Keller, Helen

The Five Senses and Beyond: The Encyclopedia of Perception - Jennifer L. Hellier 2017


Keller, Helen

Helen Keller was a famous blind and deaf author, speaker, and activist known worldwide. She dedicated her life to help improve the lives of others, especially those like herself. Helen Adams Keller was born completely healthy on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. At 19 months old, Helen contracted an unknown illness that left her blind and deaf. Experts today think the illness might have been meningitis or scarlet fever. When Helen was six, her parents brought her to see Alexander Graham Bell, who at the time had been working with the deaf. Per his advice, they contacted the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. Through the Perkins Institute the Keller family met Anne Mansfield Sullivan, who became Helen’s teacher. Sullivan, a 21-year-old graduate from the Perkins Institute for the Blind, was also visually impaired. She began teaching and communicating with Keller by physically spelling words in her hands. Helen was a quick learner and was able to master the manual alphabet and braille.

In 1890, Sullivan took Keller to Sarah Fuller at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf where she learned to speak, after Helen expressed the desire. Keller continued her education at many different institutes. She attended the Perkins School for the Blind, the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf, and the Cambridge School of Young Ladies in order to prepare for college. Helen then went on to attend Radcliffe College and graduated cum laude in 1904 with a bachelor of arts degree. She became the first deaf-blind person to do so. Sullivan accompanied Keller to all of her classes throughout the years, interpreting for her. She remained with Helen until she died on October 20, 1963.

Throughout her life, Keller had many achievements. In 1903, at the age of 22, she published her autobiography, The Story of My Life. The book is still in print today and has been translated into numerous languages. She went on to publish 13 more books as well as many articles. Some of her other published works include “Optimism,” The World I Live In, My Religion, Let Us Have Faith, Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy, and The Open Door. Helen also wrote many essays and speeches on topics such as preventing blindness, birth control, and faith, which can be found in the Helen Keller Archives. Keller’s greatest passion was helping others like herself. In 1921 she joined the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) where she worked for more than 40 years. Keller worked to improve the treatment and quality of life of the blind and deaf, both in the United States and other countries. She was able to empathize with so many people and brought inspiration to many. She visited military hospitals and helped provide hope to the injured soldiers. In 1915 she founded Helen Keller International. Not only was Helen involved in helping others with disabilities, she was also a Socialist and advocated for many causes such as civil rights and women’s suffrage. She was also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Helen Keller received many awards throughout her life. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, several honorary doctoral degrees, the Lions Humanitarian Award, and received many other awards for her accomplishments. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, in her sleep at 87 years old.

Shannen McNamara

See also: Blindness; Deafness; Sullivan, Anne

Further Reading

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). (2015). Helen Keller biography and chronology. Retrieved from http://www.afb.org/info/about-us/helen-keller/biography-and-chronology/123

Helen Keller Foundation. (n.d.). Helen Keller. Retrieved from http://www.helenkellerfoundation.org/helen-keller/

Perkins School for the Blind. (n.d.). Helen Keller. Retrieved from http://www.perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller