Helen Keller was an extraordinary woman who, despite being deaf and blind, was able to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and become an author, political activist and lecturer. Keller was also opposed to war and campaigned for causes such as women’s suffrage, workers’ rights and socialism. Helen Keller is also recognized because of the efforts of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, who was instrumental in introducing language and communication to Keller when she was a child.
1. Scarlet Fever and Meningitis
Keller became blind and deaf following what historians believe was a bout with scarlet fever or meningitis when she was 19 months old. Keller’s parents were given advice on whom to see for help and were eventually lead to Anne Sullivan. Sullivan would become Keller’s teacher, governess and, eventually, her life-long companion.
Sullivan taught Keller how to communicate by spelling words into her hand. Sullivan then taught Keller the method of touching the lips and throat of others as they speak, combined with finger spelling letters, as Sullivan had first taught her. Keller later learned Braille and used it to read in English, French, German, Greek and Latin.
3. College Degree
Keller attended several schools and institutes before being accepted to Radcliffe College. In 1904, at the age of 24, Keller graduated from Radcliffe. She became the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Keller dedicated the later years of her life to being an advocate for people with disabilities. In 1915, Helen Keller and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI), an organization devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition.
5. Co-Founder ACLU
Keller has been called a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical Socialist and a birth control supporter. In 1920, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller and Sullivan traveled to over 39 countries where Keller would deliver articulate and powerful speeches.
6. Socially Well-Connected
Keller was well connected socially. She met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with such famous figures as Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain.
During her lifetime, Keller wrote 12 books and several articles. At the age of eleven she wrote The Frost King and continued writing through and after college. She wrote about the world in the ways that she experienced it. She wrote a series of essays on socialism. She even wrote some controversial pieces on the Last Judgment and Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
8. The Story of My Life
Keller published her autobiography, The Story of My Life, in 1903. Sullivan and Sullivan’s husband helped her write this book. The autobiography includes Keller’s life experiences through the age of 21.
9. Honors and Awards
On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Helen Keller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ highest two civilian honors. In 1965 she was elected to the Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair. Posthumous honors include Keller’s listing in the Gallup’s Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century and being honored on the Alabama state quarter.
10. The Miracle Worker
Keller spent her later years raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. After her death in 1968, she was portrayed in a number of different written and recorded works. She has been the subject of many documentaries and other dramatic works which were inspired by the information written in her autobiography. This series was entitled The Miracle Worker.
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