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Helen Keller - A True American Hero

Updated on February 2, 2015

Helen Keller - One Of My Favorite American Heroes and Icons

I've long been fascinated by Helen Keller ever since we studied her in the early 60's when I was in elementary school. Sadly, Helen Keller and I were never to meet as she died right before my 10th birthday in June, 1968. But, when people ask me what historic person I'd most like to meet, I never hesitate - it's Helen Keller, without a doubt.

Helen Keller's fame came in part from her disabilities. She was born a normal seeing/hearing child but, when she was just 19 months old, she contracted a disease which most historians feel was either scarlet fever or meningitis. Since medicine of that era was vague, it's impossible to know what disease she had. But, there was no debate on the devastation her illness caused. At just under 2 years of age, Helen Keller was left deaf, dumb (called 'mute' today) and blind. It's unfortunate that 'dumb' was used to connotate having no spoken language as you will see Helen Keller was not dumb, in fact, she was far from it. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree! Nor was she speechless, albeit, her speech had to be translated by those who were close to her. Let's not forget she couldn't hear or see!

But, as I've discovered, there's so much more to Helen Keller besides thinking of her and her disability - so much more to this fascinating woman. Come along with me and see some of the things I've found about this American icon as I researched this Squidoo article. I think you just might fall in love with dear Helen too.

Photo credit: The portrait of Helen Keller above was taken in when she was 22 years old and is from Wikipedia.There's no doubt that Helen Keller was a stunningly gorgeous woman! All other photos will be credited separately.

Helen Keller As An Author

Although Helen Keller was not to hear or see or speak, she overcame these obstacles to become quite an author and a human rights supporter. Years ago, I remember reading "The World I Live In' which gives a poignant view of what it's like to step into a dark, quiet world. All of the below books were penned by Helen Keller and are all well worth the read.

The Story Of My Life: With Her Letters (1887--1901) And A Supplementary Account Of Her Education, Including Passages From The Reports And Letters Of Her Teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan
The Story Of My Life: With Her Letters (1887--1901) And A Supplementary Account Of Her Education, Including Passages From The Reports And Letters Of Her Teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan

You'll see Helen Keller's life through her own words and go along with her as she changes perception of what deaf, dumb, and blind mean. I love the part where she gets to meet Mark Twain!

 
The world I live in
The world I live in

This deeply personal book gives the reader a view into Helen Keller's life. Most reviewers stated that they couldn't put it down. I'm off to buy it now!

 
LIGHT IN MY DARKNESS
LIGHT IN MY DARKNESS

This book was actually the result of editing of one of Helen Keller's earlier works - "My Religion". Helen's spirituality is a driving force in her overcoming obstacles in her life and that's documented here.

 
helen keller
helen keller

Just A Bit Of Helen Keller's Early History

As I mentioned, Helen Keller was born a normal child with normal senses but, when she a young child just under 2 years old, she has a disease that left her deaf, blind, and without the ability to speak. As one can imagine, a child with limited resources has no idea where they are or what is going on. Helen Keller grew into a stubborn, withdrawn child until Anne Sullivan entered the scene as her teacher.

Through a rather long and winding path, including Helen being assessed by Alexander Graham Bell, Anne Sullivan, a 20 year old recent graduate of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts, was dispatched to Helen Keller's home to try to teach the child language. Anne Sullivan willingly took on a disheartening (at first) task. There were famous tantrums as Anne tried to get Helen to understand the connection between the movements Anne was making into Helen's hand and an item she was holding.

It was a month after Anne Sullivan started working with Helen that the job became enchanting - the moment that young Helen understood that the water running across her hand was linked to the finger movements her teacher was making in her other hand. From then on, Anne Sullivan had a hard time keeping up with her young charge. Once the connection between the hand spelling and familiar items took hold, Helen Keller's brain was on fire - she wanted to know more and, at the end of the very first day when she understood the concept of 'water,' she had already learned 30 new words.

Anne Sullivan would become Helen Keller's faithful companion for the next 49 years. There was much love, laughter, and respect between the two women.

Photo credit: Wikipedia. Helen Keller was just 8 years old in this photo of her and Anne Sullivan.

Helen Keller As A Teenager - photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Helen Keller As A Teenager - photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Helen Keller As A Teenager - photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

The best and most beautiful things in the word cannot be seen or even touched.

They must be felt with the heart.

~Helen Keller

helen keller blind deaf
helen keller blind deaf

A Brief Story Of The Love Of Helen Keller's Life

Peter Fagan

I'm glad that Helen Keller knew true love. In 1916 when Helen was 36, Anne Sullivan went to Puerto Rico for some rest and relaxation. Polly Thompson (Helen's cook and secretary) was also on vacation to Scotland so a man named Peter Fagan was hired to be Helen's temporary secretary.

