US writer and academic who, deaf and blind herself, championed the cause of blind, deaf, and dumb people throughout the world.
The daughter of a newspaper editor, Helen Keller contracted scarlet fever at the age of nineteen months, which left her blind and deaf. When nearly seven, she came under the care of Anne Sullivan, herself partially sighted, who undertook the onerous and often frustrating task of teaching Keller the manual alphabet, tapped onto the palm of her hand, and how to lip-read by placing her thumb and forefingers on the speaker's face. These skills enabled Keller to demonstrate her remarkable intelligence. She learnt braille, how to type, and even how to speak. With her mentor and friend constantly at her side, Keller attended courses at Radcliffe College and in 1904 received her AB degree cum laude. She developed a flair for languages and specialized in philosophy, receiving doctorates from universities around the world. But above all, Helen Keller is remembered for her campaigning in aid of the American Foundation for the Blind, through which she raised some two million dollars and increased public awareness of the cause.
Anne Sullivan's death in 1936 caused a crisis in Keller's life; how she coped with this is related in Helen Keller's Journal (1938). The role of mentor was gradually filled by Polly Thompson, who had been her secretary since 1914. But it was Keller's perseverance, determination, and humour that surmounted her immense handicaps and inspired countless others. She wrote several other books, including The Story of My Life (1902), The World I Live In (1909), The Song of The Stone Wall (1910), and Teacher (1956).
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).