By Anika Watson
Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She was not all that different from other babies; she was strong, healthy and bright. When she was 19 months old, she had what they called “Acute congestion of the stomach and brain,” which we now think may be scarlet fever, but we’re not sure. She was expected to die.
Helen lived, but the illness damaged the occipital lobe and the temporal lobe of her brain. This meant that she could not see or hear. Even though she was deaf and blind, she was still bright, but trapped in her own mind. She was frustrated and she was horribly difficult to handle. She was given candy in order to control her temper. All that changed when Helen was about six years old. That is when Annie Sullivan came. Helen’s parents had been trying to get a teacher for Helen, but had not succeeded before then. When Annie came, Helen did not like her. She made Helen do things she did not want to do, like eat with a spoon and sit at the table. Annie was using the manual alphabet, to teach Helen to communicate, but Helen did not understand the words. She didn’t even know that things had names.
On April 5, 1887, Annie took Helen outside to the pump, and ran the water over her fingers while she spelled “water.” Later Helen remembered this life-changing moment, and she said: “I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the movement of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness, as of something forgotten… and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.” By the end of that day she had learned 30 new words, and spelled in her sleep the whole night.
Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to attend Radcliffe College. She graduated with honours. Helen lived a full life, in which she fought for the rights of women and minorities and encouraged people with with disabilities. She wrote, went to school, became a stage star, and raised money for the American Foundation for the blind.
She traveled around the world visiting wounded World War 2 soldiers. When Helen Keller was 36, she fell in love with Journalist Peter Fagan. Her family didn’t think that disabled people should marry, and separated her and Peter forever. Helen later wrote, “The brief love will remain in my life, as a little island of joy surrounded by dark waters. I am glad I have had the experience of being loved and desired.”
Helen was so talented that she actually talked. She met many famous people, including Charlie Chaplin. In spite of her disadvantages, Helen Keller accomplished more in her life than most human beings. She told us “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”