Who Was Helen Keller?
Helen Keller is remembered as being the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was an American Author, political activist, and lecturer.
Helen Keller overcame the adversity of being deaf and blind to become one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarian. She is a perfect example of how determination, hard work and imagination can allow an individual to triumph over adversity by overcoming difficult conditions with a great deal of persistence.
She grew into a respected and world renowned activist who laboured for the betterment of others. She is renowned for defying all odds to accomplish great things despite being both deaf and blind.
Some of her greatest achievements include;
- Being the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree.
- Published her famous autobiography titled ‘The Story of My Life, where she recounted her journey from a child with extreme handicap to a 21 year old student at Radcliffe.
- She published 12 books in her writing career including ‘Light in My Darkness‘.
- She was a co-founder of Helen Keller International (HKI) in 1915 which was tasked with combating the causes and consequences of blindness and malnutrition, an organization which is active in 22 countries across the globe and is ranked among the most effective charities in the world with the program benefiting millions of people across the world.
- Helen Keller was a prominent political and social activist, she supported women’s rights, and their right to birth control.
- She was a leading member of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), a foundation that provided her with a platform to advocate for the needs of people with vision loss.
- Helen Keller was a world renowned speaker, who travelled across the world giving motivational speeches. She not only spoke for the rights of the blind, but also for other underprivileged sections of the society.
- She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Keller also received other awards such as Japan’s Sacred Treasure, and Lebanon’s Gold Medal of merit. For all the achievements, Helen Keller is ranked as one of the most influencing women of the 20th century.
- Full Name: Helen Adams Keller
- Known For: Being the First Deaf and Blind person to receive Bachelor of Arts degree
- Profession: Author, Teacher, Political Activist, Linguist, Peace Activist
- Born On: 27 June 1880
- Place of Birth: Northwest Alabama City of Tuscumbia, U.S.
- Died On: 1 June 1968
- Education: Perkins Institute for the Blind, Wright-Humason School, Cambridge School for Young Ladies, Radcliffe College
- Parents: Arthur Henley Keller (father), Kate Adams Keller (mother)
- Awards: Presidential Medal of Freedom, Japan’s Sacred Treasure, Lebanon’s Gold Medal of merit
Early Life and Childhood
Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in the Northwest Alabama City of Tuscumbia. Her father, Arthur H. Keller was a retired Confederate Army captain and editor of the local newspaper, while her mother Kate Keller was an educated young woman from Memphis.
At 19 months, Keller was afflicted by unknown illness possibly scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her deaf and blind. Being an extremely intelligent child, she tried to understand her surroundings through touch, smell and taste.
As she grew up, she noticed that her family members spoke to one another with their mouths instead of sign language just as she did. She flew into rage since she was unable to join in the conversation.
Helen Keller was filled with frustration, she realized that she was different, and it was extremely difficult to let people know what she needed. She would sometimes throw tantrums, kicking and hitting other people in anger.
Our Child Needed Help
Helen Keller’s parents were so keen to notice that their daughter required special help. They contacted the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, and the director recommended a former student Anne Sullivan who had been blind, but had regained her sight through surgery. On March 3, 1887, Anne came to work with Helen, and she would be her helper and companion for the next 50 years.
Anne began teaching Keller words bit by bit. She would press a letter of words in to Helen’s hand and then press the letters of the word D-O-L-L into the other hand. Helen would then repeat the words into Anne’s hand. However, Helen Keller did not understand that the hand signs had meaning.
One day, Anne Put Helen’s hand into water coming from a pump, and spelled out water into Helen’s other hand. Keller finally understood what Anne was doing. This experience opened up an entire new world for Helen. That same day she learned a number of new words. For the first time in a long time, she felt happy.
Keller had a problem confusing between the nouns ‘mug’ and ‘milk’ which she confused with the verb ‘drink’.
Anne believed that the key to reaching Helen was to teach her obedience and love. She saw the need to discipline, but not to crush, the spirit of her young charge.
Within one week of Anne’s arrival, she had gained permission to remove Helen from the main house and live alone with her in the nearby cottage.
Learning ‘How To Read’
The next step was Anne teaching Keller how to read. For sure learning how to read can be a challenge more so when you cannot see what you are reading.
Being a good student, and with the help of her teacher, she was able to read entire books in braille. At the age of 10, Helen Keller could read and use a typewriter.
I want to Learn ‘How To Talk’
When Helen Keller showed her interest to speak, Anne took her to Horace Mann School for the Deaf and hard of hearing in Boston, where she met Sarah Fuller. Fuller was another good friend who taught her how to talk and communicate with others.
By resting her hands on Sara’s lips, she learned how to feel sound vibrations and how the lips move to make sounds. She started off by learning a few letters and sounds, and later advanced to words and finally sentences. This experience made her so happy that she could say so many words and even form sentences.
In May 1888, Helen Keller started attending the Perkins Institute for the Blind. In 1894, she and Sullivan moved to New York to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf and to learn from Sarah Fuller at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf.
From a very young age, Helen was determined to go to college despite her disability. In 1898, she joined the Cambridge School for Young Ladies to prepare for Radcliffe College. She then joined Radcliffe College in the fall of 1900 and received a Bachelor of Art degree-cum-Laude in 1904.
Helen Keller became the first deaf-blind person to ever graduate and earn a degree. Determined to communicate with others as conventionally as possible, she learned to speak and spent most of her life giving speeches and lectures on aspects of her life.
