April 2016 A to Z Challenge – I’m participating by writing blogs about history.
H is for Helen Keller
Everyone knows the name. Most everyone knows a joke. If you’re familiar with Helen Keller, you probably know she was blind and deaf. She was also an author, a lecturer, and a political activist interested in women’s suffrage, labor rights, and socialism.
She was born June 27, 1880 in Alabama to Arthur Keller and Kate Adams. She was born a normal child with the ability to see and hear, but at the age of 19 months, she contracted either Scarlet Fever or Meningitis and became blind and deaf from the illness. I can’t even imagine how she was intelligent enough to communicate to her family at such a young age, but by the age of seven, she had created more than sixty signs.
The Keller family was advised to contact Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. The photo (from Perkins School for the Blind Archives – Wikimedia) is of Helen and Mr. Bell. He referred them to Perkins Institute for the blind, which marked the beginning of Helen’s slow walk to normalcy. Helen studied with a visually-impaired former student of Perkins Institute, Anne Sullivan, who became her lifelong friend and eventually accompanied her to NY to also attend a school for the deaf. Helen continued her education by attending Cambridge School for Young Ladies and Radcliffe College, where she was the first deaf blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts Degree.
She was fluent at Braille, reading sign language by touching another’s hands, and she could experience music if it was close enough to vibrate a nearby table or other object.
In her later life, she achieved so many honors, it is impossible to list them all here. The ones I found interesting are that she traveled the world, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, published twelve books, met every president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson, and was friends with Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. The others are available on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller.
In 1961, she suffered a series of strokes and spent the rest of her life at her home in Connecticut. She died peacefully in her sleep June 1, 1968 at the age of 87. She is buried at the Washington National Cathedral.
How did she learn to speak without being able to hear or see? She can tell you in her own words.