Helen Keller was born on this day in 1880; with perfect sight and perfect hearing. Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, in the United States of America, Helen, as an infant, contracted Scarlet fever, leaving her Deafblind.
Helen was an unruly child, exasperating her parents. They had limited options of what to do with Helen, as disability support services were unheard of in those days.
When Helen was approaching her 7th birthday, she got her best birthday present ever; her very own teacher. Miss Sullivan, partially blind herself, had come to the Keller house from the Perkins School for the Blind at the request of Dr Alexander Graham Bell. The two would go on to develop a relationship that would become one of the most significant relationships of the 20th century.
As Helen had no language, Miss Sullivan began to teach her. She began by finger spelling the letters of words into Helen’s hand, starting with the word doll, at the same time as Helen was holding a doll in the other hand. Helen began to cotton on that what Miss Sullivan was writing into her hand meant something but she didn’t know what.
It wasn’t until that most famous day when Miss Sullivan took Helen out to the garden tap and ran water over Helen’s hand, at the same time as writing w,a,t,e,r into Helen’s other hand that the light went on. Helen learned at that moment that the flow of gushing water was the word that Miss Sullivan was spelling into her other hand i.e. water. According to the story, Helen picked up dirt from the ground and demanded to know its word. By the end of that day Helen was reported to have learned 30 words. Helen went on to learn all the letters of the alphabet and then braille.
With the floodgates of learning now open, Helen and Teacher were inseparable.
At the age of 10 Helen expressed interest in learning to speak and was often heard saying “Some day I will go to college.” Helen stuck to her word, being the first Deafblind person in the world to graduate in 1904 with a Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College.
But Helen’s learning never stopped. Annie Sullivan was by her side until her death in 1936, finger spelling book after book into Helen’s hand.
Helen received many honorary doctoral degrees in her life time and travelled to 39 countries around the world, spreading her message of hope and inspiration. “You have heard how through a little word dropped from the fingers of another, a ray of light from another soul touched the darkness of my mind and I found myself, found the world. It is because my teacher learned about me and broke through the silent imprisonment which held me, that I am able to work for others.”
Helen died in 1968, at the age of 88. Helen Keller left behind a legacy of words and stories that are still relevant today. For me, her wisdom focused on celebrating what she had and not what she didn’t have. : “So much has been given to me I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.”
Have a happy 27 June and remember Helen Keller on this day!