Even though Helen Keller was deaf and blind, she saw life in a way many others never see. “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched,” she said. “They must be felt with the heart.”
Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Ala., USA. Her parents were Arthur and Kate Keller. The family had ample income, as her father was the editor of the North Alabamian newspaper in Tuscumbia.
She was a perfect, healthy baby until she contracted a mysterious illness at nineteen months old. Her sickness gave her a high fever and although its duration was short, it left her blind and deaf.
Helen Keller entered a world of darkness and lonely silence. She became a wild and out of control child; throwing temper tantrums when she couldn’t get her way.
Helen Keller Needed A Miracle
Her father and mother were distraught over Helen’s unruly actions, and considered placing her in a mental institution. That was until they heard of a young woman who had successfully taught Laura Bridgman, a deaf-blind girl, at The Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Mass.
The young teacher’s name was Anne Sullivan, who had diminished vision herself, having had a viral eye disease as a child. She would become one of the best teachers the world has ever known.
Helen Keller was six years old when Anne Sullivan came into her life on March 3, 1887. Helen later wrote in her book The Story of my Life that she remembers the day as “…the most important in all of my life.”
Anne Sullivan, in her autobiography writes about meeting Helen for the first time. She says Helen was standing on the front porch and as I moved closer, she jerked my handbag away , and in the process, almost knocked me down. “Whereupon her mother forcibly took the bag away from her,” she said. “Helen’s face grew red to the roots of her hair, and she began to clutch at her mother’s dress and kick violently.”
Anne Sullivan Becomes The Miracle Worker
Anne said Helen’s appalling table manners were among the first aspects of her terrible behavior that had to be changed. “She puts her hands in our plates and takes whatever she wants,” Anne said, adding that learning Helen to eat properly became a contest of wills.
The teacher would lose two teeth before her student finally became submissive. Soon the pair began going on nature walks together and Helen was gaining respect for Anne. “Miss Sullivan had taught me to find beauty in the fragrant woods, in every blade of grass…she linked my earliest thoughts with nature, and made me feel that birds and flowers and I were happy peers,” Helen later wrote.
Helen said when the little blind children at Perkins Institute sent her a doll, she began to realize everything had a name. “My teacher took my hand and slowly spelled out the word d-o-l-l and I tried to imitate,” she said. Anne Sullivan had made contact with her mind and in a short time she was learning to read and write in Braille.
Anne Sullivan later wrote that the two most important things she taught Helen were obedience and love.
Helen Keller Becomes Famous
When Helen Keller was eight years old newspapers across the United States began printing her story.
She became famous as people wanted to find out more about the young blind and deaf girl that could do so much.
In 1890, at the age of ten, Helen learned to speak. Some people could understand what she said, but many others couldn’t. As with many deaf people, she never became fluent in her talk.
Helen Keller entered Radcliffe College in 1900, and graduated in 1904 with honors. She studied French, German, history, English composition and English literature. Anne Sullivan tutored Helen throughout her college years.
In 1915, Helen Keller and George Kessler founded Helen Keller International, an organization with a mission to save the sight and also the lives of the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
All of Helen’s adult life, she traveled and lectured around the United States, met with presidents and wrote several books. During World War II and the Korean War, she made trips to hospitals and advised soldiers with disabilities.
In 1959, a three-part play, based on The Story of my Life premiered on Broadway. The play titled The Miracle Worker depicted Helen Keller’s struggle in learning discipline and language from her teacher, Anne Sullivan. In 1962, the play was made into a movie starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.
Helen Keller always sought to help people with disabilities, especially those who were blind or deaf-blind individuals. She traveled to many countries during her lifetime and received numerous awards of distinction. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, three weeks short of her 88th birthday.