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Helen Adams Keller(June 27, 1880-June 1, 1968) was born on a plantation called Ivy
Green in Tuscumbia, a little town of northern Alabama. Not only an American author,
political activist and lecturer, but she also was the first deaf-blind person to earn a
Bachelor of Arts degree. A prolific author, Keller was well travelled and was outspoken in
her opposition to war. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, workers’ rights, and
socialism, as well as many other progressive causes. One of the famous quotations of Keller
‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.’
‘Never bend your head. Hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.’
“It is with a kind of fear that I begin to write the history of my
life. I have, as it were, a superstitious hesitation in lifting the veil
that clings about my childhood like a golden mist.”
These are the first two sentences of the book
written by Helen Adams Keller. In this chapter, a
brief description of the ancestors of miss Keller is
given. The picture on the right shows the Keller
homestead, namely, ‘Ivy Green’. On the right of
this house is a small annex where Helen Keller
The family on her father’s side was descended
from Caspar Keller, a native of Switzerland,
who settled in Maryland. One of her ancestors
was the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich, who
wrote a book on the subject of their education.
Her grandfather and the son of Caspar Keller,
settled in Alabama. Once a year he went from
Tuscumbia to Philadelphia on horseback to
purchase supplies for plantation. Her father,
Arthur H. Keller, was a captain in the
Confederate army and her mother was his
The Keller Family
This chapter states the beginning of miss Helen’s illness,
her discovery and exploration of learning new things,
how she interacted with others in her surroundings.
Some examples are there that a shake of the head meant
“No” and a nod, “Yes”, a pull meant “Come” and a push,
“Go”. If she was willing to have ice-cream as a dinner
delicacy, she would shiver, to show work of a freezer,
and her mother would understand what she is craving
for. Further, she writes about how she realized that she
was different from all those around her and the agony
she felt for being different. Helen Keller with ‘Belle’
Those days she had two companions, Martha Washington,
child of the cook and Belle, miss Keller’s dog. Miss Keller also
pens down the horrific event of the childhood that she
experienced. She spilled some water on her apron and kept that
really close near the fire. As a result, her clothes were blazing
but her old nurse recued her. Sometime later, after the
recovery, she learnt to use a key. And that key usage led to one
of the most naughty pranks of young miss Keller! When her
teacher, Miss Sullivan came to her, she locked her and hid the
key. However, her father managed to get her out of the room
via a ladder. Months after, Miss Keller produced the key. In
1896, her father died, giving her, the first personal experience
with death. She then introduces her little sister, Mildred, whom
she thought to be an intruder. But after being restored to
human heritage, they both grew into each other’s hearts.
This chapter states the struggle that miss Keller did in order to
express herself and the emotional outcomes that followed. She
tells us that she had to face a great number of difficulties as
they were living a great long way from any school of blind and
deaf, and it seemed impossible that anyone would come to an
out-of-the-way place like Tuscumbia, just to teach one blind
and deaf child. They whole family passed through great
sorrows. Once, the relatives doubted that if she could be taught
or not. She had to make quite a journey to reach Washington,
to see Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, later, her companion.
Keller with Alexander Graham Bell
Self - pity is our worst enemy and if we yield
to it, we can never do anything good in the
-Helen Adams Keller
Anne Sullivan came to teach Helen on March 3, 1887. Right away,
Sullivan began to teach Helen to fingerspell using the manual
alphabet. Helen enjoyed it as a game, but that is all it was to her at
first. Several weeks later, Helen became frustrated when Sullivan
tried to teach her the difference between "mug" and "water." In a
rage, Helen threw and broke a new doll. To cool Helen's temper,
and perhaps to give herself a break, Sullivan took her pupil
outdoors for a walk. The two came upon someone getting water
from the pump. Just as she spelled everything else, Sullivan spelled
"water" into Helen's hand, and something clicked. Helen suddenly
understood that the spellings were names of things.
Anne Mansfield Sullivan
The rest of the summer, Helen built her vocabulary.
The more it grew, the more she felt like part of the
world. Most of her lessons that summer came from
the nature. She had a child's natural fascination with
the miracles all around her - how the rain and sun
help plants grow, how animals get food. Helen also
learned to fear the power of nature. One day that
summer, she was in a tree, waiting for her teacher to
return with lunch, when a storm suddenly arose. It
was a long time before she climbed a tree again.
Helen needed to move from knowing names of
concrete things and actions, to knowing how to
recognize and communicate abstractions. Her next
big step came, again, as she was trying to solve a
problem. Helen was concentrating very hard, and
Anne Sullivan tapped Helen's forehead,
emphatically spelling, "THINK!" Helen says she knew
"in a flash" that "think" was the name for what she
was doing. She worked for a long time, she says,
before she could understand the meaning of the
Anne Sullivan reasoned that normal
children learn language by being
exposed to it constantly. Thus, she
"spoke" to Helen constantly, using the
manual alphabet to help Helen learn
the words and figures of speech people
used in speaking to each other. It was
a long time before Helen could initiate
much conversation, but as Sullivan
continued to give her language,
Helen's abilities and intellect
continued to grow.
As soon as she could fingerspell some words,
Helen began learning to read, using slips of
cardboard with words printed in raised letters.
At first, she would attach the correct words to
objects and spell out sentences about them, such
as "doll is on bed," or "girl is in wardrobe." She
would play like this for hours. The first book
Helen read from was "Reader for Beginners."
Like any child learning to read, she started out
just finding words she knew. It was like a
game of hide-and-seek, and each word she
found thrilled her.
Nine months after Anne Sullivan came to Tuscumbia, Helen had her first real Christmas
celebration. For the first time, she was a giver, as well as receiver, and she enjoyed the
anticipation. On Christmas Eve, the Tuscumbia schoolchildren had their Christmas tree,
and Helen was invited to participate. She was allowed to present the children their gifts.
Helen also had gifts to open under that tree, which only made her more excited for "real
Christmas" to come. Helen hung her stocking and tried to stay awake to catch Santa Claus
leaving presents, but finally fell asleep. She was the first to wake up Christmas morning
and was astounded to find presents everywhere. Her favorite present came from Anne
Sullivan - a canary named Little Tim. Helen learned to care for him herself. Unfortunately,
a big cat got him when she left Tim's cage to get water for the bird.
Helen Keller had been friends with various powerful and famous personalities like Mark Twain,
Winston Churchill and President John F. Kennedy.
Next important step in Helen’s life was the visit to
Perkins Institute in Boston.
As soon as she arrived, Helen met other children
who knew the manual alphabet. She immediately
had friends and felt she had come home to her own
country. She felt great pain, though, when she
realized that all of her new friends were blind.
While Helen was in Boston she visited Bunker
Hill, and there she had her first lesson in history.
The story of the brave men who had fought on the
spot where she stood excited her greatly
After visiting Boston, Helen and her teacher vacationed at Cape Cod.
Helen was delighted, for her mind was full of the prospective joys and of
the wonderful stories she had heard about the sea. No sooner had Helen
been helped into her bathing-suit than she sprang out upon the warm sand
and without thought of fear plunged into the cool water. Suddenly her
ecstasy gave place to terror; for her foot struck against a rock and the next
instant there was a rush of water over her head. At last she was thrown
over by the waves on the shore. After that she enjoyed being splashed by
the waves sitting on a big rock.
Helen felt that life is full of emotions. She spent her autumn months with
family at their summer cottage at Fern Quarry. The beautiful place was
surrounded by little streams, mossy tree trunks, with butterflies and buzzing
insects. Helen spent her days riding her pony or walking outdoors.
One day, Helen, Mildred and Miss Sullivan got lost in the woods. Mildred
recognized a railroad trestle over a deep gorge, with which they decided to
find their way home. As they were crossing the trestle, a train approached.
The three climbed underneath, onto the cross braces, and held onto the
swaying trestles, terrified, while the train went overhead. With the utmost
difficulty they regained the track. Long after dark they reached home and
found the cottage empty; the family were all out hunting for them
Helen and Miss Sullivan spent their winter in New
England village where she experienced her first snowfall
at the age of 9. The Earth seemed benumbed by the icy
touch. All around the village were frozen lakes, vast snow
fields, withered grass and bushes turned into icicles
As the days wore on, the drifts gradually shrunk, but
before they were wholly gone another storm came
At intervals the trees lost their icy covering, and the
bushes and underbrush were bare; but the lake lay frozen
and hard beneath the sun
Helen’s favorite amusement was tobogganing. She
enjoyed it sliding across drifts, hollows and swooping
down upon the lake….