Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.A prolific author, Keller was well traveled, and was outspoken in her opposition to war. A member of the Socialist Party USA and the Wobblies, she campaigned for women's suffrage, workers' rights, and socialism, as well as many other leftist causes.
Helen Keller was not born blind and deaf; it was not until she was 19 months old that she contracted an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. She felt lost. She would hang on to her mother's skirt to get around. She would feel of people's hands to try to find out what they were doing. She learned to do many things this way. She learned to milk a cow and knead the bread dough.She could recognize people by feeling of their faces or their clothes.
At that time, she was able to communicate somewhat with Martha Washington,the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs; by the age of seven, she had over 60 home signs to communicate with her family.She made up signs with her hands so she could "talk" to her family. If she wanted bread, she pretended to be cutting a loaf. If she wanted ice cream, she would hug her shoulders and shiver According to Soviet psychologist A. Meshcheryakov, Martha's friendship and teaching was crucial for Helen's later development.
In 1886, her mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickens' American Notes of the successful education of another deaf and blind child, Laura Bridgman, dispatched young Helen, accompanied by her father, to seek out Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice.He subsequently put them in touch with Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised the couple to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. Michael Anaganos, the school's director, asked former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired and only 20 years old, to become Keller's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship, evolving into governess and then eventual companion.
Anne Sullivan arrived at Keller's house in March 1887, and immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with d-o-l-l for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller's big breakthrough in communication came the next month, when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of "water"; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.
In 1898 she entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies to prepare for Radcliffe College. She entered Radcliffe in the fall of 1900 and received her bachelor of arts degree cum laude in 1904.
While still a student at Radcliffe, Helen Keller began a writing career that was to continue on and off for 50 years. In 1903, The Story of My Life, which had first appeared in serial form in the Ladies Home Journal, appeared in book form. Miss Keller's other published works include Optimism, an essay; The World I Live In; The Song of the Stone Wall; Out of the Dark; My Religion; Midstream—My Later Life; Peace at Eventide; Helen Keller in Scotland; Helen Keller's Journal; Let Us Have Faith; Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy; and The Open Door.
During her lifetime, Helen Keller received awards of great distinction too numerous to recount fully here. An entire room, called the Helen Keller Archives at the American Foundation for the Blind in New York City, is devoted to their preservation. These awards include Brazil's Order of the Southern Cross; Japan's Sacred Treasure; the Philippines' Golden Heart; Lebanon's Gold Medal of Merit; and her own country's highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Most of these awards were bestowed on her in recognition of the stimulation her example and presence gave to work for the blind in those countries. In 1933 she was elected to membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters. During the Louis Braille Centennial Commemoration in 1952, Miss Keller was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor at a ceremony in the Sorbonne For 50th anniversary of her graduation, Radcliffe College granted her its Alumnae Achievement Award. Her Alma Mater also showed its pride in her by dedicating the Helen Keller Garden in her honor and by naming a fountain in the garden for Anne Sullivan Macy. Keller also received the Americas Award for Inter-American Unity, the Gold Medal Award from the National Institute of Social Sciences, the National Humanitarian Award from Variety Clubs International, and many others. She held honorary memberships in scientific societies and philanthropic organizations throughout the world.In 1999, Keller was listed in Gallup's Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In 2003, Alabama honored its native daughter on its state quarter.The Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama is dedicated to her.
There are streets named after Helen Keller in Getafe, Spain and Lod, Israel. A pre-school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Mysore, India, was originally named after Helen Keller by its founder K. K. Srinivasan.
On October 7, 2009, a bronze statue of Helen Keller was added to the National Statuary Hall Collection, as a replacement for the State of Alabama's former 1908 statue of Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry. It is displayed in the United States Capitol Visitor Center and depicts Keller as a seven year old child standing at a water pump. The statue represents the seminal moment in Keller's life when she understood her first word: W-A-T-E-R, as signed into her hand by teacher Anne Sullivan. The pedestal base bears a quotation in raised letters and Braille characters: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." The statue is the first one of a handicapped person and of a child to be permanently displayed at the U.S. Capitol.
Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, at Arcan Ridge, a few weeks short of her 88th birthday. Her ashes were placed next to her beloved companions, Anne Sullivan Macy and Polly Thomson, in the St. Joseph's Chapel of Washington Cathedral. On that occasion a public memorial service was held in the Cathedral. It was attended by her family and friends, government officials, prominent persons from all walks of life, and delegations from most of the organizations for the blind and deaf.