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Helen Keller

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Story Of My Life


By Helen Keller
Biography

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The Song Of The Stone Wall

										  

Helen Keller

Deaf-blind American author, activist, and lecturer
Born June 27, 1880
Tuscumbia, Alabama, USA
Died June 1, 1968
Easton, Connecticut, USA
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was a deafblind American author, activist and lecturer.

Biography

Childhood

Helen Keller was born at an estate called Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880, to parents Captain Arthur H. Keller, a former officer of the Confederate Army, and Kate Adams Keller, second cousin of Robert E. Lee. The Keller family originates from Germany. She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she came down with an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which could have possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. By age seven, she had invented over sixty different signs that she could use to communicate with her family. In 1886, her mother Kate Keller was inspired by an account in Charles Dickens' American Notes of the successful education of another deaf blind child, Laura Bridgman, and traveled to a specialist doctor in Baltimore for advice. He put her in touch with local expert 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, Boston, Massachusetts. The school delegated teacher and former student, Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired and then only 20 years old, to become Helen's teacher. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship.

Helen Keller, age 7
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Helen Keller, age 7

Sullivan got permission from Helen's father to isolate the girl from the rest of the family in a little house in their garden. Her first task was to instill discipline in the spoiled girl. Helen's big breakthrough in communication came one day when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on her palm, while running cool water over her palm from a pump, symbolized the idea of "water"; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world (including her prized doll). In 1890, ten-year-old Helen Keller was introduced to the story of Ragnhild Kta - a deaf blind Norwegian girl who had learned to speak. Ragnhild Kta's success inspired Helen — she wanted to learn to speak as well. Anne was able to teach Helen to speak using the Tadoma method (touching the lips and throat of others as they speak) combined with "fingerspelling" alphabetical characters on the palm of Helen's hand. Later, Keller would also learn to read English, French, German, Greek, and Latin in Braille.

Helen's pre-teenaged years were marred by allegations that her story, The Frost King (written in 1891) had been plagiarized from The Frost Fairies by Margaret Canby. An investigation into the matter revealed that Helen may have suffered from cryptomnesia, having once had Canby's story read to her, only to forget about it, although the memory had remained hidden in her subconscious. She found having her honesty questioned difficult to bear and came close to giving up writing altogether for fear of making the same mistake again.

Education

Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan
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Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan

In 1888, Helen attended the Perkins School for the Blind. In 1894, Helen and Anne moved to New York City to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf and Horace Mann School for the Deaf. In 1896 they returned to Massachusetts and Helen entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before gaining admittance, in 1900, to Radcliffe College. In 1904 at the age of 24, Helen graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude, becoming the first deaf and blind person to graduate from a college.

Political activities

Helen went on to become a world famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, as well as numerous causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, and a birth control supporter. In 1915 she founded Helen Keller International, a non-profit organization for preventing blindness. Helen and Anne Sullivan traveled all over the world to over 39 countries, and made several trips to Japan, becoming a favorite of the Japanese people. Helen Keller 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 Keller was a member of the Socialist Party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working classes from 1909 to 1921. She supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in each of his campaigns for the presidency. Her political views were reinforced by visiting workers. In her words, "I have visited sweatshops, factories, crowded slums. If I could not see it, I could smell it."

Helen Keller as depicted on the Alabama state quarter
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Helen Keller as depicted on the Alabama state quarter

Newspaper columnists who had praised her courage and intelligence before she expressed her socialist views now called attention to her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote that her "mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development." Keller responded to that editor, referring to having met him before he knew of her political views:

“
At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him...Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.
”

Helen Keller also joined the famous labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), in 1912 after she felt that parliamentary socialism was "sinking in the political bog." Helen Keller wrote for the IWW between 1916 and 1918. In "Why I Became an IWW," Helen wrote that her motivation for activism came in part due to her concern about blindness and other disabilities:

“
I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.
”

Introduction of the Akita dog to America

When Keller visited Akita Prefecture in Japan in July 1937, she inquired about Hachiko, the famed Akita dog that had died in 1935. She expressed to a local that she would like to have an Akita dog. An Akita called Kamikaze-go was given to her within a month. When Kamikaze-go later died (at a young age) because of canine distemper, his older brother, Kenzan-go, was presented to her as an official gift from the Japanese government in July 1939.

Keller is credited with having introduced the Akita to America through Kamikaze-go and his successor, Kenzan-go. By 1938 a breed standard had been established and dog shows had been held, but such activities stopped after World War II began.

Keller wrote in the Akita Journal:

“
If ever there was an angel in fur, it was Kamikaze. I know I shall never feel quite the same tenderness for any other pet. The Akita dog has all the qualities that appeal to me — he is gentle, companionable and trusty.
”

(sources: [1], [2], [3])

Writings

Cover of Light in My Darkness by Helen Keller
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Cover of Light in My Darkness by Helen Keller

Keller's book, Light in my Darkness was published in 1960. In the book, she advocates the teachings of the Swedish scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. She also wrote a lengthy autobiography called The Story of My Life, which was published in 1903. The Story of my Life was also written with help from Ann Sullivan and Ann's husband John Macy. It includes letters that Helen wrote and the story of her life up to age 21. In total, she wrote twelve books and authored numerous articles.

Honors and later life

On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Helen Keller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States' top two highest civilian honors.

Keller devoted much of her later life to raise funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. She died on June 1, 1968, passing away 26 days before her 88th birthday, in her Easton, Connecticut home.

In 2003, the state of Alabama honored Keller — a native of the state — on its state quarter. The Helen Keller Hospital is also dedicated to her.

Portrayals of Helen Keller

A silent film, Deliverance (not to be mistaken for the 1972 movie Deliverance) first told Keller's story.[1] The Miracle Worker, a play about how Helen Keller learned to communicate, was made into a movie three times. The 1962 version of the movie won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Anne Bancroft, who played Sullivan, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Patty Duke, who played Keller.[2] It also became a 1979 TV movie, this time with Patty Duke playing Anne Sullivan and Melissa Gilbert playing Helen Keller [3], as well as a 2000 TV movie in which Keller was protrayed by Hallie Kate Eisenberg. [4]

The 1984 TV movie about Helen Keller's life is The Miracle Continues.[5] This semi-sequel to The Miracle Worker recounts her college years and her early adult life. None of the early movies hint at the social activism that would become the hallmark of Helen's later life, although the The Walt Disney Company version produced in 2000 states in the credits that Helen became an activist for social equality.

The Hindi movie Black released in 2005 was largely based on Keller's story, from her childhood to her graduation.

A new documentary Shining Soul: Helen Keller's Spiritual Life and Legacy was produced and recently released by The Swedenborg Foundation (2005). The film focuses on the role played by Emanuel Swedenborg's spiritual theology in her life and how it inspired Keller's triumph over her triple disabilities of blindness, deafness and a severe speech impediment.

Helen the Baby Fox, a 2006 Japanese film, features a deaf and blind fox cub named after Keller.



This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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