“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
Happy Birthday to the woman who overcame overwhelming odds afflicted at infancy and went on to live an abundantly rich life, inspiring the world. Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabamato Arthur H. Keller, an army captain and editor, and Kate Adams.
Born a healthy child, Helen contracted “acute congestion” (possibly scarlet fever or meningitis) at nineteen months, rendering her deaf and blind. After many attempts to help her and several referrals later, Helen’s parents enlisted the help of Anne Sullivan, a recent graduate of the Perkins Institute for the Blind who was recommended by the school’s director, Michael Anaganos.
Wasting no time, Anne began working with Helen upon arrival to her family’s home. She taught Helen “finger spelling”—sign language letters in the palm of her hand, starting with “doll.” Initial lessons were marked by bouts of defiance toward Anne, interspersed with attempts at understanding her new language. Helen would experience difficulty in making connections between word and object. Subsequent temper tantrums would follow and become a regular occurrence until Anne remedied the situation by isolating the two of them in a small cottage on the family’s estate. Shortly after their cocooned period together, a breakthrough occurred when Helen learned the word “water” from a pump just outside her home. By the end of the day, Helen had learned over two dozen words.
As Helen grew up, attended different schools, and her story spread, she began to meet many famous figures from all walks of life, including Mark Twain, who dubbed Anne Sullivan, “The Miracle Worker.” Anne stayed on as Helen’s companion, long after her lessons out of the unseen-unheard world were established, and helped translate Helen’s studies and lectures while they were atRadcliffCollege, where she graduated from cum laude in 1904.
Over time, Helen expanded her methods of communication, including touch-lip reading, typing, speech, and Braille, as well as finger-spelling. She used her new found communication skills to write her first book, The Story of My life, with the help of Sullivan and future husband, John Macy.
Sullivan’s health deteriorated over the years. She lost her eyesight entirely in 1932, whereby Polly Thompson, Keller’s and Sullivan’s secretary, took over as Keller’s companion when Sullivan died in 1936.
In sum, Helen Keller wrote twelve books, including The Story of My Life, The World I Live In, and Out of the Dark.
She died June 1, 1968 at the age of 87, less than a month shy of her birthday, having transformed her world and inspiring our own.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller