Helen Keller `s name symbolizes the courage of an indomitable spirit .The story of her life comes alive to every reader belonging to just about any generation. Her pain and isolation bridges the gap between the deaf and blind Helen and her readers .She fought overwhelming odds and came across a winner; so her story gives hope to people who find themselves in hopeless situations.
Even though she was blind and deaf , she dared to look destiny in the face .
In a little town of northern Alabama was born Helen Keller in the year 1880 on the twenty seventh of June . The town was Tuscumbia .Her father Captain Arthur Henley Keller , was in the Confederate Army while his wife Kate Adams Keller was his second wife and hence was quite younger than her father. .
The house they lived was simple , white ,clapboard hose built in 1820 where Helen lived for the first couple of years of her life. The trees all around the garden were home to humming birds and swarms of beesHelen` s father was the editor of the local newspaper and owned a cotton plantation while her mother worked on the plantation and economized by making her own butter, lard, bacon, and ham. Her father died in 1896 after a short illness. This was Helen `s first great loss.
Helen was born a healthy baby with full sight and hearing . She was given full attention what a first born baby at the home should get. Helen `s mother wanted to name her baby Helen Everett after her own mother but her father had wanted to give her the name of Mildred Campbell, an ancestor on his side whom he respected a great deal. But eventually she was called Helen Adams.
Which changed her life forever. She got a fever and doctors said it was acute congestion of the stomach and the brain. Early one morning when she was cured of the fever everyone at home was very happy but no one till then even suspected that she would never be able to see or hear then onwards.
After her illness , she clung to her mother for support .She would touch and feel the objects around her.. Gradually she learnt to communicate by nodding her head and gesturing with her hands .Martha Washington , her cook `s daughter and Belle their dog, stayed with her most of the time.
She could communicate with Martha quite well as she learnt her sign language. Both Martha and Helen use to try lot of mischief together. In fact it was Helen `s love for pranks that set her parents thinking. They should arrange for a teacher for educating Helen before her mind got occupied in meaningless activities. Helen `s father went to Perkins Institute in Boston, where much was being done for the blind.
A ray of hope came to him in the form of a letter of assurance from Boston that a teacher was finally found for Helen .She was Anna Mansfield Sullivan. This was in the year 1886. Just three months before her seventh birthday in the year 1887, Helen `s teacher Miss Sullivan came to start her education .
At that time Helen was not aware about the surprising turn in her life. Miss Sullivan was of Irish immigrant stock and being a highly sensitive teacher she soon helped Helen to learn that every object had a name. Anne Sullivan was a fresh graduate and she had her own sight partially restored after an eye disease that nearly turned her blind. Perhaps that is why she succeeded with her specialized training in providing the handicapped Helen the relevant guidance.
It was entirely her unfailing and repeated attempts that later made Helen Keller a legend all around the world. Helen resorted to more and more temper tantrums whenever Anne attempted to teach her table manners or make her brush her own hair and button her shoes. Anne punished her student gently during these tantrums by refusing to talk to her through the language of spelling words on the palm.
A bond was developed between the two. Helen `s realized through her teaching that every thing has its name . When she touched objects it gave her a new meaning and a significance. A new thought process got triggered .Objects and their name after having being mastered the next step was grasping the meaning of abstract words like `love `and `think` .When one day she gave her teacher a few violets from the garden,
Miss Sullivan spelled `I love Helen ` into her hands. Helen could not understand what was love so her teacher pointed to her heart. Helen couldn’t understand and asked if the sweetness of violets or the warm sunshine was love. With this simple revelation , she felt a sense of oneness with other souls.
Learning to read was the next thing. With the help cardboards which were printed with words in raised letters Helen started learning to read. With her innovative methods Miss Sullivan made learning more a kind of play than work. She never nagged Helen when she was unable to grasp or couldn’t recall something. Helen `s first brush with the history was when her mother and teacher went to Boston.
