Helen Keller (born June 27th 1880 - died June 1st 1968)
Helen Keller was a deafblind American political activist famous for her charity work and her incredible story of how she learned to communicate.
Helen Keller: Childhood
Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her parents were newspaper editor Arthur H. Keller and Kate Adams. Coincidentally, a Swiss ancestor of Keller's was the first teacher for deaf people in Zurich.
As a baby of 19 months, Helen contracted an illness (thought to be either scarlet fever or meningitis) which made her deaf and blind. She learnt to develop a kind of sign language through her sister Martha Washington, with whom she could already partially communicate. She was later referred by Alexander Graham Bell to the Perkins Institute for the Blind where she was instructed by a visually impaired ex-student named Anne Sullivan.
Anne began to teach her words by tracing the letters on Helen's palm, and while she was initially clueless about the idea of language, she finally understood the word for 'water' as Anne ran water over her other hand and subsequently began to learn the words for all other objects around her. Later, she learnt to speak and lip-read using her hands, and also learnt how to 'read' braille.
Helen later attended the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf, the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before becoming the first deaf-blind person to land a Bachelor of Arts degree when she graduated from Radcliffe College.
Helen Keller: Career
Helen Keller became an advocate for many causes including rights for people with disabilities, women's rights and pacifism.
In 1915, she founded the Helen Keller International organization for research into vision, health and nutrition with George Kessler, and later co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union.
She was a strong advocate of the Socialist Party, supporting Eugene V. Debs in his presidential campaigns.
In 1912, she became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, researching the link between blindness and poor working conditions.
Helen wrote various papers and 12 books in her career, including her 1903 autobiography 'The Story of My Life'. She followed that up with 'The World I Live In' in 1908 and her religious book 'My Religion' in 1927.
Helen has been credited with the introduction of the Japanese Akita dog in the US, after she purchased one in 1937.
She was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame the following year.
Helen Keller: Personal life
Helen Keller became close friends with several influential global figures including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain.
She became a devout Christian after being introduced to the religion by Phillips Brooks. Her religious views were seen as progressive in many ways given her support of Emanuel Swedenborg, whose theories indicate that the 'second coming' of Christ has already happened.
In 1961, Helen had several strokes, leaving her to retire at home for her final years. In 1968, she died at her home in Connecticut ahead of her 88th birthday.
Biography by Contactmusic.com
Date of birth
27th June, 1880
Date of death
1st June, 1968