How was Helen Keller born and what physical illness did she have?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880, Helen Keller was a normal, healthy baby until she contracted an unknown illness. It is conjectured that she either had Rubella (German measles) or Scarlet Fever or meiningitis; from the illness she was left deaf and blind. Of course, because she was born in the day and time that she was, there were no vaccines and fewer ways to combat such diseases.

As a consequence of her darkness and isolation from the sights and sounds of her world, Helen became unruly, although she did have some homemade signs that her family understood. In 1886, her mother searched for some help, and recalling something she had read in a work by Charles Dickens, had her husband seek the advice of J. Julian Chisolm, a Baltimore eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist. He, in turn, referred the Kellers to Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with others at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where one of Chisolm's pupils had been successfully educated. It was from this institute that 20-year old Anne Sullivan came to the Keller's home to instruct Helen.

Helen Keller has been an inspiration to the visually and hearing impaired as well as many others. She was undaunted in her quest for knowledge, even graduating from Radcliffe. Often quoted, this statement of Helen Keller's certainly expresses her philosophy of life:

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.

estoverl eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the summer of 1880 in Alabama, Helen Keller was born at home. Her life began in the modest cottage home her father, a former confederate officer, had built alongside the family plantation. Helen's mother, his second wife, was much younger than her father. At the time of her birth, Helen's mother was determined that Helen would bring her the joy her marriage lacked. Prior to her illness at nineteen months, Helen had learned to walk and form some simple words and sounds. It is said she was bright and active.

No official cause of her illness is given other than extreme brain and stomach congestion that has been hypothesized to have been caused by meningitis or scarlet fever. While she was sick, the doctors felt she might not live. After the fever subsided, it was not immediately apparent that she could not hear, speak or see. Slowly her mother figured this out and began to communicate with gestures Helen could feel with her hands. Eventually, Helen became so distraught from being unable to communicate that rage often overtook her. In efforts to help her learn to communicate, Helen's mother hired a teacher for her. The story of her teacher, Ann Sullivan, and Helen has been well-documented in books. 

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