Helen Keller: at sea in a dense fog

Helen Keller portrait, 1904. Due to a protruding left eye, Keller was usually photographed in profile. Both her eyes were replaced in adulthood with glass replicas for "medical and cosmetic reasons"

Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, anti-militarism, and other similar causes. The story of Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was made famous by Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life

  • At 19 months old, Keller contracted an unknown illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. She lived, as she recalled in her autobiography "at sea in a dense fog".
  • One of Helen's Swiss ancestors was the first teacher for the deaf in Zurich. Keller reflected on this irony in her first autobiography, stating "that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his."
  • Keller was able to communicate somewhat with Martha Washington, the two-years older daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs; by the age of seven, Keller had more than 60 home signs to communicate with her family, and could distinguish people by the vibration of their footsteps.
  • Alexander Graham Bell was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind. The Director of the Institute authorized a 20-year-old alumna of the school, Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, to become Keller's instructor.
  • Helen Keller in 1899 with lifelong companion and teacher Anne Sullivan. Photo taken by Alexander Graham Bell at his School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech.
  • Sullivan arrived at Keller's house on March 5, 1887, a day Keller would forever remember as My soul's birthday.
  • Keller's breakthrough in communication came the next month when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of "water". Writing in her autobiography, The Story of My Life, Keller recalled the moment: "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. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!"
  • Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities.



Helen Keller: the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence

  • Light in My Darkness is a book, originally published in 1927 as "My Religion", written by Helen Keller when she was 47 years old. This book is regarded as Keller's spiritual autobiography. It advocates the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Christian theologian and mystic who gave a spiritual interpretation of the teachings of the Bible. In this book she writes:
  • "Since my seventeenth year, I have tried to live according to the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg. By "church" he did not mean an ecclesiastical organization, but a spiritual fellowship of thoughtful men and women who spend their lives for a service to mankind that outlasts them. He called it a civilization that was to be born of a healthy, universal religion—goodwill, mutual understanding, service from each to all, regardless of dogma or ritual."

  • The change in title from My Religion to Light in My Darkness is significant. She declares, "I know that life is given us so that we may grow in love. And I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of the flower, the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence."