How did Helen Keller's family become acquainted with the Perkins Institute? 

How did Helen Keller's family become acquainted with the Perkins Institute?

 

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msmeow-7867 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It may seem odd to answer a question about how Helen Keller’s family became acquainted with the Perkins Institute by introducing Alexander Graham Bell, a man we all know best as the inventor of the telephone. Bell had a deep personal history with the deaf community; his mother had been almost completely deaf, which led his grandfather and father to undertake extensive research on deafness and the voice. Bell apprenticed under his father and later moved to Boston, using a set of symbols called Visible Speech invented by his father to teach deaf children. He also married one of his former pupils whose hearing had been destroyed by illness when she was a child.

In 1886, Helen Keller’s parents took her to see an oculist in Baltimore, MD in an attempt to improve her quality of life. Although the oculist could not improve Helen's sight, he did believe she could be educated and referred her to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, who was working at the time with deaf children in Washington, D.C. Bell met with Helen and her parents shortly after, and later, Helen would write that “she felt he understood her and that she ‘loved him at once’” (Blatty, 2015). Bell referred Helen and her parents to the Perkins Institute, and Captain Keller wrote a letter to Director Dr. Michael Anagnos requesting a teacher for his daughter. Anagnos sent Anne Mansfield Sullivan, who moved in with the family in March 1887 and worked with Keller at home until May 1888, when they both moved to the Perkins Institute. Keller’s education was a success, and she eventually graduated cum laude, the first deaf-blind student to receive a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College. Afterwards, Keller and Sullivan became suffragettes, traveled the world, met presidents, made a movie, played on vaudeville, published books, and began working with the American Foundation for the Blind. Through it all, Alexander Graham Bell, the man who helped Helen connect with the Perkins Institute and the man to whom she dedicated her memoir The Story of My Life, remained Helen's close friend until his death in 1922.