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Helen Keller was a deaf and blind author, lecturer, and political activist from the United States. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, taught her how to communicate and eventually Keller became the first deaf and blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts. She wrote many books and advocated for labor rights, socialism, woman’s suffrage, antimilitarism, and many other controversial topics.

Youth and Sickness

Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880. [1] Her parents were Arthur Keller and Kate Adams Keller.[2] Arthur Keller retired as a captain in the Confederate Army and became the editor of the North Alabamian.[3] Kate Adams Keller grew up in Memphis and cared for the young Helen when she became seriously sick at 19 months old, leaving Helen deaf and blind.[4] Her mother pursued Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, who referred the family to Alexander Graham Bell.

Bell then informed the Keller’s of Perkins Institute for the Blind in South Boston. The school’s director, Michael Anagnos, requested Anne Sullivan to instruct Keller and she arrived at the Keller’s home in March 1887. Sullivan struggled to teach the willful child, but a breakthrough occurred when she ran water over Keller’s hand as she made the symbol for water and Keller finally understood the connection.[5]

Biography of Helen Keller’s Education

Hellen Keller enrolled at Perkins School for the Blind in May 1888 with Sullivan by her side.[6]

Helen Keller’s determination to succeed despite her handicap afforded her a better education than many other women of her time.

They pair then moved to New York in 1894 so Keller could attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf. Keller also learned under Sarah Fuller at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf.

They returned to Massachusetts in 1896 when Keller started at The Cambridge School for Young Ladies. She withdrew upon acceptance to Radcliffe College in 1900. She funded her education with the help of Henry Huttleson Rogers and Abbie, his wife, after being introduced to Keller through Mark Twain. She graduated in 1904 to be the first deaf and blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree.[7]

Personal Relationships

Anne Sullivan remained close friends with Keller after being her teacher. Sullivan married in 1905 to John Macy and she began suffering ill health in 1914. Keller hired a young Scottish woman named Polly Thomson to help around the house. She eventually became Keller’s secretary and another close friend. When Keller moved to Anne Sullivan Macy’s new house in Forest Hills, Queens, she converted her former house into her worksite for the American Foundation for the Blind.

Anne died from a coma after falling ill in 1936. Thomson and Keller then relocated to Connecticut and traveled globally to generate donations for the blind. In 1957, Thomson suffered a stroke and she died in 1960. A nurse hired to care for Thomson during this time, Winnie Corbally, became Keller’s friend for her remaining years.[8]

Political Activist and Author

Helen Keller gained worldwide fame as a speaker and author. She strongly advocated for a woman’s right to vote, people with disabilities, and birth control access. Her political views could be considered radical socialist and she opposed Woodrow Wilson, but she remained a pacifist. She founded the Helen Keller International Organization in 1915 with George Kessler, funding research in health, nutrition, and vision. She helped create the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 and traveled to more than 40 countries speaking and touring. Her acquaintances included Charlie Chaplin, Alexander Graham Bell, and Mark Twain.

Twain and Keller’s radical political views formed a bond between the pair that lasted a lifetime.

Keller, as a socialist, wrote many things in support of the working class between 1909 and 1921. Popular columnists began to condemn her social views and blamed it on her handicaps.[9]Helen Keller quotes in an article about the accusations saying, “Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.”[10] In 1912, she joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The reasons for her activism are seen in Barbara Bindley’s interview where she quotes Helen Keller, “For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers.”[11]

Hellen Keller published 12 books and many articles. She published her autobiography, The Story of My Life, in 1903 while still attending college. Other writings include The World I Live In (1908), a collection of social essays called Out of the Dark (1913), and My Religion, later renamed Light in my Darkness(1927).[12]

Later Years and Death

Helen Keller spent the remainder of her years at home in Easton, Connecticut after several strokes in 1961. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson granted her the Presidential Medal of Freedom on September 14, 1964. The National Women’s Hall of Fame accepted her in 1965 at the New York World’s Fair. She continued to raise funds for the American Foundation for the Blind until her peaceful death on June 1, 1968. Keller was cremated and laid to rest next to Sullivan and Polly Thompson in the Washington National Cathedral.[13]



American Foundation for the Blind. (2016). Helen Keller Biography. AFB.

Loewen, J. W. (1996). Lies My teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

McGinnity, B. L., Seymour-Ford, J., & Andries, K. J. (2004). Helen Keller Biography and Facts. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind.

Symonds, A. (2014). Who was Helen Keller? Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Wilkie, K. E. (1969). Helen Keller, Handicapped Girl. Atheneum.


  1. McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004
  2. American Foundation for the Blind, 2016
  3. Nielsen, K. E. (2007). The Southern Ties of Helen Keller. The Journal of Southern History, 73(4), 783. doi:10.2307/27649568
  4. American Foundation for the Blind, 2016
  5. Wilkie, 1969
  6. McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004
  7. Wilkie, 1969
  8. Symonds, 2014
  9. Loewen, 1996
  10. Keller, H. (1912, November 03). How I Became a Socialist. The New York Call
  11. Bindley, B. (1916, January 16). Why I Became an IWW. The New York Tribune
  12. Amazon. (2016). Books by Helen Keller. Amazon.com.
  13. Symonds, 2014

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