She learned to listen to people’s speech using the Tadoma method; which entailed using her fingers to feel the lips and throat of the speaker, since her sense of touch had heightened. Helen became so good at using the braille and reading sign language with her hands as well.
As Helen Keller grew older, she wanted to help other people like herself by inspiring and giving them hope. She joined the American Foundation for the Blind and travelled the country giving speeches and raising money for the foundation. She was so focused and determined to help people with disabilities.
During World War II, she visited wounded army soldiers encouraging them not to give up. Apart from fundraising money to help the American Foundation for the Blind, Keller was in the forefront in making the braille system become the standard system of teaching the blind. Her constant invitation and association to people in office successfully helped push the government to give more assistance to the people living with disabilities.
Writing My Autobiography
Helen Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles. The Frost King was one of her early piece of writing. At the age of 22, she published her Autobiography ‘The Story of My Life’ with help from Anne and her husband John.
The World I Live In was written in 1908. Helen Keller wrote this giving readers an insight into how she felt about the world.
While in college, she developed a passion for writing. She could write about her experiences as a deaf and blind person. She wrote a number of articles for a magazine called ‘Ladies Home Journal’, and the articles were later published together in a book called ‘‘The Story of My Life’’.
Helen Keller published another book called ‘‘The World I Live In’’ in 1908. She wrote this giving readers an insight into how she felt about the world.
Political and Social Activism
Right from a young age, Helen Keller saw herself as an advocate to the voiceless in the society. She used her skills as a writer to speak the truth to those in authority. As a pacifist, she protested US involvement in World War 1.
She was also a tireless advocate for the Women’s Suffrage and an early member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Keller joined the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) in 1924 and worked for the organization for over 40 years. AFB provided her with a global opportunity to advocate for the needs of people with vision loss.
Helen wasted no chance, as a result, she travelled across the United States, making sure that state commissions for the blind were created, rehabilitation centres and education made more accessible to the blind.
She was a Suffragist, Pacifist, Radical Socialist, Birth Control Supporter, and Opponent of Woodrow Wilson.
In 1915, Helen Keller together with George A. Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. The organization devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition.
Her role as an activist gave her the opportunity to meet very prominent people including every US president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with very famous figures including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain.
Helen Keller was a member of the Socialist party and actively campaigned and wrote on behalf of the working class from 1909 to 1921. Many of her speeches and writings were about women’s rights to vote, and the impacts of war.
In addition, she supported causes that opposed military interventions. She had speech therapy in order to have her voice heard better by the public. When the Rockefeller-owned press refused to publish her articles, she made a scene by protesting until her work was finally published.
Helen Keller moved to Forest Hills, Queens, together with Sullivan and her husband John Macy. In her 30s, Keller had a love affair where she secretly got involved and defied her teacher and family by attempting an elopement with the man she loved.
Peter Fagan, a young Boston Herald had been sent to Helen’s home to act as her secretary when her lifelong companion Anne became ill.
In 1984, Helen Keller’s story was made into a TV movie called The Miracle Continues. The movie recounts her college years and her early adult life.
Though Keller was both deaf and blind, she was able to achieve great things. Her disability did not hinder her from earning a Bachelor’s Degree of Arts. Her story is a perfect way to tell the world that anyone can get far in education and do something great in life, no matter his/her situation.
Not only did she get her degree, she also wrote an autobiography and became a teacher. Helen Keller was an inspiration to all people who either had disabilities or did not believe that they could get far in life. She is remembered as a woman who would not rest until she got what she wanted in life.
Illness and Death
Helen Keller suffered a series of strokes in 1961, and this caused her to spend the last years of her life at her home.
On September 1964, she was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1965, Helen Keller was elected to the national Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair. Her later days in life were dedicated towards raising money for the AFB.
June 1, 1968, Helen Keller died peacefully in her sleep.
Lesser-Known Facts about Helen Keller
- She was the first Deaf and Blind person to graduate.
- She was called an unruly child as she grew up.
- She advocated for Birth Control.
- She was on the FBI’s radar for over 30 years.
- She had three failed elopements with her boyfriend.
- She was forbidden from marrying her fiancé.
- Helen Keller was extremely political.
Famous Quotes by Helen Keller
“The highest result of education is tolerance.”
“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
“The simplest way to be happy is to do good.”
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
“No one has a right to consume happiness without producing it.”
“We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough.”
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”
“The bulk of the world’s knowledge is an imaginary construction.”
“The most beautiful world is always entered through imagination.”
“Life is an exciting business, and most exciting when it is lived for others.”
“No smile is as beautiful as the one that struggles through tears.”
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”
“A well-educated mind will always have more questions than answers.”
“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.”
“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”
“We are never really happy until we try to brighten the lives of others.”
“You will succeed if you persevere; and you will find joy in overcoming obstacles.”
“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”
“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
“The true test of a character is to face hard conditions with the determination to make them better.”
“There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.”
“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”
“The place between your comfort zone and your dream is where life takes place.”
“Better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing.”
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
“No matter how dull, or how mean, or how wise a man is, he feels that happiness is his indisputable right.”
“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”
“Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same.”
“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”
“We differ, blind and seeing, one from another, not in our senses, but in the use we make of them, in the imagination and courage with which we seek wisdom beyond the senses.”
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
“The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
“It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.”
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”