Helen Keller was a prominent author, political activist, and teacher and the first deaf-blind person to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree. Born in 1880 to parents Arthur H. and Kate Keller, Helen grew up in a loving, comfortable home with her parents and her sister. Her life was forever changed when an illness left her blind and deaf at nineteen months. Keller struggled to communicate with her family, often resorting to outbursts and temper tantrums to get their attention. Desperate, her parents sought the help of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who recommended they see Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, who in turn suggested that they contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Anne Sullivan, a recent graduate of the Perkins Institute, became Keller's teacher.
Keller recounts how via Sullivan's newly developed teaching methods, she learned both the manual alphabet and braille. Sullivan took every opportunity to teach Keller, often signing the proper names of trees and plants into Keller's hands while taking a relaxing stroll in the country. Gradually, Keller progressed from learning short words and phrases to reading Shakespeare and other classical works. It was around this time that Keller developed a lifelong fascination with literature. She set her sights on attending Radcliffe College, an all-female institution and offshoot of Harvard. Given the unusual nature of her disabilities, she struggled to pass the rigorous entrance exams to Radcliffe, which were not designed to accommodate the blind or deaf. In spite of these obstacles, Keller passed her exams, and she enrolled in classes in the fall. Sullivan came with her to Radcliffe, attending lectures so that she could sign the professor's lessons into Keller's hands. Though she did well in school, a couple of her instructors questioned whether Keller was really able to complete the work for her classes, given her disabilities. Disillusioned, Keller admitted that college life was not as romantic as she thought it would be. Nevertheless, Keller went on to become a prominent author and activist, publishing many essays and memoirs. The story of her education is well-known and has been portrayed several times in the media, perhaps most notably in the play and subsequent film The Miracle Worker.
Anne Sullivan was Helen Keller's teacher and friend. Sullivan was born into a poor family and spent part of her childhood in an almshouse in Massachusetts, where she contracted an eye disease as a result of the dismal living conditions. The disease left her vision severely impaired and eventually led her to the Perkins Institute, where she learned the teaching methods of Samuel Gridley Howe, a prominent figure in the field of education for the blind. She was just twenty years old when she was sent to live with the Kellers. She started teaching Keller immediately, beginning with the manual alphabet, then progressing to braille. Her teaching methods were less structured than Howe's, and Sullivan liked to give spontaneous lessons while she and Keller were out taking walks. Sullivan took Keller on a trip to visit the Perkins Institute in Boston, where Keller befriended many of the other blind children. On another trip, they visited the Horace Mann School, where Keller learned to speak. Throughout all of this, Sullivan rarely left Keller's side, and she had little time to herself. She loved the work, though, and later accompanied Keller to Radcliffe College, where she translated the professors' lectures into the manual alphabet. Sullivan worked with Keller for the rest of her life. She died in 1936.
Arthur H. and Kate Keller
Helen Keller's parents. Arthur was a former captain in the Confederate army, and Kate was a devoted housewife. Their family was well-to-do, so the Kellers spared no expense in ensuring that their daughter Helen received the best possible education. Their search for a suitable teacher led the Kellers to Anne Sullivan, who came to live with them at their homestead,...
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