This post is also available in: French
At only 19 months old, Helen Keller suffered an illness that took her vision and hearing. For years, she struggled, unable to communicate anything but the most primitive needs. What follows from there continues to inspire and motivate many people who learn about her life. May it do the same for you. Thank you Kate for writing this poignant Helen Keller biography.
Who was Helen Keller?
Helen Keller began her life in Tuscumbia, Alabama. At birth, Keller appeared to be a normal, healthy baby in every way.
But before her second birthday, Keller fell seriously ill. Although the exact diagnosis of the illness remains unknown, the results were clear, and devastating. Although Keller recovered from her fever, it was at the cost of two of her senses.
To help understand what she must have felt like, imagine the following:
You wake up in pitch darkness. You instinctively open your eyes, but nothing changes.
You listen, but you hear nothing except absolute silence. You know you’re alive — you can sense you’ve recently been ill and still feel poorly.
And now, you find yourself in a world of blackness devoid of sound. The world of colors and music you previously explored has vanished.
Scary, sad, overwhelming… So many emotions.
People who experience the loss of a sense often find their other senses improve. However, being robbed of two of her most vital senses, Helen faced an incredibly difficult and unique challenge. She struggled for many years afterward.
What happened next in the Helen Keller biography was amazing, to say the least.
Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Meet
Alexander Graham Bell, one of the eras pre-eminent scientists, evaluated Keller. He then sent in teacher Anne Sullivan from the Perkin’s Institution for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts.
The dramatic story of how Sullivan taught Keller to talk through finger spelling is told in the book and movie “The Miracle Worker.” Even though this method of communication was very difficult on Keller, it was a miracle.
In the video below, Annie Sullivan explains how Helen Keller learned to speak:
Finally, she could express her needs to others. Being blind and deaf, Keller never learned to enunciate clearly, although she did learn spoken speech.
Keller learned to read first by touching raised cardboard and eventually went on to learn Braille, which awakened in her a love of reading and books.
Keller also learned to read lips by placing her fingers on the mouth and throat of the speaker. She could then feel the vibrations of spoken words, as per the video above.
That was an impressive feat for someone who had never heard speech in memory.
Anne Sullivan remained with Keller throughout her life. Keller attended the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City and the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a teen.
As a young adult, she gained admission to Radcliffe College. She graduated with honors four years later.
Adulthood and advocacy work
As a young adult, Helen Keller not only excelled in reading. She began to write as well.
Some of her earliest works dealt with the reality of life as a blind individual. At the time, this topic was considered taboo by many women’s magazines. That was because much blindness during the era stemmed from sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis.
However, Keller broke through the silence and had her works published in well-known national magazines.
Although Keller came from a privileged background, as was clear by her parents paying for a private tutor, having money didn’t take away from her heart of gold. She often advocated for those who had less.
For example, she was a member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, organizations dedicated to advancing the causes of workers, particularly the working poor.
In addition to advocating for workers, Keller was a staunch proponent of women’s rights and a suffragette. She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union.
Throughout her life, Keller continued to advocate for women, the disabled, and those often forgotten by society.
In 1971, Helen Keller won acceptance into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. Then her induction into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame was in 2015. The home where she grew up is now a museum.
Helen Keller biography: A life of inspiration
Everyone can learn from Helen Keller’s example when it comes to overcoming tremendous adversity.
With the help of a remarkable teacher by the name of Anne Sullivan, Keller was able to see with her hands, and eventually speak. Over time, she flourished into an inspiring woman and a hero in her own right.
While she awakened to a nightmare existence, Helen Keller found the inner reserves of strength to rise above her circumstances and make the world a better place through her contributions.
About today’s writer
Kate is a lifestyle and wellness journalist from Pennsylvania. She particularly enjoys writing about topics related to women’s health and well-being. If you like her work, you can subscribe to her blog, So Well, So Woman.
About this Helen Keller biography: Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve overcome something seemingly impossible or seen someone else do so? What or who inspires you?
This post is also available in: French