Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, activist and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to graduate from college. The story of how a remarkable teacher broke through the isolation the lack of language had imposed on the child, who blossomed as she learned to communicate, are staples of American folklore. What is less well known is how Keller’s life developed after she completed her education: she became a radical campaigner for workers’ rights and an advocate for many other progressive causes.
Early childhood and illness
Helen Keller was born at an estate called Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880, to Captain Arthur H. Keller, a former officer of the Confederate Army, and Kate Adams Keller, a cousin of Robert E. Lee. The Keller family originates from Germany, and at least one source claims her father was of Swiss descent. She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she came down with an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain,” which could have possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. At that time her only communication partner was Martha Washington, the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who was able to create a sign language with her; by age seven, she had over 60 home signs to communicate with her family.
In his doctoral dissertation, “Deaf-blind Children (psychological development in a process of education)” (1971, Moscow Defectology Institute), Soviet blind-deaf psychologist Meshcheryakov asserted that Washington’s friendship and teaching was crucial for Keller’s later developments. 
In 1886, her mother was inspired by an account in Charles Dickens‘s American Notes of the successful education of another deafblind child, Laura Bridgman, and traveled to a specialist doctor in Baltimore for advice. He put her in touch with Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised the couple to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. The school delegated teacher and former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired and then only 20 years old, to become Keller’s instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship, eventually evolving into governess and companion.
Sullivan got permission from Keller’s father to isolate the girl from the rest of the family in a little house in their garden. Her first task was to instill discipline in the spoiled girl. Keller’s big breakthrough in communication came one day when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on her palm, while running cool water over her hand, symbolized the idea of “water;” she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world (including her prized doll). In 1890, ten-year-old Helen Keller was introduced to the story of Ragnhild Kåta, a deafblind Norwegian girl who had learned to speak. Kåta’s success inspired Keller to want to learn to speak as well. Sullivan taught her charge to speak using the Tadoma method of touching the lips and throat of others as they speak, combined with fingerspelling letters on the palm of the child’s hand. Later Keller learned Braille, and used it to read not only English but also French, German, Greek, and Latin .
In 1888, Keller attended the Perkins School for the Blind. In 1894, Keller and Sullivan moved to New York City to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf and Horace Mann School for the Deaf. In 1896, they returned to Massachusetts and Helen entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before gaining admittance, in 1900, to Radcliffe College. Her admirer Mark Twain had introduced her to Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleton Rogers, who, with his wife, paid for her education. In 1904, at the age of 24, Keller graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude, becoming the first deafblind person to graduate from a college.
Anne Sullivan stayed as a companion to Helen Keller long after she taught her. Anne married John Macy in 1905, and her health started failing around 1914. Polly Thompson was hired to keep house. She was a young woman from Scotland who didn’t have experience with deaf or blind people. She progressed to working as a secretary as well, and eventually became a constant companion to Helen.
After Anne died in 1936, Helen and Polly moved to Connecticut. They travelled worldwide raising funding for the blind. Polly had a stroke in 1957 from which she never fully recovered, and died in 1960.
Winnie Corbally was Helen’s companion for the rest of her life.
Miracle Worker – Final Scene (1962)
Posted by Mel Avila Alarilla