She fought for women’s right, crusaded for the causes of workers, promoted equality for minorities, and championed the underprivileged and the oppressed. She also earned several prestigious awards from countries as diverse as Japan, Brazil, and Lebanon. An impressive list of achievements for any human, all this was accomplished by a woman who was blind and deaf.
Helen Keller was born a healthy child in 1880 in Alabama. Stricken by illness at the tender age of nineteen months, Helen lost her ability to see, hear, and speak. Growing up unable to comprehend the world around her, Helen became wild and unruly, until her parents found help.
They contacted Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, the famous inventor and teacher of the deaf, who introduced them to an institute for the blind in Boston, Massachusetts. A student there, Annie Sullivan, was asked to help. Annie would later become known as the “Miracle Worker.”
Annie Sullivan taught Helen how to connect objects with letters by spelling words into Helen’s hands. Helen’s breakthrough came when Annie held her hand under a water pump while spelling “water” into her other hand repeatedly. Helen suddenly understood, and from then on progressed by leaps and bounds.
Having mastered both the manual and Braille alphabets, Helen became proficient in reading and writing, and began learning how to speak in 1890. Helen entered Radcliffe College and, assisted by Annie Sullivan, graduated cum laude in 1904. She was the first blind-deaf person ever to graduate from college.
Helen Keller spent the rest of her life as a writer, lecturer, and advocate for the deaf and blind and other disadvantaged groups. She traveled to numerous countries on behalf of the disabled, and founded the Helen Keller Endowment Fund for the American Foundation for the Blind in 1930. She died on June 1, 1968, an outstanding example of the unconquerable human spirit.