Who is Helen Keller?
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer. Born in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, she lost her sight and her hearing after a bout of illness at the age of 19 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 (AFB) 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 Day”. 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.
A persistent conspiracy has dogged Helen Keller’s fame – namely that she was a fraud perpetuated by her longtime companion Anne Sullivan. If she was a fraud, it was one of the most successful in all of history. In the event this fraud is ever proven, I will give a new attribution to the above quote.