Helen Keller Biography
SUMMARY: Helen Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) American author, deaf blind activist, lecturer
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Helen Keller was born on June 27 1880 on an estate called Ivy Green in Tuscumbia Alabama, a small rural town. She was the daughter of Captain Arthur Henley Keller and Kate Adams Keller. She was born with full sight and hearing. Helen grew up in a modest home that was built by her grandparents. They were far from wealthy as her father earned his living from both a cotton plantation and by working as an editor of the local newspaper. It was not until she was nineteen months old that Helen lost her sight and hearing as she was stricken with an illness described as “acute congestion of the stomach and brain.” It is thought today that the illness might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. She wasn’t expected to live so when the fever finally came down, Helen’s family was ecstatic believing that their daughter would be well once again. Helen’s mother was the first to notice that her daughter was not responding to familiar sounds such as the dinner bell. She also noticed that she did not respond to seeing things such as a hand being passed in front of her face. It appeared that the illness left lasting effects on the small girl. The next few years were extremely difficult for the Keller family as Helen became a difficult child. Her temper tantrums and screams echoed throughout the house and became more frequent. Relatives regarded her as a monster. At the time Martha Washington helped Helen communicate with the rest of her family by helping create a sign language. By the time she had turned seven years old she had over 60 home signs to help her communicate her wants and needs. Although she could communicate, her temperament did not change much and she became too much for her parents to handle so Helen’s mother sought for some extra advice. She traveled to a specialist doctor in Baltimore who gave them much hope for helping Helen overcome her problems. Alexander Graham Bell suggested that they find help for Helen at the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind. The recommendation for Helen was a former student by the name of Anne Sullivan.
Anne Sullivan was also blind and had been educated as such. When she arrived at the Keller home she saw the need for Helen to receive some immediate discipline treatment. She asked for permission to isolate Helen from the rest of her family and their small garden house. Her big breakthrough with communicating came when Helen realized that the motions her teacher was making while running water over her hand symbolized the idea of “water.” She became very curious after that, wanting to know the names of everything she now knew in her small world. She soon wanted to learn how to speak as others so Anne Sullivan taught her to speak using the Tadoma method of touching your lips and throat to understand others as they speak. This combined with finger spelling on the palm of her hand led to a more successful way of communicating. She eventually also learned Braille and used it to read English, French, German, Greek, and Latin.
In 1896 Helen moved on to the Cambridge School for Young ladies and then in 1900 she entered the Radcliffe College. Helen wrote her first book that was published in 1903, “The Story of my Life” which sold poorly at the time, but has since become a classic. In 1904 she graduated from College with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She went on to become a world famous speaker and was an advocate for all people with disabilities. She suffered many strokes in 1961 and spent the last few years of her life at home. She died on June 1 1968 just before her 88th birthday.