Helen Keller, full, detailed history, biography, Blind and deaf yet became a world renowned celebrity and teacher
by The Oegon Herald
Helen Keller's life has appeared in several movies. Among them was the 1954 documentary The Unconquered performance, which showed real images from Helen Keller's everyday life and was awarded the Oscar for best documentary.
On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States' two highest civilian honors. In 1965 she was committed to the National Women's Hall of Fame at the New York World's Fair.
Published on Friday October 8, 2021 7:29 AM
Helen Adams Keller was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer. Born in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, she lost her sight and hearing after a bout of illness at the age of nineteen months. She then communicated primarily using home signs until the age of seven when she met her first teacher and life-long companion Anne Sullivan, who taught her language, including reading and writing; Sullivan's first lessons involved spelling words on Keller's hand to show her the names of objects around her.
She also learned how to speak and to understand other people's speech using the Tadoma method. After an education at both specialist and mainstream schools, she attended Radcliffe College of Harvard University and became the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She worked for the American Foundation for the Blind from 1924 until 1968, during which time she toured the United States and traveled to 35 countries around the globe advocating for those with vision loss. Keller was a prolific author, writing 14 books and hundreds of speeches and essays on topics ranging from animals to Mahatma Gandhi. Keller campaigned for those with disabilities, for women's suffrage, labor rights, and world peace. She joined the Socialist Party of America in 1909. She was a supporter of the NAACP and an original member of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1933, when her book How I Became a Socialist was burned by Nazi youth, she wrote an open letter to the Student Body of Germany condemning censorship and prejudice.
The story of Keller and Sullivan was made famous by Keller's 1903 autobiography, The Story of My Life, and its adaptations for film and stage, The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace is now a museum and sponsors an annual 'Helen Keller Da'y. Her June 27 birthday is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in Pennsylvania and, in the centenary year of her birth, was recognized by a presidential proclamation from U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971 and was one of twelve inaugural inductees to the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on June 8, 2015.
Early childhood and illness
Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her family lived on a homestead, Ivy Green, that Helen's grandfather had built decades earlier. She had four siblings: two full siblings, Mildred Campbell Tyson and Phillip Brooks Keller, and two older half-brothers from her father's prior marriage, James McDonald Keller and William Simpson Keller.
Her father, Arthur Henley Keller, spent many years as an editor of the Tuscumbia North Alabamian and had served as a captain in the Confederate Army. The family were part of the slaveholding elite before the war, but lost status later. Her mother, Catherine Everett Keller, known as 'Kate', was the daughter of Charles W. Adams, a Confederate general. Her paternal lineage was traced to Casper Keller, a native of Switzerland. One of Helen's Swiss ancestors was the first teacher for the deaf in Zurich. Keller reflected on this irony in her first autobiography, stating 'that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.'
At 19 months old, Keller contracted an unknown illness described by doctors as 'an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain', which might have been meningitis caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, or possibly Haemophilus influenzae . Other possible infections were rubella or scarlet fever . The illness left her both deaf and blind. She lived, as she recalled in her autobiography, 'at sea in a dense fog'.
At that time, Keller was able to communicate somewhat with Martha Washington, the two-years-older daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs;:?11? by the age of seven, Keller had more than 60 home signs to communicate with her family, and could distinguish people by the vibration of their footsteps.
In 1886, Keller's mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickens' American Notes of the successful education of another deaf and blind woman, Laura Bridgman, dispatched the young Keller, accompanied by her father, to seek out physician J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice.
Chisholm referred the Kellers to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. Michael Anagnos, the school's director, asked a 20-year-old alumna of the school, Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, to become Keller's instructor. It was the beginning of a nearly 50-year-long relationship during which Sullivan evolved into Keller's governess and eventually her companion.
Sullivan arrived at Keller's house on March 5, 1887, a day Keller would forever remember as my soul's birthday. Sullivan immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with 'd-o-l-l' for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. When Sullivan was trying to teach Keller the word for 'mug', Keller became so frustrated she broke the mug. But soon she began imitating Sullivan's hand gestures. 'I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed,' Keller remembered. 'I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation.'
Keller's breakthrough in communication came the next month when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of 'water'. Writing in her autobiography, The Story of My Life, Keller recalled the moment: 'I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!' Keller then nearly exhausted Sullivan, demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.
Helen Keller was viewed as isolated but was very in touch with the outside world. She was able to enjoy music by feeling the beat and she was able to have a strong connection with animals through touch. She was delayed at picking up language, but that did not stop her from having a voice. the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971 and was one of twelve inaugural inductees to the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on June 8, 2015.
In May 1888, Keller started attending the Perkins Institute for the Blind. In 1894, Keller and Sullivan moved to New York to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf, and to learn from Sarah Fuller at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. In 1896, they returned to Massachusetts, and Keller entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before gaining admittance, in 1900, to Radcliffe College of Harvard University, where she lived in Briggs Hall, South House. Her admirer, Mark Twain, had introduced her to Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers, who, with his wife Abbie, paid for her education. In 1904, at the age of 24, Keller graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe, becoming the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She maintained a correspondence with the Austrian philosopher and pedagogue Wilhelm Jerusalem, who was one of the first to discover her literary talent.
