The Incredible Story of Helen Keller

Uma Shankari By Uma Shankari, 8th Oct 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Activism

American educator Helen Keller overcame the adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century's leading humanitarians.

Early Life of Helen Keller

Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, as a bright, healthy child. Her father Arthur H. Keller was an officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. Arthur later became the editor of the North Alabamian, a weekly local newspaper. Helen had one younger sister and two older step brothers.

Loss of Sight and Hearing

In 1882, however, Keller contracted a mysterious illness—could be scarlet fever or meningitis—that produced a high body temperature. Within a few days after the fever broke, Keller's mother noticed her daughter's lack of reaction when the dinner bell rang, or when a hand was waved in front of her face. Keller had lost both her sight and hearing.

Helen became a difficult child, yelling and throwing tantrums. When she was five, her mother engaged Anne Sullivan to coach Helen.

Sullivan and Keller

Miss Sullivan herself had been blind, but had regained her sight through surgery. She finger-spelled the names of familiar objects into her student’s hand. Helen enjoyed this “finger play,” but she didn’t understand until the famous moment when Sullivan spelled “w-a-t-e-r” while pumping water over her hand.

One day Anne led Helen to the water pump and pumped water on her hand. She spelled the letters W-A-T-E-R as the water ran over Helen's hand. She did this over and over again. At last it dawned on Helen that the word "water" meant the water which she felt pouring over her hand. This opened up a whole new world for her. She ran everywhere asking Anne the name of different things and Anne would spell the words in her hand. This was the key which unlocked the world for her.

The following video has a rare footage of Sullivan and Keller. In this footage Sullivan shows the way how Helen Keller learned to talk. The final line of this footage, "I am not DUMB now!" is very touching.

Helen's College Education

By 1890, Keller was living at Perkins Institute along with her tutor Sullivan. She had already mastered Braille and learned how to use a typewriter. At Perkins, she learnt Greek, French and Latin.

She did very well in the next year’s entrance exams and was finally admitted to the class of 1900. During her years in college, she wrote her memoir, “The Story of My Life”.

In 1904, she graduated from Radcliffe College with a honours Bachelor of Arts degree, helped by Anne Sullivan who was always by her side, interpreting lectures and class discussion to her.

In 1920, she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Radicalized at Radcliffe, Helen addressed others, as she was often addressed, as 'Comrade'. She wrote praising both German variations of socialism, the national socialism of Adolf Hitler and international revolutionary socialism or communism of Lenin/Stalin.

Helen Keller's Campaigns and Other Work

Helen is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities amid numerous other causes. She started on her extensive fund raising campaigns for the American Foundation for the Blind using her new home as a base. She traveled around the world, helping to raise public awareness on the issues faced by the disabled. She delivered many lectures to improve the conditions for the blind and deaf-blind.

In 1915, Helen Keller and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition.

Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She spoke out for women's rights and pacifism. She was a suffragette, a radical Socialist, and a birth control supporter.

Her legacy has inspired books and films, notably The Miracle Worker (1962) and The Miracle Continues (1984)

Keller and Sullivan traveled to over 39 countries, including Japan where she became a favorite of the Japanese people. Keller met every US President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with many famous figures, including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin, and Mark Twain.

Anne died in 1936. To commemorate the death of her friend, Helen started to work on Anne’s biography, only to lose it to a fire in 1946 when it was almost completed. She rewrote it again and in 1955, published “Teacher : Anne Sullivan Macy”.

On June 1, 1968, after Helen died peacefully in her sleep, she was buried next to Anne at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Keller's Famous Quotations

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.

It’s a terrible thing to see, and have no vision!

We can do anything we want to do, if we stick to it long enough.

While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.

What I am looking for is not "out there," it is in me.

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.

Keep your face to the sunshine and you will never see the shadow.



Aclu, Anne Sullivan, Blind, Helen Keller

Meet the author

author avatar Uma Shankari
I write on society, relationships, travel, health, nutrition and fitness.
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author avatar Denise O
9th Oct 2012 (#)

Oh my gosh, what a heart warming article on Helen Keller and that clip where she is speaking, just took my breath away, just lovely. A well done job my friend. As always, thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar vpaulose
10th Oct 2012 (#)

Very nice my sister Uma, thanks.

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