Helen Keller was a blind and deaf activist,
author, and educator who became a symbol of
courage and inspiration to millions around
the world. Her life story was told in the
award-winning The Miracle Worker.
She is often credited with helping bring
an end to widespread public indifference
over the welfare of handicapped individuals.
Helen and Anne Sullivan
Biographical fast facts
Full or original name at birth: Helen Adams Keller
Date, time and place of birth: June 27, 1880,
at 4:02 p.m., at the "Ivy Green" plantation,
300 West North Commons, Tuscumbia, Alabama, U.S.A.
Date, time, place and cause of death: June 1, 1968,
at 3:35 p.m., "Arcan Ridge" in Easton, near Westport,
Connecticut, U.S.A.* (Natural causes)
Siblings: Phillips Brooks Keller (brother)
Older half-brothers: James Keller and William Simpson Keller (from her father's prior marriage)
Sister: Mildred Keller
Note: Helen's father, Captain Arthur H. Keller, was previously
married to S. E. Rosser of Memphis. Rosser died in 1877 at age 38.
Father: Captain Arthur H. Keller (a gentlemen farmer and newspaper editor)
(b. February 5, 1836 - d. August 29, 1896**, Tuscumbia, Alabama)
Mother: Kate (Adams) Keller (d. June 1921)
Interment location: Helen Keller was cremated and her ashes
interred at St. Joseph's Chapel, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.
Error corrections or clarifications
* The overwhelming majority of sources erroneously
report Helen Keller died in "Westport" Connecticut. In
actuality, she died at her home, "Arcan Ridge" located in
Easton, Connecticut. The dateline on most of her
obituaries was Westport, Connecticut, and this was the
place of death many mistakenly attributed to Ms. Keller.
Most biographies continue to misreport not only her place
of death, but also the location of her home as "Westport"
Connecticut. The problem is exacerbated by the fact Helen
Keller was living in Easton, but had a Westport post office
box for all her correspondence. Even her stationery listed
a Westport post office box while she lived in Easton.
Westport is just a few miles to the south of Easton, and
it was not uncommon for some residents to get their mail
there, or in nearby Fairfield. Officials from the local
historical society there in Connecticut have repeatedly
addressed the issue, but the discrepancy about where
Keller's home was located, and where she died, continues
to unnecessarily puzzle some. One last time -- she died at
her home "Arcan Ridge" located in Easton, Connecticut,
not Westport, Connecticut.
** A few sources erroneously report "August 19, 1896"
as the date Helen Keller's father died. Helen Keller herself
addressed his death in a letter to Charles Dudley Warner,
dated Thursday, September 3rd, 1896, in which she said,
". . . My heart is too full of sadness to dwell upon the
happiness the summer has brought me. My father is dead.
He died last Saturday at my home in Tuscumbia, and I was
not there." That confirms the August 29th, 1896 date of
death previously reported by most sources.
The first 18 months of her life, Helen Keller had
normal, healthy eyesight and hearing. But in February
of 1882, Helen was suddenly struck ill with a severe
fever, and was not expected to survive. Her illness
is now thought to have been either scarlet fever or
meningitis, though doctors of that era called it
"brain fever." Ms. Keller describes it in her
autobiography, The Story of My Life: "They
called it acute congestion of the stomach and brain.
The doctor thought I could not live. Early one morning,
however, the fever left me as suddenly and mysteriously
as it had come. There was great rejoicing in the family
that morning, but no one, not even the doctor, knew
that I should never see or hear again." Her parents,
Captain Arthur H. Keller, a former Civil War Confederate
Army officer, gentlemen farmer and newspaper editor,
and her mother, Kate Keller, did indeed rejoice. Their
joy was short-lived.
Trapped in a world of darkness, unable to speak, see
or hear anything that was going on around her, she
grew to be an unruly child, frequently throwing raging
tantrums, thrashing, kicking and biting those around
her. Rather than institutionalize young Helen, as some
had suggested, her parents hired a private tutor.
March 3rd, 1887, Anne Mansfield Sullivan entered her
Annie gave hours of instruction each day, which
led Helen to quickly imitate the manual alphabet.
Though she rapidly learned the various finger symbols,
Helen failed to comprehend their significance. The
poignant scene of Keller's great epiphany has been
reenacted countless times in motion pictures, plays,
Helen describes it best in her autobiography, The
Story of My Life: "We walked down the path to the
well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle
with which it was covered. Some one was drawing water
and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the
cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the
other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I
stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions
of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness
as of something forgotten--a thrill of returning thought;
and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.
I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant the wonderful cool
something that was flowing over my hand. That living
word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set
it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but
barriers that could in time be swept away."
