Helen Keller was a remarkable woman, born in 1880 and died in 1968 at the age of 88.
At age two, she contracted an illness that left her blind, deaf, unable to speak,
and was considered backwards of intelligence.
She lived in a dark and hopeless world of her own, until age 7, when she was
placed in the care of her teacher, Anne Sullivan.
Through being taught letters spelt out in her hand, she came to realise
the correlation between those words and their meaning.
From then on, using her dogged persistence, she went on to bring forth her intellectual and emotional abilities, being an avid learner, and despite the social obstacles of her time, became the first deaf/blind person to graduate from college.
As an adult, she travelled the world, campaigned for civil rights, world peace,
human dignity and women’s rights, and authored many books and essays.
She became a prominent figure in her lifetime, whose accomplishments
attracted awe, respect, admiration and inspiration.
The story of Helen Keller is the story of a child who, at the age of 18 months,
was suddenly shut off from the world, but who, against overwhelming odds,
waged a slow, hard, but successful battle to reenter that same world.
The inarticulate little deaf and blind girl grew into a highly intelligent and sensitive woman who wrote, spoke, and labored incessantly for the betterment of others.
So powerful a symbol of triumph over adversity did she become that she has a definite place in the history of our time and of times to come.
Helen Adams Keller was born, physically whole and healthy, in Tuscumbia,
Alabama on June 27, 1880 in a white, frame cottage called "Ivy Green."
On her father’s side she was descended from Alexander Spottswood,
a colonial governor of Virginia, and connected with the Lees and
other Southern families.
On her mother’s side, she was related to a number of prominent New England families, including the Hales, the Everetts, and the Adamses.
Her father, Captain Arthur Keller, was the editor of a newspaper, the North Alabamian. Captain Keller also had a strong interest in public life and was an influential figure in his own community. In 1885, under the Cleveland administration, he was appointed Marshal of North Alabama.
The illness that struck the infant Helen Keller and left her deaf and blind,
was diagnosed as brain fever at the time; perhaps it was scarlet fever.
Popular belief had it that the disease left its victim an idiot.
And as Helen Keller grew from infancy into childhood, wild, unruly,
and with little real understanding of the world around her,
this belief was seemingly confirmed.
Helen Keller’s real life began on a March day in 1887 when she was
a few months short of seven years old. On that day, which Miss Keller was always to call "The most important day I can remember in my life,"
Anne Mansfield Sullivan came to Tuscumbia to be her teacher.
Miss Sullivan, a 20-year-old graduate of the Perkins School for the Blind, who
had regained useful sight through a series of operations, had come to the Kellers through the sympathetic interest of Alexander Graham Bell.
From that fateful day, the two–teacher and pupil–were inseparable until
the death of the former in 1936.
How Miss Sullivan turned the near savage child into a responsible human being
and succeeded in awakening her marvelous mind is familiar to millions,
most notably through William Gibson’s play and film, The Miracle Worker,
Miss Keller’s autobiography of her early years, The Story of My Life,
and Joseph Lash’s Helen and Teacher.
Miss Sullivan began her task with a doll the children at Perkins had made for her to take to Helen. By spelling "d-o-l-l" into the child’s hand, she hoped to teach her to connect objects with letters. Helen quickly learned to make the letters correctly, but did not know she was spelling a word, or that words existed. In the days that followed she learned to spell a great many more words in this uncomprehending way.
One day she and "Teacher"–as Helen always called her–went to the outdoor pump. Miss Sullivan started to draw water and put Helen’s hand under the spout.
As the cool water gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word
"w-a-t-e-r" first slowly, then rapidly.
Suddenly, the signals had meaning in Helen’s mind.
She knew that "water" meant the wonderful cool something flowing over her hand. Quickly, she stopped and touched the earth and demanded its letter name and by nightfall she had learned 30 words. Thus began Helen Keller’s education. She proceeded quickly to master the alphabet, both manual and in raised print for blind readers, and gained facility in reading and writing. In 1890, when she was just 10, she expressed a desire to learn to speak.
Somehow she had found out that a little deaf-blind girl in Norway had acquired that ability.
Miss Sarah Fuller of the Horace Mann School was her first speech teacher.
Even when she was a little girl, Helen Keller said, "Someday I shall go to college." And go to college she did. In 1898 she entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies to prepare for Radcliffe College. She entered Radcliffe in the fall of 1900 and received her bachelor of arts degree cum laude in 1904.
Throughout these years and until her own death in 1936, Anne Sullivan was always by Helen’s side, laboriously spelling book after book
and lecture after lecture, into her pupil’s hand.