To mark 50 years since Helen Keller’s death, we take a look back at her remarkable story. At only 19 months old, illness left Keller blind and deaf. Yet she went on to become a powerful advocate for disability rights, women’s suffrage and racial equality in the US. Her legacy is one of resilience and unshakable courage while her charity, Helen Keller international, founded in 1915, remains active across the world
American educator Helen Keller overcame the adversity of being blind and deaf to become one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians, as well as co-founder of the ACLU.
Who Was Helen Keller?
Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. In 1882, she was stricken by an illness that left her blind and deaf. Beginning in 1887, Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, helped her make tremendous progress with her ability to communicate, and Keller went on to college, graduating in 1904. In 1920, Keller helped found the ACLU. During her lifetime, she received many honors in recognition of her accomplishments.
Helen Keller was the first of two daughters born to Arthur H. Keller and Katherine Adams Keller. She also had two older stepbrothers. Keller’s father had proudly served as an officer in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The family was not particularly wealthy and earned income from their cotton plantation. Later, Arthur became the editor of a weekly local newspaper, the North Alabamian.
Keller was born with her senses of sight and hearing, and started speaking when she was just 6 months old. She started walking at the age of 1.
Loss of Sight and Hearing
In 1882, however, Keller contracted an illness—called “brain fever” by the family doctor—that produced a high body temperature. The true nature of the illness remains a mystery today, though some experts believe it might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. Within a few days after the fever broke, Keller’s mother noticed that her daughter didn’t show any reaction when the dinner bell was rung, or when a hand was waved in front of her face. Keller had lost both her sight and hearing. She was just 19 months old.
As Keller grew into childhood, she developed a limited method of communication with her companion, Martha Washington, the young daughter of the family cook. The two had created a type of sign language, and by the time Keller was 7, they had invented more than 60 signs to communicate with each other. But Keller had become very wild and unruly during this time. She would kick and scream when angry, and giggle uncontrollably when happy. She tormented Martha and inflicted raging tantrums on her parents. Many family relatives felt she should be institutionalized.
I'm from Hanoi, Viet Nam.
I hold a PhD on Sustainable Energy Systems from University of Lisbon and Aalto University.
I graduated from Hanoi University of Technology on Environmental Engineering. I obtained a Master degree of the same major from Stanford University and Nanyang Technological University.
I'm an author of Dot Chuoi Non (dotchuoinon.com/author/hangbelu/), a blog on Positive thinking, founded by Dr. Tran Dinh Hoanh, an attorney in Washington DC.
I'm a co-founder of Conversations on Vietnam Development - cvdvn.net, a virtual think tank; a co-founder of POTATO - potato.edu.vn, working on outdoor education programs for kids in Vietnam. My English blog: hangbelu.wordpress/.
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