Helen Keller, 1880-1968

  • Helen-Keller-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education, Activism & Feminism, and Literature & PoetryWoman Tags: Author, Educator, The Pioneering Women of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood, and WDC Metro Area Women

  • HerStory

    Political activist, author, lecturer, and the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

    Born in the state of Alabama. At 19-month-old, she contracted an illness that left her deaf and blind. By the age of 7, Keller developed her own sign language to communicate with her family. Then, with the help of Alexander Graham Bell, she started formal education attending the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where she met Anne Sullivan, a visually impaired young teacher who will become her companion for 49 years.
    Keller learned to speak English so she can communicate with hearing people, and learned to ‘hear’ by touching people’s lips. She also learned the Braille language, sign language, and was able to ‘hear’ music by touch and vibration. At 16, she attended a preparatory school and later the Radcliffe College, where she made history by earning her bachelor of arts, becoming the first deaf and blind person to earn this degree.
    After college, Keller dedicated her life to improving the lives of others, especially disabled people, as well as promoting women’s rights. She gave lectures around the world, testified before the Congress, became a member of the American Socialist Party, wrote articles, and published 12 books, including her biography that was adapted to movies, a television drama, and a Broadway play.
    Keller died a few weeks before her 88th birthday. In her lifetime, she proved that will power and determination can allow a person to overcome any obstacle.

    “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence”

    “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • By the age of 13, she already knew how to read braille in five languages – English, German, French, Greek, and Latin.
    • All over the world, there are clinics, libraries, and schools named after her.
    • Helen Keller Day is observed annually on her birthday, June 27th.
    • In the US, there are six statues of her located in Alabama, Massachusetts, Ohio, and in the US Capitol in DC (one of the nine statues of women in the statuary hall collection). There is also a statue of Her in Chiba Central Park in Japan.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Presidential Medal of Freedom
    * The Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal
    * Several honorary doctoral degrees

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Helen Keller Speech

    Helen Keller speech reenactment at a Lions International Convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, June 30, 1925 . Click on Show More to view the text of her speech.

    Dear Lions and Ladies:

    I suppose you have heard the legend that represents opportunity as a capricious lady, who knocks at every door but once, and if the door isn't opened quickly, she passes on, never to return. And that is as it should be. Lovely, desirable ladies won't wait. You have to go out and grab 'em.

    I am your opportunity. I am knocking at your door. I want to be adopted. The legend doesn't say what you are to do when several beautiful opportunities present themselves at the same door. I guess you have to choose the one you love best. I hope you will adopt me. I am the youngest here, and what I offer you is full of splendid opportunities for service.

    The American Foundation for the Blind is only four years old. It grew out of the imperative needs of the blind, and was called into existence by the sightless themselves. It is national and international in scope and in importance. It represents the best and most enlightened thought on our subject that has been reached so far. Its object is to make the lives of the blind more worthwhile everywhere by increasing their economic value and giving them the joy of normal activity.

    Try to imagine how you would feel if you were suddenly stricken blind today. Picture yourself stumbling and groping at noonday as in the night; your work, your independence, gone. In that dark world wouldn't you be glad if a friend took you by the hand and said, "Come with me and I will teach you how to do some of the things you used to do when you could see?" That is just the kind of friend the American Foundation is going to be to all the blind in this country if seeing people will give it the support it must have.

    You have heard how through a little word dropped from the fingers of another, a ray of light from another soul touched the darkness of my mind and I found myself, found the world, found God. It is because my teacher learned about me and broke through the dark, silent imprisonment which held me that I am able to work for myself and for others. It is the caring we want more than money. The gift without the sympathy and interest of the giver is empty. If you care, if we can make the people of this great country care, the blind will indeed triumph over blindness.

    The opportunity I bring to you, Lions, is this: To foster and sponsor the work of the American Foundation for the Blind. Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?

    I thank you.

  • Keller in 1907. Photo credit - LOC

  • Citations and Additional References:
    Wikipedia page.
    Biography.com website.
    Britannica website.