared in the Orpheum circuit. (Luikkonen 2001)
In 1914, Polly Thompson entered Helen's life. She was hired to keep house, and she did not have any experience with the
Deaf or blind. However, Anne's health was failing and Helen needed the extra help. She, too, became a life-long companion. (Tragedy 1995)
Helen lost her dearest friend, Anne, in 1935. Anne had already lost her sight once more when she died. (Tragedy 1995)
After Anne's death Helen worked for the American Foundation for the Blind and other causes. She visited American Veteran's hospitals after World War II and toured in Europe, Africa, and Asia. (Luikkonen 2000)
"Mark Twain declared that the two most interesting characters of his century were Napoleon and Helen Keller," (Luikkonen 2000). She was a speaker of hope and promise to those who thought they could not. Her sense of humor and her determination were her keys to success. She could not have done it alone.
Luikkonen, Petri. (2000) Helen Keller (1880-1968) Arthur's Calendar. Ari Pesonen.
(2001 Aug 28) http://www.kirjoasto.sci.fi/hkeller.htm
RNIB. (2001, June 19) The Life of Helen Keller. Royal National Institute for the Blind.
RNIB. (2001, Aug 28) http://www.rnib.org.uk/wesupply/fctsheet/keller.htm
Tragedy over Triumph: An Adventure with Helen Keller. (1995) The Life of Helen
Keller. In Search of the Heroes. Grace Productions Corporation. (2001, Aug 28)
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