Helen Keller's Biography

An inspirational heroine with enduring appeal.

Photo of a young Helen Keller
Helen Keller. Photo © Library of Congress

One of the most inspiring deaf or deafblind women is Helen Keller. Even today, her biography fascinates people.

Helen Keller's Early Childhood

Helen Keller was born June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. An unidentified illness took her hearing and sight when she was only 19 months old. After losing both, she became wild and uncontrollable due to her inability to communicate and learn.

Anne Sullivan Comes into Helen's Life

Almost as well known as Helen Keller, is Anne Sullivan, who became her teacher in 1887, working in a role that today is known as an intervenor.

Helen finally learned that things have names when Sullivan had the famous "water" breakthrough, fingerspelling "water" into Helen's hand while pumping over Helen's hand for water for her to feel.

Helen Keller's Further Progress

After that breakthrough, there was no stopping Helen Keller. She went on to attend a school for the blind and other schools, learned how to talk, learned how to lipread with her fingers, and graduated from Radcliffe College.

Helen Keller's Adulthood

Helen Keller never lived independently (unlike today where many deafblind people live independently). She always lived with either Anne Sullivan (and for a few years, Anne Sullivan's husband too), or Polly Thompson who joined the household in the 1930s and stayed on after Sullivan passed away in 1936. Among the many things that Helen Keller was famous for saying was her statement that deafness was a "greater affliction" than blindness.

Helen Keller passed away on June 1, 1968.

Children's Books about Helen Keller

Helen Keller has been the subject of many books, particularly children's books. The image of a little girl discovering language through the spelling of the word "w-a-t-e-r" into her hand is fascinating for children. Here are some of them:

  • A Girl Named Helen Keller
  • A Picture Book of Helen Keller
  • Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark

Adult Books about Helen Keller

Many books for adult books have been about Helen Keller as well, some of which focus on her relationship with Anne Sullivan.

  • Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy
  • Helen Keller: A Life

Autobiographies by Helen Keller

Helen wrote movingly about her own life, in books that remain in print to this day.

  • Light in My Darkness
  • The Story of My Life
  • The World I Live In - Helen follows up her autobiography with more details of life as a deafblind person.
  • Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy

Keller not only wrote about her own life, but was a prolific writer on other topics. Many of her writings are preserved online by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), with which she was closely affiliated.

Web Biographies of Helen Keller

Many biographies of Helen Keller are available online. Here is a sampling of the best ones:

  • Heroine Worship: Helen Keller - This essay (registration required) has a picture of a middle-aged Helen Keller, and includes a video clip plus an archived obituary article.
  • Time Magazine 100 - Written by a blind writer, this illustrated article mixes biography and personal commentary. The illustration is of a mature Keller.

Movies About Helen Keller

Helen's story was dramatized in the play "The Miracle Worker," and transformed onto both the big and small screens.

  • The original 1962 movie featured Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke.
  • A televised remake of The Miracle Worker in 1979 starred Melissa Gilbert.
  • Yet another remake, in 2000, starred Hallie Kate Eisenberg. The Described and Captioned Captioned Media Program has the Disney version of the Miracle Worker.
  • The Miracle Worker - The classic screenplay, in book form.

Additional Resources

  • Artifacts and Memorabilia - The AFB maintains the Helen Keller Archival Collection, which includes such items as the desk she used to write.
  • Helen Keller Papers - The AFB has put online many miscellaneous items related to Keller or by Keller, such as a statement of her wish to be able to speak clearly.
  • Helen Keller Photograph Collection The AFB's collection of photographs is remarkable and revealing, showing, for example her fondness for dogs.
  • Tuscumbia, AL - True fans of Keller can visit her birthplace in Alabama.
  • Inspirational Quotes

Helen Keller's Legacy
 

As part of Helen's legacy, her name has been adopted by two organizations focused on the needs of the blind and deafblind:

Share your thoughts on Helen Keller

You can share your thoughts on Helen Keller through participating in an ongoing poll, an ongoing discussion, or by just sharing your personal experiences with deafblindness.

Source:

Van Cleve, John V., ed. Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1987.

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