Recorded at the time as suffering from an illness described by as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain"- historians now suspect that Keller was likely to have contracted scarlet fever or meningitis and it was this mystery illness that left the infant Keller deaf and blind for the rest of her life.
Perhaps the first sign that this young girl had the tenacity of spirit to become the remarkable woman who would make our history books- came when at the age of seven Keller developed and perfected over 60 home signs with which to communicate with her family.
It was at this time in Keller's childhood that her mother sent Helen to an ear, nose and throat specialist in Baltimore, who put the Keller family in touch with Alexander Graham bell, the renowned inventor of the telephone, who was also noted at the time for his work with deaf children.
It was Bell who advised Keller's parents to to contact The Perkins Institute For The Blind, where the school's director asked his former student Anne Sullivan, (herself visually impaired and only 20 years old), to become Keller's instructor. It was to be the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship of student and teacher and inevitable life long friends
Sullivan began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with "d-o-l-l" for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated at first because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it- subsequently Keller's breakthrough in communication came when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of "water"; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.
I am astounded by the amount of notable achievements in Keller's life, but some of the most impressive were in my eyes that she was one of the first deaf and blind people in history to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Keller was also a prolific author and travelled the world as a respected lecturer and political activist.
In 1915 Keller founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization which is still going strong today preventing blindness and reducing malnutrition in over 22 countries around the world.
Keller was extremely outspoken in her opposition of war and was a member of The Socialist Party of America. Keller also campaigned tirelessly for women's suffrage, worker's rights and socialism, along with numerous other causes.
Closest to my heart is Helen Keller's reputation as being an advocate for people with disabilities.
Like many people with disabilities, Keller found comfort and companionship in canines, particularly in the Akita breed and was even given her dog Kenzan-go as an official gift from the Japanese government in July 1938. Keller is credited with having introduced the Akita to the United States.
In 1961 at the grand age of 81, Keller suffered a stroke and spent the last years of her life at her home, where she died in her sleep in 1968.
In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson awarded Keller with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States' two highest civilian honors. In 1965 she was elected to the National Hall of Women's Wall of Fame.
Here are a few of Helen's most famous and fearless quotes- I think some of these are such gems and can tell you that I really struggled to choose these few!
For more information on the Helen Keller International Organisation and on Helen Keller herself, please click on the following links.
I'm off to Amazon to find ebooks on Helen Keller for my Kindle. Until tomorrow...
'Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.'
'Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.'