Helen Adams Keller (1880–1968) - American EducationAmerican author, lecturer and champion of special education for the blind, deaf and mute. Born in Alabama, Keller was left with all three handicaps after an illness at the age of 18 months. After examining her, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor and pioneering teacher of deaf children, sent the seven-year-old Keller to Anne (a diminutive of Joanna) Sullivan (1866– 1936), a remarkably gifted teacher at Boston’s Perkins Institution for the Blind, headed by Bell’s son-in-law. Miss Sullivan, who later married author John Macy (1877–1932), remained Keller’s teacher and companion from March 2, 1887, until Sullivan’s death in 1936.
Within months of her initial training, the brilliant young Keller learned to feel objects and associate them with words that Sullivan’s finger spelled out on the child’s palm. Then she learned to read sentences by feeling raised words on a large board and then to make her own sentences by arranging the words herself. Young Helen spent the following school year, 1888–90, at Perkins learning braille and subsequent years at Boston’s Horace Mann School for the Deaf learning to speak by feeling and then imitating Sullivan’s relative tongue/lip positions and motions and making sounds. She learned a form of tactile lip reading by placing the fingers of one hand on Sullivan’s lips and throat, while feeling the words with the other.
At 14, Keller enrolled in New York City’s Wright-Humason School for the Deaf. At 16, she moved to the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in Massachusetts; after graduating, she enrolled at Radcliffe College, graduating cum laude four years later, in 1904, with skills never before achieved by anyone so severely handicapped. Encouraged by pioneering editor Edward W. Bok (1863–1930), she began writing articles on blindness, a subject editors seldom dared publish because of its association in the public mind with venereal disease and, therefore, the worst kind of sin. In the dozen years that followed her graduation from Radcliffe, Keller changed that public perception with a spate of articles for such best-selling magazines as Ladies’ Home Journal, McClure’s and Atlantic Monthly and with five remarkable books: The Story of My Life (1902), Optimism (1903), The World I Live In (1908), Song of the Stone Wall (1910) and Out of the Dark (1913). In 1905, Sullivan married author John Macy, who edited the last three of those books, but the strain of the three-way relationship led to the couple’s divorce in 1913.
In 1913, Keller, still accompanied by Sullivan, began a career of lecturing that took her around the world and made her a universally beloved and admired figure. Her lectures not only helped create a $2 million endowment for the American Foundation for the Blind, they also were instrumental in freeing the deaf, blind and other physically handicapped people from prisonlike asylums. She was also instrumental in changing public and government attitudes toward the blind and deaf and demonstrating that the intellectual and physical potential of the handicapped was no different from that of the nonhandicapped. For her work, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. The remarkable educational, emotional and psychological travails of Anne Sullivan and Keller’s equally remarkable triumphs were documented in the award-winning play and subsequent film The Miracle Worker.