The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Helen Keller

Helen Adams Keller
Deaf-blind American author, activist, and lecturer
Born June 27, 1880
Tuscumbia, Alabama, USA
Died June 1, 1968
Westport, Connecticut, USA

Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880June 1, 1968) was a deaf-blind American author, activist, and lecturer. Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, her disabilities were caused by a fever February 1882 when she was 19 months old. Her loss of ability to communicate at such an early developmental age was very traumatic for her and her family, and as she grew she became quite unmanageable because of it.

In 1887, her parents, Captain Arthur H. Keller and Kate Adams Keller, finally contacted Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with deaf children. He advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. They delegated the teacher Anne Sullivan, who was then only 20 years old, to try to open up Helen's mind. It was the beginning of a 49-year period of working together.

Sullivan demanded and got permission from Helen's father to isolate the girl from the rest of the family, in a cabin. Her first task was to instill discipline in the spoiled girl. Helen's big breakthrough in communication came one day when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on her palm symbolized the idea of "water" and nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world (including her prized doll).

Anne was able to teach Helen to think intelligibly and to speak, using the Tadoma method: touching the lips of others as they spoke, feeling the vibrations, and spelling of alphabetical characters in the palm of Helen's hand. She also learned to read French, German, Greek, and Latin in braille. When Helen was 24 she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, where Anne Sullivan had translated every word in her hand. With tremendous willpower Helen went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She made it her own life's mission to fight for the sensorially handicapped in the world.

Helen Keller was a member of the socialist party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working classes from 1909 to 1921. Helen Keller also joined the industrial union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), in 1912 after she felt that parliamentary socialism was "sinking in the political bog." Helen Keller wrote for the IWW between 1916 and 1918. In "Why I Became an IWW" Helen wrote that her motivation for activism came in part due to her concern about blindness and other disabilities:

"I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness."

Helen Keller wrote glowingly of the emergence of communism during the Russian Revolution (See ISBN 0684818868). Her contacts with suspected communists were frequently investigated by the FBI.

In 1920 she was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 1925 she addressed a convention of Lions Clubs International giving that organisation a major focus for its service work which still continues today.

In 1960 her book Light in my Darkness was published in which she advocated the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. She also wrote a lengthy autobiography. She wrote a total of eleven books, and authored numerous articles.

On September 14, 1964 , President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.

Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, more than thirty years after the death of Annie Sullivan.

A silent film, Deliverance, first told Keller's story.

The Miracle Worker,a play about how Helen Keller learned to communicate, was made into a movie three times.

Another recent movie about Helen Keller's life is The Miracle Continues . This semi-sequel to The Miracle Worker recounts her college years and her early adult life. None of the early movies hint at the social activism that would become the hallmark of Helen's later life, although the Disney version produced in 2000 states in the credits that Helen became an activist for social equality.

Her life and achievements are celebrated annually in Tuscumbia, her hometown, in the Helen Keller festival.[1]

External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about Helen Keller .

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Helen Keller
  • Official site of Ivy Green, Helen Keller's birthplace
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom, Helen Keller
  • The Helen Keller Services for the blind
  • A likeness of Helen Keller is featured on Alabama's quarter
  • Marxist Internet Archive: Helen Keller Reference Archive .

See Also

  • David Vetter was a 20th-century boy who too was forced to live in his own world, though for a completely different reason.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 10:53:46
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55