Helen Keller was an author, a lecturer and a political activist, but what most people know about her is that she was deaf and blind, and that she managed to overcome many challenges during her lifetime.
Here are some interesting facts you probably didn’t know about her.
1. Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She had four siblings, and the house where her family lived was named Ivy Green. Ivy Green is now considered a Historic Landmark that people can visit.
2. Helen Keller was not born deaf and blind, but she contracted a terrible illness when she was 19 months old. What was probably scarlet fever or meningitis was considered an unknown illness at the time, and it left her deaf and blind.
3. In 1886, Helen Keller and her father consulted J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist who referred them to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children. Bell directed them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind. This school, located in South Boston, was where Laura Bridgman, another deaf and blind woman, was educated.
4. The director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind asked Anne Sullivan, one of his former students, to become Helen Keller’s teacher. Anne Sullivan eventually became Helen Keller’s governess, and remained her companion until her death in 1936.
5. As Helen Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan first tried to communicate with her by spelling words into the palm of her hand. At first, the young Helen Keller did not understand what her teacher was trying to accomplish, since she did not even know that words existed. The first word she truly understood was the word water, that Anne Sullivan spelled into her palm while running cool water on her other palm.
6. By the age of 16 years old, Helen Keller was able to read Braille, to read sign language with her hands, to understand what people were saying by touching their lips, to write, and to use a typewriter. She was also able to speak, which allowed her to go to college and to further her education. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
7. Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to write a book. In fact, she wrote and published 12 books, as well as many articles for the press.
8. Helen Keller’s biography, The Story of My Life, was published in 1903, when she was just 22 years old. She wrote it while she was in college, and it details the experiences she lived in her early life. Some of her other books include The World I Live In, Light in My Darkness, and Out of the Dark.
9. Helen Keller’s inherent deafness did not stop her from enjoying music. She could not hear the music, but she was able to feel the beat.
10. Helen Keller’s left eye was protruding, which is why only her right profile is usually shown in photographs. Eventually, both of her eyes were replaced with ocular prostheses, also known as glass eyes. Of course, ocular prostheses can’t help the blind see: they are used to replace damaged eyes for medical and cosmetic reasons.
11. During and after World War II, Helen Keller visited many blinded veterans to speak with them, and to provide them with support and encouragement.
12. In 1925, Helen Keller encouraged the Lions Club to become Knights for the Blind. To this day, the Lions Club still focus on their work for the blind and the visually impaired, among many other service projects.
13. She devoted a large part of her life to raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind, a non-profit organization providing support to people struggling with vision loss. Helen Keller worked for the organization for more than 40 years, and she helped develop the Talking Books Program, long before the invention of the modern audiobooks.
14. Helen Keller travelled around the world, and gave lectures in at least 25 countries. Her words of optimism, hope, joy and gratitude inspired many blind and deaf people, as well as people with other disabilities. She even had speech therapy to make sure her voice would be heard as well as possible by her audience.
15. Helen Keller suffered strokes in 1961, and she died in her sleep on June 1, 1968. She was then living in Easton, Connecticut. Her body was cremated, and her ashes were buried next to her teacher and companion, Anne Sullivan, at the Washington National Cathedral.
16. The life story of Helen Keller has been interpreted in a few movies, and even in a few documentaries. Today, her determination and her triumph over her disabilities is still an inspiration to many people.