Keller is best known as a disabled rights activist, but she also advocated for women’s suffrage, birth control, and pacifism. She was also a radical socialist who concentrated her efforts on issues affecting working people and became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). But did you know who she was and what her other accomplishments were?
Helen Keller is a well-known American woman who overcame deafness and blindness to live a successful life. She was a socialist political activist that led an IWW commission for blind and disabled people.
When Did Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan First Meet?
On March 3, 1887, her life changed as she often remarked as an adult. Anne Mansfield Sullivan arrived in Tuscumbia that day to be her teacher.
Sullivan was a 20-year-old Perkins School for the Blind graduate. Her childhood and upbringing could not have been more dissimilar to Keller’s. She entered Perkins at the age of 14 after spending four horrifying years as a ward of the state at the Tewksbury Almshouse in Massachusetts.
She was only 14 years older than her student Keller, and she, too, had severe vision problems. Sullivan had many botched operations before her sight was partially restored when she was young.
Sullivan’s success with Keller is still an extraordinary story, best known to the public through the film The Miracle Worker. Keller was accurately portrayed in the movie as an unruly, spoiled, but very bright, child who tyrannized the household with her temper tantrums.
Sullivan believed that teaching Keller obedience and love was the key to reaching her. She saw the need to discipline, but not crush, her young charge’s spirit. As a result, she was able to remove Keller from the main house and live alone with her in the nearby cottage within a week of her arrival. They had been there for two weeks.
Keller quickly learned to form the letters correctly and in the correct order, but she had no idea she was spelling a word or that words existed at all. In the days that followed, she learned to spell many more words in this illogical manner. (Source: American Foundation for the Blind)
Political and Social Activism of Helen Keller
Keller saw herself first and foremost as a writer, her passport listed her occupation as an author, through the typewritten word that Keller communicated with Americans and, eventually, thousands around the world.
She advocated for the rights of the underdog from a young age and used her writing skills to speak truth to power. As a pacifist, she opposed the United States’ involvement in World War I, and as a socialist, she championed workers’ rights. She was also an early member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a tireless advocate for women’s suffrage.
Keller’s ideals were purest and most lasting when she worked for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). She began working for AFB in 1924 and remained with the organization for over 40 years.
She took advantage of the foundation’s global platform to advocate for the needs of people with vision loss. As a result of her travels across the country, state commissions for the blind were established, rehabilitation centers were built, and education was made available to those who had lost their vision.
Helen Keller was appointed counselor on international relations when the American Braille Press became the American Foundation for Overseas Blind which is now Helen Keller International in 1946. She then began her globe-circling tours on behalf of those who have vision loss. (Source: American Foundation for the Blind)