Helen and Peter fell in love and applied for a marriage license. But, before they could even tell their families, the news leaked out in the Boston newspapers. Helen's family not only was angered at the situation, but they forbid the union and fired Mr. Fagan. Helen was whisked away to a relative's house in Alabama to further keep the lovers apart. Some see this as kidnapping which, perhaps it was. Regardless, the two lovers, keeping in touch through letters that their friends smuggled for them, plotted to elope. Sadly, this was not to be. Peter Fagan never showed up on the day they had planned to meet. That was probably one of the darkest (literally) day of Helen Keller's life.

Photo credit: Commons.wikimedia.org.

Interesting and Little Known Facts About Helen Keller

I always like to research and find obscure facts about the subjects I am writing about. And, let me tell ya, there's no shortage of interesting information about Helen Keller - the most interesting of which are noted below.

  1. In her youth, Helen Keller was usually photographed from the right side - that's because her left eye was protruding. She had both eyes replaced with glass orbs when she became an adult, not just for vanity reasons, but medically it was the right thing to do.
  2. When she was 20 years old, Helen Keller entered college at Ratcliff. She subsequently became the first deaf and blind person in the US to graduate college with a BA degree. Her college was paid for by one Henry Rodgers, an oil magnate who was introduced to Helen by her friend and admirer, Mark Twain.
  3. Helen Keller's first book, The Frost King, was written when she was 11 years old. Sadly, it appears that Helen may have 'lifted' the story from a passage in a book written by Margaret Canby. Detractors say that she did it deliberately (Canby's book was read to her by fingertip touch when she was 8), while supporters feel that, although there are similarities between the books, Helen's book is significantly enough different.
  4. Helen Keller is credited with bringing the first Akita dog to the US! Helen visited Japan once and commented on the beauty of an Akita she met. She was given a dog, Kamikaze-go, who subsequently died of distemper. The Japanese government kindly gave her a littermate and Helen was sold as a dog lover. I knew there was a reason I really liked her!
  5. Any pictures you may see of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan were taken before 1936 when Anne Sullivan died of a massive heart attack. And, in a stunning turn of fate, Anne Sullivan had gone fully blind herself in 1932! After Anne's death, Helen's former cook, Polly Thompson, became Helen's faithful companion until Helen died in 1968.
  6. Some of Helen Keller's most important work was to act as ambassador of good will ambassador for the American Foundation for the Blind. She also held this esteemed position for the Braille Institute and Foundation for the Deaf which is now known as the Helen Keller Foundations for the Blind and Deaf - a renaming that was well deserved.
  7. Helen Keller was way before her time in her views. She supported birth control when being a supporter of birth control could put one in a dangerous position. Helen Keller also was a Socialist and was a big supporter of the working class of American citizens. She was joined in her political views by Mark Twain - both of whom fell out of favor in the early 20th century.
  8. When Helen Keller was 75, she toured the world - about 40,000 miles of it. Her trip took her on a 5 month tour of Asia where she met dignitaries and frequently addressed schools for the deaf, blind, and mute.

Videos of Helen Keller

This whole article came about because I wandered across the first video below on Facebook recently - this video is rare footage showing Helen Keller speaking. Anne Sullivan is with her in this video and explains how Helen learned language.

This video of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan literally gave me chills. You'll hear Helen speak toward the end.

Helen Keller was sorely disappointed that she never learned to speak in a normal fashion. I think she does pretty darned good!

This photo montage of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan is well thought out although the music is a bit dry. At 2:52 minutes, you'll see Helen touching a violin as it was being played. This is how she 'heard' music.

Another rare video of Helen Keller speaking with Anne Sullivan interpreting. This time, she addresses children who are in a school for the deaf and dumb (their words, not mine) in Australia.

One cannot consent to creep

when one feels an impulse to soar.

~Helen Keller

The Original Movie The Miracle Worker

"The Miracle Worker"

The Miracle Worker is a movie portraying the life of Helen Keller - it portrays the story of the very young Helen Keller who was mostly wild due to her being isolated in her own world. With the patience guidance of Annie Sullivan, her teacher, Helen Keller went on to understand and become very wise about the world around her.

The movie the Miracle Worker was actually made 3 times. Patty Duke expertly portrays the young Helen Keller in the first movie and morphs into the role of Anne Sullivan in the second.

Please leave me a comment to let me know you stopped in. I'd love to hear from you.

Are you as enchanted with Helen Keller as I? - Comments welcomed.

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    • SBPI Inc profile image

      SBPI Inc 4 years ago

      She is deserving of much admiration and gratitude for not only her great work but also for having the courage and the mindset which allows or enabled her to rise above and move beyond her life situation. She was truly Present.

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 4 years ago

      I've always admired her, but I learned some new facts here today. I knew never she had almost married.

    • profile image

      ChristyZ 4 years ago

      Wow, that video is amazing. Imagine learning how to speak through touch! I too have always been interested in Hellen Keller. I love the facts that you've listed, I didn't realize that she had been taken away from the love of her life. Very interesting article, I truly enjoyed it.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 4 years ago

      I too have always been fascinated by Helen Keller. The video of her speaking is incredible!