Who Is Helen Keller?

By jamie
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Helen Keller is a name that many people are familiar with, but just who was she? Keller was born in Alabama, United States, in 1880. At a young age she lost her hearing and her sight, leaving her deaf and blind for the rest of her life. Keller refused to let her disabilities hold her back and she went on to become one of the most influential people of her time.

Keller was an author, lecturer, and a political activist. She campaigned for workers’ rights and socialism and was a fierce women’s rights activist. She achieved international recognition and met, and even befriended, some important figures of the time. Keller died in her sleep in 1968 after suffering a series of strokes.

1. Illness Made Her Blind

Many deaf-blind people were born that way, while others became blind at some point later due to certain unfortunate events. Helen Keller fell into the latter category. She was born with no health complications but she fell quite ill when she was just 19 months old. We can’t be sure of what the illness was as medicine wasn’t as advanced back then as it is today, but it was likely to be meningitis or scarlet fever that caused her condition. In a sense, Helen was quite lucky because such illnesses were often deadly at the time, especially to somebody so young.

Helen Keller

2. First Deaf and Blind Person to Gain a Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a degree is an achievement, even for a lot of able-bodied people, so it would have been even more of a challenge for somebody like Helen. Despite her disabilities, however, she managed to gain a Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She was the first deaf and blind person ever to gain a degree. It was during her first year at Radcliffe College that Helen wrote The Story of My Life, a book that is still published today. She remains an inspiration for many people with such disabilities that want to gain an education but might otherwise be reluctant to try.

3. She Could “Hear” Music Through Her Fingers

No matter who you are, there is almost certainly going to be a genre of music that you enjoy listening to. Music can be so beneficial for us in so many ways. It can help to pick us up when we want to have a good time and it can help to slow us down when we want to relax. A lot of the time, we want to listen to music because it is simply beautiful.

Helen Keller didn’t have the opportunity to listen to music in the same way that we do, but that did not stop her from enjoying it. She had an acute sense of touch, and she was able to detect the vibrations of music by placing her fingers on a resonant table top.

Helen Keller

4. Fake Eyes

Keller’s left eye would protrude from her face and, for this reason, she was usually only photographed in profile with the protruding eye hidden from view of the camera. In 1904, however, she had both of her eyes removed and replaced with glass replicas. The type of false eyes that Keller had fitted are known as ocular prostheses.

The prostheses were made from glass and were placed on top of an implant that was placed into the socket. Even in 1909, such was the detail and workmanship of these eyes that it could be difficult to tell that they were false.

5. Mark Twain was a Friend

Mark Twain was a famous American author who wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He is considered by many to be America’s greatest ever author. Twain was also close friends with Helen Keller.

Keller first met Twain when she was a teenager and she noted how he did not treat her as a freak. She was able to tell when Twain was in the room because she could smell the tobacco that he used. Keller also struck up a friendship with Twain’s daughter who both shared similar political views. Twain also helped to raise the funds to pay for Keller’s education.

Helen Keller

6. Alexander Bell was a Friend

Alexander Graham Bell was a British-American inventor who has been credited with the invention of the telephone. What a lot of people don’t know is that Bell was also a friend of Helen Keller. When she was only 6 years old, Keller’s parents took her to a professor named Julian Chisolm.

Professor Chisolm suggested that Keller see Bell who himself had a deaf wife and founded schools for deaf people. Bell recommended that Keller was to be enrolled in the Perkins Institution for the Blind and it was there that Keller met Anne Sullivan. Sullivan would go on to be Keller’s mentor and her companion for life.

7. She Introduced the Akita Dog Breed to America

Keller toured Japan in the 1930s, and she was a huge hit among the Japanese people. She was given an Akita dog as a gift by a Japanese policeman and she fell in love with the breed. Sadly, the dog died shortly after she returned back to the US from Japan. The Japanese government, however, gave Keller a gift of another Akita dog that came from the same litter as the first one.

Keller’s Akita was the first of its breed ever to reach US shores. Keller would visit Japan again in 1948, visiting military hospitals to help inspire war veterans that were disabled by their injuries.

Helen Keller

8. She Fell in Love

Falling in love is one of the most natural things that anybody can do, and it happens to most people at least once in their lives. Helen Keller was determined to live as normal a life as possible, and she too once fell in love. It happened in 1916 when her close aide and friend, Anne Sullivan, had to be temporarily replaced because she fell ill.

Sullivan’s replacement was a reporter by the name of Peter Fagan and during the time the two spent together, they fell in love. At the time, however, it was considered highly inappropriate that somebody with Keller’s disabilities should marry. She defied others to begin but was ultimately forced to separate from Fagan against her wishes.

9. Her Image is on Currency

Nations throughout the world tend to use the image of some of their finest citizens on their currency. It is quite an honor, even if it is a posthumous honor, considering all of the other great people that must have been overlooked for the recognition. Helen Keller has received such an honor because her image is found on the Alabama State quarter.

Something else that Keller would have been proud of is that her name is written in braille as well as in English. There have also been campaigns in the past to have her image printed on paper money.

10. The Presidential Medal of Freedom

We often hear of medals being awarded to soldiers for their bravery in combat, and such awards are thoroughly deserved. Military personnel are not the only people who do great deeds, however, and some civilians make a huge overall difference to peoples’ lives.

Because of the incredible work that Keller did in her life, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson. It is the highest award that can be granted to any civilian in the United States. She was given the award in 1964 when she was 83 years old. Keller died four years later at her home.

Helen Keller

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