Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama to Captain Arthur H. Keller and Kate Adams Keller on June 27, 1880. In February 1882, when she was 19 months old, Helen lost both sight and hearing due to a fever. This loss of ability to communicate was extremely traumatic for her and her family, and she became quite unmanageable. But she wanted to communicate, and by age seven she had invented over sixty different signs that she could use to "speak" with her family.
Helen's parents eventually contacted the Perkins Institute for the Blind, who delegated teacher and former student, 20 year old Anne Sullivan (herself visually impaired), to try to open Helen's mind. This was the beginning of a 49-year relationship. Anne was able to teach Helen to think intelligibly and to speak, using the Tadoma method: touching the lips of others as they spoke, feeling the vibrations, and spelling of alphabetical characters in the palm of Helen's hand. Helen learned to read English in Braille—as well as French, German, Greek, and Latin!
In 1888, Helen attended Perkins Institute for the Blind. Six years later, Helen and Anne moved to New York City to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf. In 1900, she gained admittance to Radcliffe College, and in 1904, at the age of 24, Helen graduated from there cum laude, becoming the first deaf and blind person ever to graduate from a college.
With tremendous willpower, Helen went on to become a world-famous speaker and author, travelling with Anne Sullivan to more than 39 countries all over the world. She made it her life's mission to fight for the sensorial handicapped in the world, founding Helen Keller International (a non-profit organization for preventing blindness) and devoting much of her later life to raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. She met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with many famous figures including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain.
Helen approved of the emergence of communism during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and her contacts with suspected communists were frequently investigated by the FBI. In 1920, she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union.
Helen Keller published her autobiography, The Story of My Life
, in 1902. Her other works include Optimism
(1903), The World I Live In
(1908), and The Song of the Stone Wall
(1910). She died in Westport, Connecticut, on June 1, 1968, at the age of 87
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