Determined to communicate with others as conventionally as possible, Keller learned to speak and spent much of her life giving speeches and lectures on aspects of her life. She learned to 'hear' people's speech using the Tadoma method, which means using her fingers to feel the lips and throat of the speaker. She became proficient at using braille and using fingerspelling to communicate. Shortly before World War I, with the assistance of the Zoellner Quartet, she determined that by placing her fingertips on a resonant tabletop she could experience music played close by.
Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles. One of her earliest pieces of writing, at age 11, was The Frost King . There were allegations that this story had been plagiarized from The Frost Fairies by Margaret Canby. An investigation into the matter revealed that Keller may have experienced a case of cryptomnesia, which was that she had Canby's story read to her but forgot about it, while the memory remained in her subconscious.
At age 22, Keller published her autobiography, The Story of My Life, with help from Sullivan and Sullivan's husband, John Macy. It recounts the story of her life up to age 21 and was written during her time in college.
Keller wrote The World I Live In in 1908, giving readers an insight into how she felt about the world. Out of the Dark, a series of essays on socialism, was published in 1913.
When Keller was young, Anne Sullivan introduced her to Phillips Brooks, who introduced her to Christianity, Keller famously saying: 'I always knew He was there, but I didn't know His name!'
Her spiritual autobiography, My Religion, was published in 1927 and then in 1994 extensively revised and re-issued under the title Light in My Darkness. It advocates the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Christian theologian and mystic who gave a spiritual interpretation of the teachings of the Bible and who claimed that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ had already taken place.
Keller described the core of her belief in these words:
But in Swedenborg's teaching it is shown to be the government of God's Love and Wisdom and the creation of uses. Since His Life cannot be less in one being than another, or His Love manifested less fully in one thing than another, His Providence must needs be universal ... He has provided religion of some kind everywhere, and it does not matter to what race or creed anyone belongs if he is faithful to his ideals of right living.
Keller suffered a series of strokes in 1961 and spent the last years of her life at her home. On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States' two highest civilian honors. In 1965 she was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame at the New York World's Fair.
Keller devoted much of her later life to raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. She died in her sleep on June 1, 1968, at her home, Arcan Ridge, located in Easton, Connecticut, a few weeks short of her eighty-eighth birthday. A service was held in her honor at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., her body was cremated and her ashes were buried there next to her constant companions, Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson.
Keller's life has been interpreted many times. She appeared in a silent film, Deliverance , which told her story in a melodramatic, allegorical style. She was also the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1954 documentary Helen Keller in Her Story, narrated by her friend and noted theatrical actress Katharine Cornell. She was also profiled in The Story of Helen Keller, part of the Famous Americans series produced by Hearst Entertainment.
The Miracle Worker is a cycle of dramatic works ultimately derived from her autobiography, The Story of My Life. The various dramas each describe the relationship between Keller and Sullivan, depicting how the teacher led her from a state of almost feral wildness into education, activism, and intellectual celebrity. The common title of the cycle echoes Mark Twain's description of Sullivan as a 'miracle worker'. Its first realization was the 1957 Playhouse 90 teleplay of that title by William Gibson. He adapted it for a Broadway production in 1959 and an Oscar-winning feature film in 1962, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. It was remade for television in 1979 and 2000.
In 1984, Keller's life story was made into a TV movie called The Miracle Continues. This film, a 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 Keller's later life, although a Disney version produced in 2000 states in the credits that she became an activist for social equality. The Bollywood movie Black was largely based on Keller's story, from her childhood to her graduation.
A documentary called Shining Soul: Helen Keller's Spiritual Life and Legacy was produced by the Swedenborg Foundation in the same year. The film focuses on the role played by Emanuel Swedenborg's spiritual theology in her life and how it inspired Keller's triumph over her triple disabilities of blindness, deafness and a severe speech impediment.
On March 6, 2008, the New England Historic Genealogical Society announced that a staff member had discovered a rare 1888 photograph showing Helen and Anne, which, although previously published, had escaped widespread attention. Depicting Helen holding one of her many dolls, it is believed to be the earliest surviving photograph of Anne Sullivan Macy.
Video footage showing Helen Keller learning to mimic speech sounds also exists.
A biography of Helen Keller was written by the German Jewish author Hildegard Johanna Kaeser.
A 10-by-7-foot painting titled The Advocate: Tribute to Helen Keller was created by three artists from Kerala, India as a tribute to Helen Keller. The Painting was created in association with a non-profit organization Art d'Hope Foundation, artists groups Palette People and XakBoX Design & Art Studio. This painting was created for a fundraising event to help blind students in India and was inaugurated by M. G. Rajamanikyam, IAS on Helen Keller day . The painting depicts the major events of Helen Keller's life and is one of the biggest paintings done based on Helen Keller's life.
In 2020, the documentary essay Her Socialist Smile by John Gianvito evolves around Keller's first public talk in 1913 before a general audience, when she started speaking out on behalf of progressive causes.
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