Helen Keller was literally a historical phenomenon. She was the first blind and deaf person to achieve a BA degree, and if that wasn’t enough, she learned to speak, to give lectures, and to write books. Be inspired today by her story, and join us as we travel through Helen’s life. Here are 62 facts about this amazing woman for you.
Fact 1: Helen Adams Keller, a lecturer, activist, writer, and national, icon was born on 27 June 1880.
Fact 2: Helen’s dad, Arthur, was an editor for the Tuscumbia North Alabamian paper. It’s clear that writing and creativity flowed through this family from early on. In his younger years, Arthur was a Captain in the Confederate Army.
Fact 3: Sadly, when Keller was only around 19 months of age she became ill, and although her family was not poor, medicine and medical treatments were nowhere near as good as today. Unfortunately for Keller, this illness, which could’ve been scarlet fever or meningitis caused her to go blind and deaf.
Fact 4: Helen came from a blended family, meaning that she had 2 real siblings: Mildred and Phillip, and 2 half-siblings: James and William. Her half-siblings came from her Father’s previous relationship.
Fact 5: Although she had a good-sized family, one of her earliest companions was actually her house chef’s daughter, Martha.
Fact 6: Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Interestingly, her birthplace is so fond of her that they turned her home, Ivy Green, into a museum. You can go and take a tour here if you like.
Fact 7: She is the first deaf and blind person to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree! This is an incredible feat, particularly because of the era she was doing this degree in, and the extra pressure upon her.
Fact 8: Catherine, or Kate, was Helen’s Mother. She was the daughter of a Confederate General. Her Father was Charles. W. Adams.
Fact 9: It was only late on in her childhood did Helen learn to communicate through hand-language and speech with her family. When Helen was younger she made up about 60 home-signs to communicate with her family.
Fact 10: This is incredible, Keller could say who a family member was by listening to the way they walked. She would listen to the vibrations coming off the floor and determine who was coming towards her or near her. It has been noted that because of her lack of other senses her ‘touch’ sense became even more powerful.
Fact 11: This could be a coincidence or it could just be bizarre, but Helen Keller actually had a distant relative living in Switzerland, that taught deaf people in Zurich. His name was Casper Keller and was one of the first people to teach deaf people.
Fact 12: Interestingly, Helen knew Alexander Graham Bell, and in later life the two became friends. The story goes that Catherine, Helen’s Mother, was inspired by a story about a deaf girl called Laura Bridgman, and thought that Helen should go and see a specialist about her blindness and deafness. When Helen met Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, he advised her that she should go and see Alexander, who was working with deaf people.
Fact 13: Anne Sullivan was Helen’s long term companion and instructor. The pair had a friendship that lasted almost 50 years and they were inseparable.
Fact 14: It was thanks to Alexander Graham Bell’s suggestion that Keller should visit the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where Laura Bridgman had gone, that Helen met and found her lifelong companion Anne.
Fact 15: The woman we see in books, articles, videos, is a woman who shows great strength, but like with all great stories, there was a difficult beginning. When Anne first moved in with Helen on the 5 March 1887, she taught her the word for ‘doll’ in hand-language (spelling words out on your hand with your fingers). This was an incredibly frustrating process for Helen as she wasn’t used to this way of doing things, and on some occasions, she lost her temper and broke objects.
Fact 16: The silver lining to the story came 1 month later when Keller learned the word for ‘water,’ and she finally felt like she was getting somewhere with the new language. In her autobiography, she credited the day Anne arrived at her home as ‘my soul’s birthday’. Helen believed she was really getting somewhere, but little did she know how far her learning would really take her.
Fact 17: Sarah Fuller was allegedly the first person to give Helen actual speech lessons so that she could actually talk to people.
Fact 18: Helen liked listening to music. You might well be thinking how is this possible? But this is true, while people who are deaf may not hear the actual words of a song, they can feel the rhythm and beat by using their other senses. Modern research supports this, for example, Hauser (2011), concluded that when you lose a sense your other senses get better so, in the case of a deaf person their sensory cortex, amygdala, cerebellum, and nucleus accumbens work together to produce music in their brain.
Fact 19: Keller could use braille perfectly.
Fact 20: Helen was an animal lover. In fact, throughout her life, she had many pet dogs.
Fact 21: As time went by Helen learned to speak and she was able to give lectures to actual people in 1913. One of her biggest lectures was the 1916 Mabel Tainter Memorial Building lecture. She traveled all over the world talking about her disabilities and how one should not live up to the stigma attached to one’s disability. She would also discuss Women’s Right To Vote and the impact of war.
Fact 22: Helen Keller joined the Perkins Institute for the Blind in 1888. It is still open today.
Fact 23: By 1894, Helen was attending the Wright-Humasen school for the deaf. Then she moved on to the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in 1896. Harvard was only around the corner from here.
Fact 24: This exceptional student made her way to the all-female Radcliffe College of Harvard University in 1900. This was the female version of the all-male Harvard College for men.
Fact 25: Surprisingly, Mark Twain, a big fan of Helen’s, persuaded the industrialist and financier Henry Rogers to aid Helen’s studies at Harvard by paying for her education. Both Rogers and Twain saw something special in Keller and wanted her to succeed. Helen Keller later dedicated her book to Mr. and Mrs. Rogers who supported her through her academic career.
Fact 26: Not only was she the first deaf and blind person to get a BA degree, but when she graduated she was honored as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa. This is a highly prestigious award in America that is only given to those who truly deserve it because of their generous contributions to academia.
