Despite being rendered deaf and blind at 18 months, Helen Keller has become one of the most well-known women in history. She overcame her disabilities thanks to the help of her teacher and friend, Anne Sullivan. During her lifetime, Helen became an author, lecturer, advocate, Socialist, and source of inspiration for many.
1. Helen Keller graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College at age 24 with honors in 1904 and was the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree. 50 years later Robert Smithdas became the second deafblind person to graduate from college.
2. Helen and her teacher/companion, Anne Sullivan toured on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s. It was actually a thinly veiled freak show where Sullivan would introduce Keller and with a brief history of Keller’s life and answer questions from the audience to which she would have witty remarks.
3. Even though most people see Keller as a saint-like woman who achieved great things, she was a devout Socialist with radical left-wing ideas. The FBI had her on their radar and monitored her, though a formal investigation never took place.
4. She was multi-talented when it came to communicating. Helen did more than just sign, she could finger spell, lip-read, read Braille and raised type, and use a typewriter as well as speak. Though she didn’t speak clearly, she was able to vocally communicate and often had Anne Sullivan as an interpreter.
“It is not blindness or deafness that brings me my darkest hours. It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally. Longingly I feel how much more good I might have done if I had only acquired normal speech. But out of this sorrowful experience, I understand more fully all human strivings, thwarted ambitions, and the infinite capacity of hope.”
5. Helen loved music! When one sense is lost, others become super acute, enabling a persona to be more sensitive. Helen highly sensitive fingers and listened through her fingers. She was able to “hear” the vibration of the instruments as well as the human voice.
6. Along with her involvement with the Socialist Party, Helen was a vital advocate for women’s suffrage, birth control, and workers’ rights. She helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920.
7. Hidden in plain sight is Helen Keller’s image embossed on the American Alabama quarter. Released in 2003, the coin is the first U.S. coin to feature braille.
8. Helen Keller can out-text you. She was able to use a standard typewriter as well as a Braille typewriter, out-typing even Anne Sullivan.
9. Keller wasn’t always loved as the inspirational woman she was. After graduating college and becoming more involved as a Socialist, she began writing about the movement and was in the public eye for it. One newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle, wrote that her “mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development.”