Helen Keller (1880-1968)
Imagine that you couldn't see these words or hear them spoken. But you could still talk, write, read, and make friends. In fact, you went to college, wrote nearly a dozen books, traveled all over the world, met 12 U.S. presidents, and lived to be 87. Well, there was such a person, and she was born over a hundred years ago!
Meet Helen Keller, a woman from the small farm town of Tuscumbia, Alabama who taught the world to respect people who are blind and deaf. Her mission came from her own life; when she was 1 1/2, she was extremely ill, and she lost both her vision and hearing. It was like entering a different world, with completely new rules, and she got very frustrated. By the time she was 7, her parents knew they needed help, so they hired a tutor named Anne Sullivan.
Helen Keller at age 7
Anne was strict, but she had a lot of energy. In just a few days, she taught Helen how to spell words with her hands (called the manual alphabet, which is part of the sign language that deaf people use.) The trouble was, Helen didn't understand what the words meant—until one morning at the water pump (like an outdoor water fountain) she got a whole new attitude.Anne Sullivan
Anne had Helen hold one hand under the water. Then she spelled "W-A-T-E-R" into Helen's other hand. It was electric! The feeling turned into a word. Immediately, Helen bent down and tapped the ground; Anne spelled "earth." Helen's brain flew; that day, she learned 30 words.
From then on, Helen's mind raced ahead. She learned to speak when she was ten by feeling her teacher's mouth when she talked. Often people found it hard to understand her, but she never gave up trying. Meanwhile, she learned to read French, German, Greek, and Latin in braille! When she was 20, she entered Radcliffe College, the women's branch of Harvard University. Her first book, called The Story of My Life, was translated into 50 languages. (She used two typewriters: one regular, one braille.) She wrote ten more books and a lot more articles! How did she find the time?
Helen also did research, gave speeches, and helped raise money for many organizations, such as the American Foundation for the Blind and the American Foundation for the Overseas Blind, which is now called Helen Keller Worldwide. From 1946 and 1957, she went around the world, speaking about the experiences and rights of people who are blind. She wound up visiting 39 countries on five different continents! Helen also inspired many works of art, including two Oscar-winning movies, and received dozens of awards, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that an American civilian can receive. She died in her sleep in 1968.
Helen became an exceptional leader, once she saw the potential in her own mind.