And sweep them away she did. With Anne Sullivan by
her side, in time, Keller would learn to speak, read
Braille, and write. The public was fascinated by
Helen Keller's story decades before The Miracle
Worker visualized the iconic scenes associated
with her life. However, some newspapers published
exaggerated accounts of Helen Keller and her exploits.
Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, remembered as "the Miracle
Worker" for her teaching accomplishments and lifetime
dedication to Helen Keller, once commented on these
press fabrications in a letter. "Nearly every mail
brings some absurd statement, printed or written.
The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the
newspapers; so they enlarge upon it and invent
ridiculous embellishments. One paper has Helen
demonstrating problems in geometry by means of her
At the age of 11, Helen sent the Director of the
Perkins Institution for the Blind, Michael Anagnos,
The Frost King, a short story she had written.
She had an ongoing correspondence with Anagnos since
her days as a student at Perkins. He was so impressed
with the story that he had it published in a magazine,
and publicly praised the work. Unfortunately it turned
out to be a retelling of a story by Margaret Canby,
The Frost Fairies. She was criticized, accused of
plagiarism, and Michael Anagnos broke off contact with
her. It turned out much of her story was actually
taken from The Frost Fairies, but Keller claimed
it was unintentional. Though it cast a shadow over her
early years, she later produced many volumes of fresh
material, and the incident was largely forgotten by the
1902 saw her autobiography, The Story of My Life
appear in serialized form in Ladies' Home Journal.
The following year it was published in book form, and
would be reprinted many times over the years. She
dedicated her autobiography to the inventor of the
telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, "Who has taught the
deaf to speak and enabled the listening ear to hear speech
from the Atlantic to the Rockies, I dedicate this Story
of My Life." Her other works include Optimism: An Essay
(1903), The World I Live In (1908), The Song of the
Stone Wall (a.k.a. "The Chant of the Stone Wall") (1910),
Out of the Dark: Essays, Letters, and Addresses
on Physical and Social Vision (1913), My Religion
(1927), Midstream: My Later Life (1929),
Peace at Eventide (1932), Helen Keller in Scotland
(1933), Helen Keller's Journal (1938), Let Us Have
Faith (1940), Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy: A
Tribute by the Foster Child of Her Mind (1955), and
The Open Door (1957).
Some of the notable firsts in her life include the
first deaf-blind individual ever enrolled at a major
institution of higher learning. She was the very
first deaf-blind individual to receive a bachelor
of arts degree, received in 1904 from Radcliffe
College. In 1955 Helen Keller became the first
woman to receive an honorary degree from Harvard
She became a distinguished lecturer, a wildly-successful
fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind,
and was consistently one of the world's most admired
women. Keller, along with her teacher Annie Sullivan,
traveled the world, met with heads of state, campaigned
tirelessly to improve living and working conditions
for blind people, and dedicated her entire life to
educating the public about disabled members of society.
Her political beliefs and activities proved to be
one of the more controversial aspects of her life.
She became radically left wing, and in 1909, joined
the Socialist Party. She wrote articles in defense
of Socialism, lectured for the party, and was a
founding member of the ACLU.
Helen Keller had many dogs as companions over the years.
Her dogs would usually accompany her on walks or tandem
bicycle rides. She owned mastiffs, setters, spaniels,
and bull terriers. Helen once wrote, "My dog friends
seem to understand my limitations, and always keep
close beside me when I am alone. I love their affectionate
ways and the eloquent wag of their tails." She is
credited with having introduced the Akita breed of
dog to America in 1937. This came about as a result
of a trip to Japan during her world travels.
In October 1961, Helen suffered the first of a series
of strokes, and retired from public life. Though she
was unable to attend the ceremony, September 14th, 1964,
President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Helen Keller the
Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest
civilian honor. She was to spend the remainder of
her life being cared for at her home, Arcan Ridge,
in Easton, near Westport, Connecticut.
Helen Keller's life story was told in William
Gibson's play The Miracle Worker, which was
later made into a film. The 1962 Arthur Penn
film version starred Anne Bancroft, as Annie
Sullivan, and Patty Duke, as Helen Keller. They
both won Academy Awards for their work in the
motion picture. The Miracle Worker was
remade in 1979 as a TV-movie starring Patty Duke,
this time playing Annie Sullivan, and Melissa
Gilbert as Helen Keller. It was remade again
as a TV-movie in 2000, and starred Hallie Kate
Eisenberg, Alison Elliott, David Strathairn,
and Lucas Black.
The most in-depth of more than three dozen
sources consulted in preparing this
profile: The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller (1903) Helen Keller: Sketch for a Portrait, by
Van Wyck Brooks (1956)
NOTE: Many sources erroneously report her book,
The Story of My Life, was published in 1902. As
noted above, it appeared in serialized form in
Ladies' Home Journal in 1902, and then was
published in book form in 1903. It
was Edward Bok, the editor of Ladies' Home Journal,
who convinced Helen to pen her autobiography.
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