The story of Helen Keller is strong enough to inspire anyone with any form of physical disability not to give up on themselves and their dreams. Keller is famous for being the first deaf and blind person to receive a Bachelor’s degree. When she was deaf and blinded by brain fever at the age of nearly two, Keller defied the odds of becoming an internationally recognized icon, especially in education.
She was a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer. More than half a century has passed since Keller’s death, but her legacy lives on and attracts attention from time to time.
Who Is Helen Keller?
On June 27, 1880, in a homestead in Ivy Green, Tuscumbia, Alabama, a couple named Arthur H. Keller and Katherine Adams Keller welcomed their first daughter Helen Adams Keller into the world. She was born a perfectly healthy child with all her sensory organs intact. Keller grew up with her two siblings, Mildred Campbell and Phillip Brooks Keller. From her father’s previous marriage, Helen was the half-sister of James and William Simpson Keller.
Patriarch Arthur Keller was an officer in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and after the war ended he took a position as editor of the weekly local newspaper North Alabamian. The family’s main source of income was their cotton plantation.
Hellen Keller developed quite rapidly, began speaking when she was only 6 months old, and walked at the age of one year. Unfortunately, her life took a tragic turn in 1882, when Hellen was struck by a fever at the age of only 19 months, which left her blind and deaf. The cause of the disease, which remains a mystery to this day, was diagnosed by the family doctor as “meningitis”. Keller’s body temperature reached alarming levels, and doctors later suspected it was scarlet fever or meningitis.
Her parents noticed the effects of the disease when Keller stopped responding to the food bells and stopped twitching when her face was waved with a finger. The disease left young Keller traumatized, and she often expressed her feelings in extreme ways, throwing angry tantrums at her parents and giggling uncontrollably when she was upset.
She was very close to a certain Martha Washington, the young daughter of the family chef. Together with Martha, Keller developed speech signs, and by the age of 6, she had developed about 60 signs to communicate with her family. Keller’s parents were so disturbed by her illness that they were desperately searching for answers and a better life for their daughter.
They were recommended to Alexander Graham Bell, the founder of the telephone, who at that time (1886) worked with deaf and blind people. Bell sent them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts, where Anne Sullivan was assigned to assist Keller.
Anne Sulivan was to play an extremely important role in Hellen Keller’s life, overcoming her early tantrums of frustration and helping her develop to an unprecedented level. Anne Sullivan spent the rest of her life fully engaged in Keller’s education.
Facts About Her Education and Teaching
- After a year of homeschooling with Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller began her formal education at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in 1888, where she learned to read Braille. She also attended the Wright Humason School for the Deaf and the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, where she took speech lessons.
- Helen Keller briefly attended Cambridge School for Young Ladies before her learning skills inspired admirer Mark Twain to sponsor her to attend Radcliffe College at Harvard University, where she graduated in 1904 at the age of 24 and became the first blind person to receive a college degree. Anne Sullivan sat at her side throughout her college years and helped her interpret lectures.
- With the help of her partner Anne Sulivan’s husband, John Macy, Helen Keller wrote her first book, an autobiography entitled The Story of My Life, which describes her life from childhood to the age of 21. year of life. She wrote 12 books in total.
- After graduating from college, Helen Keller began giving lectures, often sharing her experiences with her disability, which were a great inspiration to many. She attended many schools for the deaf and soon became a social activist for people with disabilities. Once she testified before Congress and worked for the welfare of blind people.
Later Life and Death
Helen Keller dedicated her entire life to improving the lives of disabled people. Her works gained international recognition and she was subsequently awarded numerous prizes for her achievements. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Her efforts have taken her to over 35 countries. Streets in France, Spain, and Israel are named after her. In 1961, Keller suffered a series of strokes, and on June 1, 1968, Helen Keller died peacefully in her sleep. Keller has received many posthumous honors. In 1971 and 2015 she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame.