Helen Keller was able to live in a world unknown to her by using the eyes and ears of others around her. Her characteristics were noted as kind, generous, and enthusiastic. Even as an infant she was full of energy. She had numerous friends, however; she still had empathy for the poor of the world. (Tragedy 1995)
Helen Keller was born to Captain Arthur H. Keller and his second wife on July 27, 1880. She was a lively and healthy baby before the illness that took her sight and hearing. At nineteen months, Helen was stricken with a deadly fever that almost took her life, however it only left the distant memories of light and sounds.
She learned how to do small chores around the house by following her mother and feeling her hands. She recognized people by touching the characteristics of their faces and clothes. When in the garden, she could tell where she was by the smell of the flowers around her and the feel of the earth under her feet. (RNIB 2001) She, also, devised her own signs to communicate with her family her needs and wants. She was very intelligent and sensitive. However, she was frustrated easily because of her inability to communicate, and this caused behavior problems. (RNIB 2000)
Anne Sullivan came into her life at age seven. Anne came from the Perkins School for the Blind and was hired as a private tutor for Helen. Anne came from an impoverished background. She, too, lost her vision at a young age, five years old. However, after two successful surgeries Anne was able to see again. Her determination and patients overcame Helen's disobedience and wild tantrums. She knew that in order for Helen to learn she would have to gain control of the child's misbehavior. She, also, knew that Helen would become a different person after she learned to how communicate. (RNIB 2001)
First, Helen was taught the manual alphabet, but she did not relate the words to objects. She thought it was a game until a trip to the well. As Helen placed her hand into the water, Anne spelled out the letters of water. (Tragedy 1995) This was break through the communication barrier for Helen and it was the beginning of a lifetime of success.
As Helen grew, she learned to fingerspell complex sentences, but she did not stop there. She, also, learned Braille, to type, to write, to speak and to read lips. Speaking would be nearly impossible for someone who is both blind and deaf, but she did not let that stop her.
At the age of seven, Helen started studying at the Perkins School for the Blind. From 1894 to 1896, Helen attended the Wright Humason School for the Deaf. Then, she went to Cambridge School for Young Ladies from 1896 to 1900. (Liukkonan 2000) She was determined to further her education by going to college. She went to the one college that did not think that she could compete with the students who could hear and see, Radcliffe. However, she passed all of the entry exams and was admitted to attend school there. She graduated cum laude in 1904 with the aid of Anne as her translator.
By the use of a Braille machine and a typewriter, Helen wrote her first book. The Story of My Life was published in 1903. In addition to writing books, Helen appeared in vaudeville shows along with Anne. She, also, was involved with the handicapped, made lecture tours, and appeared in the Orpheum circuit. (Luikkonen 2001)
In 1914, Polly Thompson entered Helen's life. She was hired to keep house, and she did not have any experience with the deaf or blind. However, Anne's health was failing and Helen needed the extra help. She, too, became a life-long companion. (Tragedy 1995)
Helen lost her dearest friend, Anne, in 1935. Anne had already lost her sight once more when she died. (Tragedy 1995)
After Anne's death Helen worked for the American Foundation for the Blind and other causes. She visited American Veteran's hospitals after World War II and toured in Europe, Africa, and Asia. (Luikkonen 2000)
"Mark Twain declared that the two most interesting characters of his century were Napoleon and Helen Keller," (Luikkonen 2000). She was a speaker of hope and promise to those who thought they could not. Her sense of humor and her determination were her keys to success. She could not have done it alone.
Luikkonen, Petri. (2000) Helen Keller (1880-1968) Arthur's Calendar. Ari Pesonen.
(2001 Aug 28) http://www.kirjoasto.sci.fi/hkeller.htm
RNIB. (2001, June 19) The Life of Helen Keller. Royal National Institute for the Blind.
RNIB. (2001, Aug 28) http://www.rnib.org.uk/wesupply/fctsheet/keller.htm
Tragedy over Triumph: An Adventure with Helen Keller. (1995) The Life of Helen
Keller. In Search of the Heroes. Grace Productions Corporation. (2001, Aug 28)