Helen was quite eager to speak as she could make audible noises by keeping her hand on her throat and the other felt her lip movements . Before she lost her voice and sight as a baby she was rapidly learning to talk but suddenly after her illness she wouldn’t speak because she couldn’t hear.
In Marc 1893, she went to Washington during inauguration of President Cleveland . She went to Niagara and the World `s fair with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. With such interaction she leapt out her fanciful world of toys into the real world of man and the progress he had made in his everyday life. In 1894, Miss Sullivan took Helen to the Wright- Humason School for the Deaf in the New York city. She came to know about it while attending a meeting of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf .The two years she spent in the school there taught and trained her in lip reading.
Helen took her preliminary examination for Radcliffe in 1897. The list of nine subjects she offered were Elementary and Advanced Germen, French , Latin, English and Greek and Roman history. She passed in everything with “honors “in German and English. During her second year at school Helen had to face many difficulties .That year she had to study physics , algebra, Geometry astronomy, Greek and Latin. Due to her illness that year she didn’t attend any class , so she was unable to give the exams. Finally she came back home and her mother assigned a tour for her who can teach her these lessons .In June 1899 she took her final examination for Radcliff College. Miss Sullivan was not allowed to read papers for her, was told to copy the papers in American Braille. Helen had used only the English Braille for algebra and was dismayed by the American notation in the papers. Her admission to college was long struggle but her dream of going to college was fulfilled in 1900, although she required lot of time than
other girls to prepare her lessons , she finally graduated with honors from Radcliff in 1904.
Besides her love for books , Helen loved outdoor sports right from the tome she was a little girl. She knew swimming and would often take her boat for a ride, rowing herself. ” The story of my life ” was Helen Keller` s first book. It was published serially by the Ladies ` Home Journal. This book contain her letter from 1887 to 1901, besides her early autobiography and comments by John Albert Macy .This book became an American classic. It is full of life and engrossing besides being extremely useful for educating the deaf and blind. In 1927, she published “My religion” concerning her conversion to Swedenborgianism and in the 1930 appeared the second volume of her autobiography entitled “Midstream”
Helen ` friends included many of the world `s greatest people like Alexander Graham Bell , Mark Twain , William Dean Howells, Charlie Chaplin and Andrew Carnegie .She received by nine presidents and bestowed honorary degrees upon her by half a dozen of the most prestigious universities in the world. From 1924 onwards , being associated with The American Foundation for the Blind , she traveled extensively to all continents and to every state in America working for the possibilities of welfare for the handicapped. She campaigned actively because she felt she could serve humanity best by working on behalf of the blind and deaf. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon Johnson in 1964.The blind and the deaf were earlier put in mental asylums but Helen `s efforts put an end to this practice. She even informed the public about prevention of blindness of newborn babies through her articles in the Kansas City Star and Ladies ` Home Journal` . Helen and Anna gave lecture towards speaking of
her experiences and beliefs to large crowds .Helen `s talks and were followed by question and answer sessions. These shows were highly successful and earn up to two thousand dollars a week.
In 1913, “Out of the Dark ” was published .This was a series of essays on socialism. Helen `s political views were now known to the people. Helen `s mother died in 1921, but didn’t made her sad as her attachment was more with Anna , her teacher. In 1931, they even met King George and Queen Mary at the Buckingham Palace , who were not to mention , quite deeply impressed by Helen `s sense of touch . On 20th October , 1936 , Anna Sullivan died. In a book entitled “Teacher; Anne Sullivan Macy “(1955), Helen paid tribute to her teacher discussing the difficulties she faced while trying to teach Helen the language of communication. It was in 1957 , that “The Miracle Worker ” was first performed which was a drama portraying Sullivan first success in communicating with Helen as a child . It was a live television play in the United States . It was a Broadway play in 1959 , and it was a huge success and the actresses playing Anne and Helen both received Oscars for their performances.