Happy Birthday Helen Keller!
Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880, Helen Keller was the first born child of Kate Adams Keller, and Captain Arthur Henley Keller. It wasn’t until Helen was 19 months old that she came down with an illness, which the doctors at the time called acute congestion of the stomach and the brain. This illness left Helen blind and deaf. In Helen Keller’s biography, The Story of My life, she mentions that one of her ancestors on her father’s side was a teacher for the deaf in Zurich, Switzerland. Keller states that this is no coincidence for “there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who had not king among his.” (1)
When Helen was 6 years old her mother became inspired by Dickens’s “American Notes,” where she read an account of Laura Bridgman, an educated woman who was also deaf and blind. This knowledge influenced Helen’s parents to contact Dr. Alexander Graham Bell who advised them to contact Mr. Anagnos, of the Perkins Institution in Boston. This is how Annie Sullivan became Helen’s lifetime teacher and friend.
On March 3, 1887 Annie Sullivan arrived at the Keller household and met Helen sitting on the porch steps. Annie began Helen’s education immediately by giving her a doll and spelling “d-o-l-l” into Helen’s hand. However, Helen did not understand and became frustrated, which often resulted in violent tantrums. About a month after Annie’s arrival, during a lesson in differentiating “water” and “mug” Annie spelled “w-a-t-e-r” into Helen’s palm while running water over her hands. Here, Helen recalls this experience: suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. (Keller, 16) Annie continued to teach Helen new words and eventually Helen was learning to read, write, and speak.