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Helen Keller

Questions on the Biography of Helen Keller

Helen Keller

 

Also refer: std 6 – The Mystery of Language

Famous as: Writer, Member of Socialist Party of America, Campaigner of socialism, women’s suffrage and several leftist social causes

Nationality: American

Born on: 27 June 1880

Born in: Tuscumbia

Died on: 01 June 1968

 

 Helen Keller was born as Helen Adams Keller on 27 June 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, USA.  Helen was born to father Arthur H. Keller who was attached as an editor for the Tuscumbia “North Alabamian” and had served as a captain for the Confederate Army and mother Kate Adams.

Helen had not been born as a deaf and blind child but had been affected by an illness which her doctors stated as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain” which now is believed to have been either scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not remain with her for long but brought in deafness and blindness in her. Helen used 60 of her home signs while communicating with her family. In 1886 Helen was sent by her mother while being accompanied by her father to seek the help of Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice. This was the first time that Helen was sent for a professional learning process and her mother had taken this step after getting inspired by an account in Charles Dickens’ “American Notes” of the successful education of another deaf and blind woman, Laura Bridgman. Dr. J. Julian Chisolm referred Helen and her father to Alexander Graham Bell, who was then working with deaf children at the time. Bell further made Helen and her family go to Perkins Institute for the Blind where Laura Bridgman had received her formal education. Helen had found her instructor in Perkins’ former student Anne Sullivan (who was visually impaired for 20 years) who was personally referred by Michael Anaganos, Perkins’ director.

 

 Anne Sullivan started teaching Helen by arriving at Helen’s home in March 1887. Anne initially taught Helen how to communicate by spelling words through her hands. Keller had a protruding left eye which we get to know from most of her profile photographs. Both of Keller’s eyes were replaced when she turned into an adult, with glass replicas. From May 1888 Helen started attending Perkins Institute for the Blind.  In 1904 Keller received her graduation from Radcliffe College at the age of 24. With this Helen became the first deaf and blind person ever to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Helen had remained in close alliance with the Austrian philosopher and pedagogue Wilhelm Jerusalem who was the first person to assess and discover Helen’s immense literary talent.

Socio-Political Activities

Helen Keller became a world renowned writer and a magnificent orator. She is remembered even today for her tremendous efforts and contributions in advocating the cause of people with disabilities and many other social causes. Helen was outright in rejecting Woodrow Wilson’s policies as she was a notable radical socialist. Helen played an integral role in promoting birth control, suffrage and was a pacifist in ideas.

Keller was a socialist and believed in radical changes than parliamentary socialism which according to her was “sinking in the political bog”. In 1912 Keller joined the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the IWW or the Wobbles).

 

In 1915 she found the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization along with George Kessler which devoted its work and research in the areas of vision, health and nutrition. In 1920 Helen greatly helped founding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Keller remained a Socialist Party member for which she actively campaigned and wrote many pieces in support of the working class from 1909 to 1921. Keller supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in all of her presidential campaigns.

Writing Career

Helen had written 12 books which were all published besides writing various articles. One of the earliest known Helen’s written piece was when she was eleven years old The Frost King (1891). There had been growing allegations that Helen had copied the book from “The Frost Fairies” by Margaret Canby. The act of plagiarism was condemned and Helen’s work was thoroughly investigated. It was found that Keller may have experienced cryptomnesia and had forgotten the story written by Canby read out to her but had subconsciously remembered the storyline. Keller was 22 years old when her autobiography, “The Story of My Life” was published in 1903 which received help from Sullivan and Sullivan’s husband, John Macy. In 1908 Keller wrote “The World I Live In” which talked about her feelings of the world she felt living inside. In 1913 a series of essays on socialism, “Out of the Dark” was published. In 1927 Keller’s spiritual autobiography “My Religion” was published.

Helen Keller was attacked by several strokes in 1961. On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom which is regarded as one of the United States’ highest two civilian honours. Keller died in her sleep on 1 June 1968 at her home, Arcan Ridge located in Easton, Connecticut.

 

Film and Television Adaptations 

Keller’s life and times have been made into many television series, films and documentaries. She herself appeared in a silent film, “Deliverance” in 1919 which told the story of her life in a melodramatic and allegorical style. “The Miracle Worker” is a cycle of dramatic works heavily derived from her autobiography, “The Story of My Life”.  The common title of the cycle echoes Mark Twain’s description of Sullivan as a “miracle worker.” Its first realization was the 1957 “Playhouse 90” teleplay of that title by William Gibson. Gibson adapted it for a Broadway production in 1959 and producing an Oscar-winning feature film in 1962 which starred Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. In 1984, Helen Keller’s life story was produced into a TV movie called “The Miracle Continues”. The Hindi movie, “Black” which came out in 2005 and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali was hugely based on Keller’s life.

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