A bout with a serious illness caused Helen Keller to become blind and deaf when she was 19 months old. She could not hear, see, or speak. Imagine how frustrating that must have been. Her teacher, Annie Sullivan, taught her to communicate and opened her world.
- Helen Keller was born in 1880 in Alabama. Her father was a newspaper editor and a former captain of the Confederate army. Helen’s grandfather was a Confederate general.
- Helen’s became blind and deaf after a serious illness. She said that she was “at sea in a dense fog.”
- Her parents tried to help her, but weren’t sure how. Helen expressed her frustration through temper tantrums. She threw things and hit and scratched her family. One day she tipped her baby sister out of her cradle.
- Helen’s father thought Helen should be sent away to a special school. Her mother could not bear the thought of Helen being sent away.
- Alexander Graham Bell, a friend of the family, recommended a teacher, Annie Sullivan, for Helen. She came to live with the family in 1888 and would be Helen’s friend, teacher, and advocate for the next 50 years.
- At first, it did not go well. Annie was strict with Helen, expecting her to be polite and obey. Helen wasn’t used to following directions, especially those given by someone she didn’t know or like.
- Helen walked around the table at meals grabbing food from any plate she pleased. When she took some food from Annie’s plate, Annie slapped her hand. In a rage, Helen grabbed more food and hit Annie back. A terrible battle followed. Helen’s parents told Annie to let Helen have her way, but Annie refused. She knew she would never be able to help Helen until the young girl had learned to listen and obey. She asked Helen’s parents to leave the room and lock the door. Helen and Annie spent hours at the table until Helen had learned to eat her own food.
- Annie and Helen went to live in a cottage on the property so Helen would learn to depend on her teacher.
- After months of work, Annie taught Helen how to communicate through sign language. Her first word was water. Helen was so excited to learn.
- In 1888, Helen went to school in Boston at the Perkins School for the Blind. Later she was accepted to Radcliffe College of Harvard University. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree.
- Helen could read braille, understand signs, and even speak. She wrote articles and books and became a very popular lecturer. She believed in being positive and grateful and in helping others.
- Helen spoke out for people with disabilities, as well as the sick and poor.
- She died in 1968.
- Advocate: supporter, ally
- Braille: a written system that uses raised dots instead of printed letters
Questions and Answers
Question: How did Helen take care of herself?
Answer: While Helen was very self-sufficient, she always had a companion living with her. Annie Sullivan was her companion for many years.
Watch a video of Helen taking a walk.