Fact 27: Helen and her companion Anne led a full life together, they traveled, they learned, and they loved, but sadly for Helen, Anne couldn’t be with her until the end of time. Having been ill for some time Anne finally passed away in 1936, leaving a huge gap to fill in Helen’s heart.
Fact 28: Not all was at a loss, some years prior to this Polly Thomson had come onto the scene and was to be Helen’s new companion. Together they would go on to see and to travel even more of the world. Between 1914-1957 Helen and Polly were inseparable.
Fact 29: Throughout her busy life Helen Keller found time to discuss and to action what needed to be actioned in the areas that mattered most to her. She was working for deaf people, campaigning for blind people, a suffragette, campaigned for birth control, and she was a keen socialist.
Fact 30: Helen supported the idea of eugenics. Eugenics is all about getting the best out of the human race, meaning that people with the ‘best’ hereditary traits should breed together so that you end up with a human race with only the best features.
Fact 31: In 1920 Keller became part of the American Civil Liberties Union. The aim of this organization is to protect and defend every individual’s rights and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.
Fact 32: Some of Helen’s oldest and best friends were Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charlie Chaplin.
Fact 33: In Kerala, India, there is a 10ft 7in painting of Helen Keller, called ‘The Advocate’. The painting was created by a team of 3 artists from the area, and it is there to honor her and to help blind students in the surrounding area.
Fact 34: There is a Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama.
Fact 35: According to some, Helen was once involved with a gentleman named Peter Fagan. He allegedly came onto the scene when Anne wasn’t very well, and those around Helen were very skeptical about the man. He was a worker at the Boston Herald at the time.
Fact 36: Helen outlived another companion in 1960 when poor Polly died after having multiple strokes in the years leading up to her passing away.
Fact 37: In 1915, the Helen Keller International Organization was set up to help those who are blind or suffering from malnutrition, their aim is to find answers to these big problems.
Fact 38: During her lifetime she visited over 25 countries to discuss what being deaf was like, and what it meant for those who were suffering from it.
Fact 39: Anne and Helen visited over 40 countries together, with Japan being an extremely popular destination for the pair. She would discuss various topics on her travels.
Fact 40: Helen and Mark Twain, often caused a bit of a stir in politics with their socialist views.
Fact 41: 1912 was the year that Helen joined the Industrial Workers of the World, she was there to campaign and to spread her concerns about working in this field when you had a disability.
Fact 42: ‘The Frost King’ written in 1891, was Helen’s first book. She was 11 years old at the time and was heavily criticized for plagiarizing the book. Although, many have come to the conclusion that she might have been suffering from some kind of cryptomnesia, meaning she heard the book as a child forgot about it and then wrote a story about it without knowing that she already knew the original story.
Fact 43: Between the years 1946-1957, her time spent with Polly, she went to 35 countries.
Fact 44: She went to New Zealand, which given the era she was from, is incredible.
Fact 45: The Helen Keller Archives are owned by the American Association for the Blind.
Fact 46: In the year 1999, Helen Keller was voted as Gallup’s ‘Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century’.
Fact 47: In 2009, the National Statuary Hall Collection, placed a bronze statue of Helen in their collection for people to see.
Fact 48: Later in her life, Helen found her third and final companion, who would be with her until the day she died. Winnie Corbally was a nurse who was actually looking after Polly when Helen met her, and Winnie decided to stay around to help Helen.
Fact 49: Keller actually met every American President that came into power from Clevland’s time to Johnson’s time.
Fact 50: Helen was a member of the socialist party and was a fixed face there from 1907-1921. During this time, she allegedly found that the tabloids would mention her disabilities more often because they might not have agreed with her views on politics.
Fact 51: Helen never got married, and she didn’t have children, but she was worried about overpopulation in the world. This means that she was concerned that there were too many people on the planet.
Fact 52: She published 12 books during her life, some of these include:
- The Story of My Life (1903)
- The World I Live In (1908)
- Out of the Dark (1913)
Fact 53: Alabama, where Helen grew up honored her in 2003 by having her picture placed on their quarters.
Fact 54: She has been honored in many ways, but in 1980 the United Postal Service made a touching tribute to Helen and Anne, by placing their picture on a postage stamp. Even after her passing she still managed to make her way around America, and maybe further afield.
Fact 55: You can find Helen in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Fact 56: After meeting Phillip Brookes, Helen found Christianity. She even released a book called, ‘My Religion’ in 1927.
Fact 57: Helen led a life that was filled with success, warmth, friendship, commitment, and endurance, so it was only a matter of time before someone wanted to capture all of this on film. One of the earliest films about her life is, ‘Deliverance’ (1919), directed by George Foster Platt.
Fact 58: On that note, one of the most influential documentary/films created about her life was ‘The Miracle Worker’, released by Playhouse 90, in 1957. A great portion of this story was based on Helen’s autobiography. Although, there have been other adaptations with the same title as this and starring Patty Duke.
Fact 59: In 1964, Helen received a prestigious award from the then President, Johnson. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fact 60: More recently, the New England Historic Genealogical Society discovered a precious and rare photograph of Helen and Anne together. This photograph is thought to be one of the first photos of Anne.
Fact 61: In her sleep on the 1st of June, 1968, at the great age of 87, Helen passed away. She was in Acorn Ridge, Easton, at the time, and she died peacefully.
Fact 62: Interestingly, before she died Keller requested that she be laid to rest with her most-loved companions Anne and Polly. Part of her has been put to rest in Washington National Cathedral and part of her now lies with Anne and Polly, as requested.