Helen Keller

A portrait of Helen Keller smiling

A brief synopsis of Helen Keller’s life:

Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her father’s name was Captain Arthur Henley Keller and her mother was Kate Adams Keller. In February 1882, at 19 months old, Helen became ill, had a high fever, and lost both her sight and hearing.

On March 3, 1887, Anne Sullivan came to the Keller home and began teaching Helen letters by signing into her hand (“manual sign language”). One month later, Anne made the “miracle” breakthrough, teaching Helen that everything has a name by spelling W-A-T-E-R into Helen’s hand as water flowed over her palm.

At ten years old, Helen learned to use her voice again. When she was 9, she began attending Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, her first formal education. Later, she became a member of the freshmen class at Radcliffe College. With the help of an editor, Helen wrote The Story of My Life in 1902. On June 28, 1904 she became the first deaf-blind individual to earn a college degree, graduating with honors from Radcliffe.

Helen joined the Suffragist movement, demanding the right to vote for women, in 1909.

In April 1930, Helen, Anne, and a friend, Polly Thompson, traveled abroad for the first time, visiting Scotland, Ireland, and England for over six months. Anne Sullivan Macy died in October of 1936.

Helen started to visit blind, deaf, and disabled soldiers of World War II in military hospitals around the country in 1943. In September 1964, President Lyndon Johnson gave Helen the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Helen passed away in her sleep on June 1, 1968.

Fun facts about Helen Keller:

  • She loved hot dogs!
  • She wrote to eight presidents of the United States, and received letters from all of them—from Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 to Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.
  • Helen was an excellent typist. She could use a standard typewriter as well as a braille writer. In fact, she was a better typist than her companions, Anne Sullivan Macy and Polly Thompson.
  • She wrote 12 books and many articles.
  • Helen loved animals, especially dogs. She owned a variety of dogs throughout her life.
  • Helen visited 39 countries around the world during her lifetime.
  • Helen was friends with many famous people, including Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, the writer Mark Twain, and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Helen won an Oscar for the documentary about her life, “Helen Keller in Her Story.”

Helen Keller Quotes

  • “We are never really happy until we try to brighten the lives of others.” – Helen Keller 
  • “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.” – Helen Keller, 1891
  • “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller, 1941
 Source (click to learn even more)

A photo of Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan in 1888
Photo: Thaxter P. Spencer Family, New England Historic Genealogical Society [Public domain]

Anne Sullivan and Montessori:

Ms. Anne Sullivan, the teacher of Helen Keller, was a great admirer of Maria Montessori. In 1915, she gave a speech discussing her views on the then current educational system, which she thought was failing children.Crazily and sadly, 100 years later that system hasn’t changed much. But luckily for us, women like Ms. Sullivan and Helen Keller — and Dr. Maria Montessori, “that wonderful woman” who “systematized these ideas of education” — left for us their wisdom and spirit, found in their great words and deeds.

Throughout her talk, Ms. Sullivan offered glimpses of just how radical and uplifting her (and Dr. Montessori’s) educational approach is, noting that “what [Helen Keller] has accomplished without sight and hearing suggests the forces that lie dormant in every human being.” Let us awaken those forces — both in our children and in ourselves — and reap the rewards today.

The source for the above text is here.
Read Ms. Sullivan’s speech here.

Click the links below to learn even more! 

A Video Biography about Helen Keller
Understanding Deafness
How to sign You Are My Sunshine
Visually Impaired Classroom Program
Invention of Braille
Braille Alphabet to Print
Activities to Simulate Deafness and Blindness