Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama to Arthur H. Keller and Kate Adams. At 6 months, Helen began to talk but at 18 months, she became ill with “brain fever,” now believed to be meningitis or scarlet fever. Her mother quickly discovered that Keller became blind, dead, and mute. As a child, she developed a method of communicated with Marta Washington, the daughter of the family cook. Though she was able to communicate basic terms with her family, she could become wild and throw tantrums, causing family relatives to believe that she should be institutionalized.
In 1886, her mother came across Charles Dickens’ American Notes. It described the successful education of another deaf and blind girl named Laura Bridgman. Keller and her father went to Baltimore to see a specialist, who sent them to Alexander Graham Bell, who sent them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. The director’s institution recommended recent graduate, Anne Sullivan. In March 1887, Sullivan went to Keller’s home in Alabama. While Helen Keller was first cooperating with Sullivan, she began to object to Sullivan’s teaching so Sullivan demanded Keller be cut off from the rest of the family. A month later, Sullivan taught Keller her first word Water, helping her to make the connection between the object and the letters. Sullivan took Keller out to the water pump, placed Keller’s hand under the spout, and spelled out the word w-a-t-e-r on Helen’s hand. By nightfall, Keller had learned 30 words.
In 1890, Keller began speech classes at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston and learned how to talk. She met Mark Twain, who introduced her to Standard Oil Executive Henry H. Rogers, who paid for Keller to attend Radcliff College. Sullivan continued to stay with Keller, helping her interpret lectures and texts. On 1904, Keller became the first deaf blind person to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.Sullivan went on to marry Harvard University instructor John Macy. When Keller was not traveling, she stayed with them. Keller traveled the country giving speeches on women’s suffrage, birth control, and improving welfare for blind people. In 1920, she help found the American Civil Liberties Union.
In 1936, Sullivan died after suffering from health problems for years. She had bad eyesight her whole life and ended up losing her eyesight completely in 1932. Keller’s secretary, Polly Thompson became Keller’s constant companion. Sullivan died with Keller holding her hand. In 1946, Keller was appointed counselor of international relations for the American Foundation of Overseas Blind. She traveled to 35 countries, inspiring her audience with her story of overcoming disabilities. On September 16, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died in her sleep on June 1, 1868. Her ashes were buried next to companions Anne Sullivan and Polly Thompson.
Helen Keller was able to overcome her disabilities, inspiring millions that they too could overcome obstacles in their lives. Keller dedicated her life advocating change for people with disabilities, proving that they were also equal human beings. At that time, people with disabilities were not accepted in society. Besides becoming an advocate for people with disabilities, she also became an advocate for women and the working class. Keller was inspired to be a strong woman because of her mother and her teacher. Her mother refused to send her away, believing that one day she could be educated. Anne Sullivan, dealing with her own eyesight problem, was able to control Keller’s bad behavior, bringing meaning to the girl’s life. A bronze statue of Helen Keller was added to the United States Capitol Visitior Center. It shows Keller as a 7-year-old girl at the water pump, learning how w-a-t-e-r. The plaque is in braille. and reads “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” While I was there, I saw a blind girl reading the braille plaque, witnessing first-hand how Helen Keller continues to inspire.