Helen Keller suffered a severe illness in early childhood that left her blind and deaf. Her inability to communicate led her parents to consult with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. As a result of this consultation, the Perkins Institution for the Blind sent one of its recent graduates, Anne Sullivan, to the Keller household to teach the child. Sullivan taught her pupil to use the manual alphabet used by the deaf by forming the signs in her hand. Once Keller realized that the mysterious movements were not a game but symbols for real things, the world of language was opened to her. With Sullivan’s assistance, she eventually learned to speak, not only English, but also French and German. After studies at several schools, Keller earned a BA, cum laude, from Radcliffe College in 1904.
Keller devoted the rest of her life to social reform, especially the treatment and education of disabled persons. She founded organizations, wrote books and essays, and gave lectures to raise public awareness. Keller was also interested in other aspects of social reform, including votes for women and the rights of labor unions to organize. She believed that making the world better for some meant making it better for all. She was awarded many medals for her humanitarian efforts, including the Legion of Honor from France (1952) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964). After a stroke in 1961, Keller retired from public life and lived quietly until her death in 1968. Her story has been presented several times on the stage, in films, and in television productions.
Helen Keller’s memoir The Story of My Life has inspired many, handicapped and non-handicapped alike. Her other writings brought the general public to an awareness of the conditions under which many disabled persons suffered and were instrumental in reforming those conditions.
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Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-112513.
Last updated on Dec 18, 2007.