One of the most well-known and preeminent activists of the last 100 years, Helen Adams Keller, was not only a prolific novelist, but she was also a teacher, political activist, and advocated heavily for disability rights.
Helen was born June 27, 1880, in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, and after an illness while she was a baby, she lost her eyesight and hearing. From that point on until the age of 7, Helen developed her own unique signs that allowed her to interact with her family members.
Shortly after, Helen met her life-long friend and mentor, Anne Sullivan. Anne was the first person to teach Hellen to read, write, and speak. Anne’s first lessons with Helen taught her to spell out words on her hands to identify objects around her. Using the Tadoma Method, Hellen also learned to speak and how to effectively listen to others.
Helen Keller was the first deafblind person in history to earn a B.A. after attending both expert and mainstream institutions such as Radcliffe College and the distinguished Harvard University.
From 1924 to 1968, Helen worked tirelessly for the American Foundation for the Blind. In a time when travel was not easily accessible, she traveled to over 39 countries, promoting and advocating for people who had suffered from vision and hearing loss.
One of the first words Anne taught Helen was “doll.” Anne brought the doll for Helen as a present at their first meeting. In later years Helen recalled the first day they met as the day she met her soulmate. In the beginning, Helen became discouraged with the slow rate at which she was learning; what Helen didn’t understand at the time was, each and everything around her had a specific word for it that she needed to know.
Helen’s inspirational quote, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much,” is a truism that almost every person would recognize as being genuine. Helen discovered the critical lesson that as individuals, we could change small things around us, but to change the world, we must put our differences aside and come together to achieve a common goal.
An amusing story is when Anne was teaching Helen how to spell “mug,” the story goes that Helen grew so frustrated that she ended up breaking the mug.
In later years, Helen recounted how at the time, she had no idea that words and spelling even existed; In her own words, Hellen says, “I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation.”
In Helen’s seminal autobiography, The Story Of My Life, she recounted an emotional story,
“I stood still, my whole consciousness fixed upon the movements of her fingers. Swiftly I felt a hazy cognizance of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; somehow, the secret of expression was revealed. I grasped then that “w-a-t-e-r” expressed the extraordinary cool feeling; something was flowing over my hand. The living breathing word aroused my heart, gave it light, hope, and set it free!”
The public perception of Helen Keller was that she was private and, to a certain degree, isolated; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. With the help of friends and family, in particular, Anne Sullivan, Helen experienced music through feeling the beat, through touch, she had a deep relationship with animals, and although she didn’t learn language until quite late, Helen’s name and legacy still live on.
Helen never married, although when she was 36, she fell in love with Peter Fagan, a newspaper journalist working as Helen’s personal assistant. It’s difficult for us to understand, but in Helen’s day, women who were disabled were discouraged from falling in love and getting married. Helen has been quoted as saying, “If I could see, I would marry first of all.”
Helen Adams Keller, who worked her entire life fiercely advocating for those less fortunate, passed away in her sleep on June 1, 1968, in her Connecticut homestead. A ceremony was held in Washington at the National Cathedral. Her ashes were set there alongside her lifelong friends Anne Sullivan and Polly Thompson.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Other Memorable Quotes From Helen Keller
- “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”
- “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
- “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.”
- “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
- “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
- “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
- “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”
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