Monday, July 9, 2007

Helen Keller

Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Alabama. At 19 months old, she contracted an illness that left her blind and deaf. The Kellers were referred by a doctor to Alexander Graham (considered and expert on deafness in children), who referred them to Michael Anagnos, director of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind. Anagnos recommended a former pupil of the institution, Anne Sullivan.

Anne arrived at the Kellers home in 1887and began teaching Helen to finger-spell. Helen could repeat Anne’s actions, but she was unable to comprehend their meanings. The two moved to a cottage on the land of the main house. After a month of instruction, Helen’s “miracle” occurred. Anne took her to a water pump and, while running water over Helen’s hand, simultaneously spelled “water” on Helen’s free hand. During this experiment, Helen made her first connection between the words and their corresponding objects. Shortly thereafter, Anne taught Helen to read and write (with regular and Braille typewriters). Helen learned to read English, French, German, Greek, and Latin in Braille.

In 1896, Helen attended Cambridge School for Young Ladies and then entered Radcliffe College, where she became the first deaf-blind person to not only attend college, but also receive a Bachelor of Arts degree. While attending college in 1903, Helen published “The Story of My Life.”

Anne Sullivan married John Macy, who first introduced Helen to socialism. In 1909, she became a member of the Socialist Party of Massachusetts. In 1913, Helen’s series of essays on socialism, “Out of the Dark” was published.

In 1915, she founded Helen Keller International, a non-profit organization for preventing blindness, and in 1920 she helped to found the ACLU.

Helen and Anne began lecture tours, speaking of Helen’s experiences, with Anne interpreting her speeches. After touring with a vaudeville show, which demonstrated Helen’s first understanding of the word “water,” they were given the chance to make a film in Hollywood and “Deliverance,” the story of Helen’s life, was made. In New York, Helen began her fundraising tours for the American Foundation for the Blind. She campaigned to improve the living and working conditions of blind people, who were often poorly educated and living in asylums. She spent years traveling the world fundraising for the American Foundation for the Overseas Blind. They visited Japan, Australia, South America, Europe and Africa.

Anne died on October 20, 1936, and Polly Thomson became Helen’s interpreter. In 1961, Helen suffered the first of a series of strokes. In 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, by President Lyndon Johnson. In 1965, she was elected to the Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair.

She spent her remaining years at her home in Westport, Connecticut. Helen Keller died On June 1, 1968, in her sleep. She was cremated in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Helen Keller contributed to feminism in many ways. Aside from being an advocate for people with disabilities, she was an activist for sexual and racial equality. She was also a suffragist and a birth control supporter. She made many things possible for not only women, but all people with disabilities as well, simply through her courage and refusal to give up.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t heard of Helen Keller. Her story is taught in probably every elementary school in the country. She is known for, and represents, perseverance, courage, and equality.





~Samantha Powers~