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Helen Keller holding a magnolia, ca. 1920.
Helen Adams Keller
June 27, 1880
Tuscumbia, Alabama, U.S.
June 1, 1968 (aged 87)
Easton, Connecticut, U.S.
Author, political activist, lecturer
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblindperson to earn a bachelor of arts degree. The story of how Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama is now a museum  and sponsors an annual "Helen Keller Day". Her birthday on June 27 is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. state ofPennsylvania and was authorized at the federal level by presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, the 100th anniversary of her birth. A prolific author, Keller was well-traveled and outspoken in her convictions. A member of the Socialist Party of America and theIndustrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, and other radical left causes. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971. Early childhood and illness
Keller with Anne Sullivanvacationing at Cape Cod in July 1888 Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her family lived on a homestead, Ivy Green, that Helen's grandfather had built decades earlier. She had two younger siblings, Mildred Campbell and Phillip Brooks Keller, two older half-brothers from her father's prior marriage, James and William Simpson Keller. Her father, Arthur H. Keller, spent many years as an editor for the Tuscumbia North Alabamian, and had served as a captain for theConfederate Army. Her paternal grandmother was the second cousin of Robert E. Lee. Her mother, Kate Adams, was the daughter ofCharles W. Adams. Though originally from Massachusetts, Charles Adams also fought for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, earning the rank of colonel (and acting brigadier-general). Her paternal lineage was traced to Casper Keller, a native ofSwitzerland. One of Helen's Swiss ancestors was the first teacher for the deaf in Zurich. Keller reflected on this coincidence in her first autobiography, stating "that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his."
Keller and Alexander Graham Bell, 1902
Helen Keller was born with the ability to see and hear. At 19 months old, she contracted an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. At that time, she was able to communicate somewhat with Martha Washington, the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs; by the age of seven, Keller had more than 60 home signs to communicate with her family. In 1886, Keller's mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickens' American Notes of the successful education of another deaf and blind woman, Laura Bridgman, dispatched young Helen, accompanied by her father, to seek out physician J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice. Chisholm referred the Kellers to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. Michael Anagnos, the school's director, asked 20-year-old former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, to become Keller's...
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