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Helen Keller Biography

Biography | 10-14 yrs | Interactive

Who was Helen Keller?

Helen Adams Keller was an American author, political activist and lecturer. She was the first deaf – blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. After graduating from Radcliffe, she went on to become one of the most influential people in the 20th Century. She worked for the rights of persons with disabilities, women and under privileged sections of society.

Early Life

Helen Keller was born a normal child in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880. She lost her hearing and sight at 19 months of age to what is now diagnosed as scarlet fever. Five years later, her parents, on Alexander Graham Bell’s advice, applied to hire a teacher from the Perkins Institute for the Blind, in Boston.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Anne Mansfield Sullivan was able to bring about an extraordinary transformation in Helen’s isolated world. She taught Helen to understand and communicate with the world around her. She went on to acquire an excellent education and become an important spokesperson for the blind and the deaf. Anne Sullivan taught Helen to read and write in Braille and hand signals of the deaf mute, which she could understand by touch. Her efforts to speak later on in life, were not as successful, when she went on to become a public figure, but she was able to make herself be understood.

Parents and Family

Helen Adams Keller’s father Arthur H Keller, was an editor for the Tuscumbia North Alabamian and had served as a captain for the Confederate Army. Her mother Kate Adam’s father was Charles W Adams, a Confederate general, in theAmerican Civil War.

Helen had two siblings, Mildred Campbell and Philip Brooks Keller, and two older half brothers from her father’s prior marriage, James and William Simpson Keller.

Education and Achievements

Helen Keller started attending the Perkins Institute for the Blind in May, 1888. Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller moved to New York to attend the Wright – Humason School for the Deaf, and to learn from Sarah Fuller at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. In 1896, they returned to Massachusetts and Helen entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before gaining admittance to Radcliffe in 1900.

She became the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, at the age of 24 in 1904.

Helen Keller was determined to communicate with others and she learned to speak. She spent much of her life giving lectures and speeches. She learned to read lips with her finger tips, so she could ‘listen’ to other people’s speeches.

She is known for her strong support for people with disabilities. She travelled to over 25 countries, giving lectures and motivational speeches about deaf people’s conditions.

Political and Social Activism

Apart from this, she was a woman’s rights activist, a political activist, a social activist and a pacifist. She also helped set up several foundations for the various causes she believed in, like the Helen Keller International organisation, along with George A Kessler, and it is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition.

She also helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Writings and Literary Career

Helen Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles.

Books by Helen Keller

  • The Frost King
  • The Story of My Life
  • The World I Live In
  • Out of the Dark
  • My Religion, later revised and published as Light in My Darkness
  • and many more

Later Years

Helen Keller suffered several strokes in 1961 and spent the last years of her life at home. She spent much of her time raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. She died in her sleep on June, 1968, at her home, ‘Arcan Ridge’, located in Easton, Connecticut, a few days short of her 88th birthday. She is buried at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

6 Interesting facts about Helen Keller

  1. Helen Keller is Perkins School for the Blind’s most famous student
  2. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1953
  3. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan worked for 5 years in vaudeville to supplement their income. She was promoted as the 8th Wonder of the World and told her life’s story
  4. Although blind and deaf, Helen was very political and had very intelligent and strong opinions
  5. She was great friends with the writer Mark Twain and inventor Graham Bell
  6. Helen’s first word was ‘water’, when she understood the connection between the feeling of water running on her hand and Anne Sullivan described the word on her hand. She quickly demanded to learn as many words as possible. Anne Sullivan herself was visually impaired.

Awards and Honours

  • She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964
  • Ranked one of the 100 most influential person of the 20th Century, according to TIME magazine
  • A commemorative stamp was issues by the US Postal Service in 1980
  • The state of Alabama issued a quarter with Helen Keller on it, during the US Mint’s commemorative 50 State Quarters Program
  • She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame

3 Famous quotes by Helen Keller

  1. ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.’
  2. ‘Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.’
  3. ‘Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.’