Helen Keller

Author, political activist, and lecturer

Why She’s Amazing

Helen Keller didn’t want to be a princess. She wanted to be more.

Helen was only 18 months old when she was struck blind and deaf by an illness. But that didn’t hold her back. Despite the struggles she faced, Helen became a renowned activist and accomplished great things.

Helen devoted her life’s work to humanitarian pursuits, including economic justice and the rights of women and people with disabilities. She believed she had the right “to feel at home in the great world” and fought for that same right on behalf of all people.

In 1946, Helen’s diligence to bring about change in the world was recognized with an appointment as the Counselor of International Relations for the American Foundation of Overseas Blind. During this time, she traveled across the world, giving speeches and inspiring millions with her life story. Helen also wrote many books, including The Story of my Life.

Faced with overwhelming challenges, Helen never gave up. Instead, she preserved for herself and other with admirable courage, grace and strength.

“Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

Her Determination

Helen’s life wasn’t easy. As a child, she worked diligently to develop a small form of communication with a friend. However, she became increasingly frustrated as her disability made communication more and more challenging. Luckily, she found a friend in her new tutor, Anne Sullivan.

Anne worked tirelessly with Helen to teach her to communicate using finger spelling. Helen learned the new skill easily, but was still frustrated at not understanding what she was spelling. Anne found a way to help with that, most famously by taking Helen out to a water pump and letting her feel the water on her hand. By spelling the word ‘water’ as she felt it, Anne allowed Helen’s dark world to grow brighter as new understanding grew.

From then on, Anne stayed by Helen’s side and played an integral role in Helen’s continuing education. In 1890, Helen began studying at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston. She learned to read and write in Braille, but her ultimate goal was to learn how to speak. It was a long journey, but 25 years later, Helen was able to speak so others could understand her.

Using her newly found communication skills, Helen focused her time and energy on helping others around the world with disabilities similar to hers. She wanted others to receive the same opportunity and compassion as she did so that they, too, could reach their fullest potential.

A True Inspiration

Helen’s determination, in the face of adversity most of us cannot begin to imagine, is perhaps even more important than her accomplishments. Incredibly, Helen never gave up. Rather, she used her struggles as motivation. Experiencing prejudice due to her disabilities only made Helen more determined to make the world a better place for herself and others.

Helen’s legacy lives on through her accomplishments, her writings as well as her autobiography-inspired television drama, The Miracle Worker, which aired in 1957. In 1959, it was also was made into a Broadway play and, 1962, an award-winning film. People living with disabilities continue to look to these works as a source of inspiration.

Helen was an author, lecturer, and crusader for the handicapped with an important influence on the treatment of the blind and deaf. More than that, she was an outcast, frightened little girl who inspires us all with her transformation into an accomplished, selfless woman.

Fun Facts:

  • Helen was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1965.
  • Helen received honorary doctoral degrees from Temple University and Harvard University as well as the Universities of Glasgow, Scotland; Berlin, Germany; Delhi, India; and Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • She could read Braille in French, German, Greek and Latin.
  • Keller helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
  • Helen was friends with Mark Twain. He introduced her to Henry H. Rodgers, who was amazed by her drive and paid for her to attend Radcliff College.