BIOGRAPHY: HELEN KELLER (1880-1968)

Early life

Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880. She was the
daughter of newspaper editor Captain Arthur Keller and his wife, Kate Adams Keller.
At the age of 19 months, Helen was struck with a severe illness (called "brain fever"
at the time, it may have been scarlet fever) which left her both blind and deaf. Her
deafness made it difficult to learn to speak.
She invented 60 of her own signs in order to communicate with her family. Using
touch and smell, she explored the world. Her isolation often enraged her, making her
kick and scream in frustration.

Life with Anne Sullivan

At the age of six, Helen's parents took her to see Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, who
recommended Anne Mansfield Sullivan as a teacher, a post she assumed on March 3,
1887. That April, the miracle occurred in which Helen associated water with the
letters "w-a-t-e-r" which her teacher had signed into her hand. Helen learned 30
words the first day and soon learned to sign the alphabet, write and eventually speak.
Helen learned to read lips by pressing her fingertips to the speaker's lips and feeling
the vibrations and movement. This method, called Tadoma, is extremely difficult; very
few master it.
Helen had mastered Braille, the manual alphabet and the typewriter by the age of 10.
By age 16, she could speak well enough to go to prep school and college.
In 1888, Helen and her teacher went to the Perkins School for the Blind, where Miss
Sullivan continued to teach her. In 1894 they went on to the Wright-Humason School
for the Deaf in New York, and later to a prep school, the Cambridge School for Young
Ladies.

College

In the fall of 1900, Helen Keller entered Radcliffe College, graduating in 1904 with a
bachelor of arts degree cum laude. Anne Sullivan stayed with her, interpreting class
lectures and discussions.
While still at college Helen published The Story of My Life, the first of three
autobiographical books. The book was very successful, allowing her to buy her own
home. It is still available in over 50 languages.

Career

Much of her life was spent delivering inspirational lectures in some 25 countries.
She was concerned with women's rights, pacifism and helping the deaf and blind. Her
pacifism during the First World War led to a decline in her income from lectures.
During the Second World War, she visited soldiers who had lost their sight or hearing.
She devoted much of her time to fund-raising for organizations for the deaf and blind,
helping to found the American Foundation for the Blind, and serving as vice-president
of the Royal National Institute for the Blind in Britain.
She campaigned to make Braille, the raised form of writing, the standard for printed
communication for the blind. There had previously been five competing methods.

Later life

After the death of Anne Sullivan Macy in 1936, Miss Keller was assisted by Polly
Thomson, who had joined her household in 1914. After Miss Thomson's death in
1960, a nurse-companion, Winifred Corbally, was with Miss Keller until she died a few
weeks before her 88th birthday on June 1, 1968, at her home, Arcan Ridge, in
Westport, Connecticut.
Her ashes were placed next to those of her companions Anne Sullivan Macy and Polly
Thomson at the St. Joseph's Chapel of Washington Cathedral.

Books and essays by Helen Keller

Helen Keller's Journal
Midstream: My Later Life
My Religion
The Story of My Life
Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy
The World I Live In
Optimism: An Essay
The Song of the Stone Wall
Out of the Dark
Peace at Eventide
Helen Keller in Scotland
Let Us Have Faith
The Open Door

Helen Keller wrote extensively for magazines and newspapers, most particularly about
blindness, deafness, socialism, social issues and women's rights.

Books about Helen Keller

Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy (by Joseph P. Lash,
1980).
Journey Into Light (by Isabel Ross, 1951).
Valiant Companions: Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy (by Helen Elmira White, 1959).
Helen Keller (by Dennis Wepman, 1987).

Films about Helen Keller

The Unconquered (later renamed Helen Keller in Her Story) was a 1954 documentary on
her life which was produced by Nancy Hamilton and narrated