Helen Keller: The Woman Who Created Light in Darkness

Remembering the life and achievements of the extraordinary Helen Keller

Neelam Lall

It is believed for those who can see well in darkness, there is no darkness, and for those who cannot see well even in the light there is no light. Neither light nor darkness matters what matters the most is ones talent. Helen Keller despite being in the dark proved herself to be one of the greatest luminaries that the world had ever seen. Despite being physically inadequate due to her disability to see and hear she has inspired generations to stand up for a good cause. She devoted her life for many noble causes and continued to advocate the rights of others throughout her life.  She was born on 27th June 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama to Kate Adams and Colonel Arthur Keller. Despite being a healthy child at the time of birth she was afflicted with an unknown disease when she was only 19 months.  Resultantly she became blind and deaf which made her an unruly and wild child as it was difficult for her to communicate with the people around her.  She became wilder as it was difficult for her to tell what she wanted hence she often kicked things and threw tantrums.  Helen’s parents contacted Perkins Institute for the blind in Boston consequently Annie Sullivan became her teacher. Sullivan herself had been blind prior to her eye surgery which partially restored her sight. Therefore it was thought that Sullivan would be more suitable for Helen as a teacher since she herself was once blind.   However, Communicating with Helen was a big challenge for Sullivan but she tried hard and eventually became successful. Sullivan at first started teaching words to Helen in a unique way. She would put a doll in Helen’s one hand and put a letter doll in her other hand. Resultantly Helen would repeat the words in Annie’s hands and learn a number of words by this exercise. However, Helen still found it difficult to understand the meaning of hand sings until Sullivan tried a new method. One day Annie put Helens’ hand into water coming from a pump and spelled out water into her other hand. This unique experiment opened a new world of opportunity for Helen as she could now read entire books in Braille. Furthermore this unique method changed her life and she began using typewriter at the age of ten. Owing to Helens desire to learn to speak she was sent to Horace Mann School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Boston. Sarah Fuller a teacher for the deaf taught Helen how to speak by placing her hand on Helens’ lips. Consequently Helen learned how to talk by the movement of lips, to make sounds and to feel sound vibrations. Helen joined the Radcliffe school for women in Massachusetts at the age of sixteen and graduated with honors in 1904. She wrote about her experiences of being deaf and dumb during her college days and wrote articles for a magazine “Ladies Home Journal.” Later all her writings her experiences in college and her articles were published in the book “The Story of My Life.”

“The World I Live In” is another book written by Helen Keller as nothing could stop her from materializing her dreams. She wanted to write therefore she prepared her manuscripts by using Braille typewriter and later copied them using a regular typewriter.   Helen Keller Archives include her 475 essays and speeches on various topics.

 

                  Some of Helen Keller’s Notable Achievements are as Follows

  • Helen Keller had a profound desire for helping others and therefore spent most of her life raising money for those with disabilities especially the deaf and the dumb. Helen was therefore associated with the American Foundation for the Blind.
  • She also visited the wounded soldiers of World War 2 encouraging them not to give up.
  • Helen established herself as an author and her work includes The Song of the Stone Wall,  An essay--- OptimismMy Religion, Midstream---My Later Life, Helen Keller in Scotland ,Peace at Eventide,  Helen Keller’s Journal ‘Let Us Have Faith, The Open Door and  Anne Sullivan Macy .
  • She often wrote for newspapers and magazines her autobiography was published into 50 languages.
  • As a pacifist she championed for the rights of others and used her writing skills to speak the truth she also protested against U.S involvement in World War I.
  • Keller was an advocate for rights of women besides being a true socialist. She also took up the cause of the rights of workers. Moreover, she was also one of the early members of the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • She mostly wrote on topic such as, atomic energy, rise of Fascism in Europe, blindness, Faith etc. She joined the American Foundation for the blind (BAF) in 1924 and remained associated with it for 40 years. During this time she supported the creation of rehabilitation centers and helped in making education accessible to those with loss of vision.

 

  • She showed particular interest in the welfare of the blind people around the world. Furthermore, she was one of the initial members of board of directors of the American Braille Press. She was also appointed Counselor on International Relations of the American Foundation for Overseas Section in 1946.
  • She met many world leaders For instance, Jawaharlal Nehru, Golda Meir and Winston Churchill.
  • Keller visited 35 countries on five continents from 1946 to 1957. In 1955, she embarked on a five months long tour through Asia.

 

  • In 1948, General Douglas MacArthur sent her to Japan as Americas first Goodwill Ambassador for the Japanese blind and disabled.
  • Her wide range of political, cultural, intellectual interests and activates enabled her to know people from all walks of life. Some of her notable acquaintances included Goldman, Will Rogers, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, Andrew Carnegie, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Katharine Cornell, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jo Davidson and Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • She received many honors and awards from various leading universities around the world. She received honorary doctoral degrees from Berlin and Glasgow Universities, Witwatersrand University, The University of Delhi, Temple University and Harvard University.
  • In 1955, she received an honorary academy Award as an inspiration for the documentary about her life “Helen Keller in Her Story.”
  • She was also the recipient of the Lions Humanitarian Award for her services to humanity.
  • She had met all U.S presidents from Grover Cleveland to John F. Kennedy. Her last major public appearance was in Washington in 1961 where she met President John F. Kennedy.

Helen Keller passed away on June 1, 1968 in Arcan Ridge a few weeks prior to her 88th birthday.  Her name would always be remembered as one of the most outstanding personalities in human history who became a beacon of light and a true gem of the international society.



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