Helen Keller

Pranathi Gunda

Brief biographical sketch

Full name: Helen Adams Keller

Born: June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama

Died: June 1, 1968 in Easton, Connecticut

Type of Upbringing:

When Helen Keller was 19 months old, she caught an unknown illness that caused her to become blind and deaf.They lived in a tiny house consisting of a large square room and a small one for the servant. Helen Keller's father was an officer in the confederate army during the Civil War. Her family was not very wealthy and gained most of their money from cotton plantations. After her father came back, he became the editor of a weekly local newspaper, the North Alabamian.She was sent to various doctors, during her appointment with Alexander Bell, who was working with deaf children, he recommended her to the Perkins Institute for the Blind.


As a child, Helen was very rebellious, she would imitate everything other people did and believed the only light she would see was the dark. But the most important day in her life was when Anne Sullivan came into her live. Helen was a very rebellious child, and would always lock her teacher in the cupboard. The biggest challenge Sullivan faced was teaching Helen to connect a word to a concept or object. The first concept Helen grasped was water; while Anne pumped water into Helen's hands, Anne spelled out the word "w-a-t-e-r" onto to her other hand. She learned everything had a name and the more knowledge she gained, the more delight she felt of the world. Sullivan had also taught Helen to speak. Helen would normally express her anger through tantrums but with time and practice she was able form coherent sentences and behave like any other person. Her first coherent sentence was, "It is warm." In 1896, Helen went to the Cambridge School for Young Ladies and in 1900 went to Radcliffe College. Anne Sullivan had followed Keller to both high school and college, to translate books into braille and translate lectures during class. Anne and her husband helped Helen write her first book, The Story of My life, which explains the transformation from when she was a child to 21 years old. In 1904 Helen had graduated with honors and became the first blind-deaf women to earn a bachelor's degree. Anne had been with Helen, even after college, following her across the country till her very last breath. She became widely known as the "Miracle Worker."

Motivation behind success:

As a child, Helen felt as is invisible hands were holding her back and didn't know how to express herself. No one in this house knew how to take care of her except for Anne Sullivan. She started to challenge herself and learned that without determination she would not succeed. Without trying harder, she would not have learned to speak; the people in her life discouraged her and didn't think highly of her and she came to realize that she needed to believe in herself. She became a strong advocate of education; she believed that from knowledge, we learned the true from the false and lofty things from the low. Without knowledge, "one must indeed be deaf to the harmonies to life" (86 The Story of My life).Her growing interests in political issues and the thoughts of radicalism all began due to education.

"I am the only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

"When one door closes, another opens. But we often look so regretfully upon the closed door that we don't see the one that has opened for us."

Compare/Contrast to Gilded Age

The term "Gilded Age," was created by Mark Twain which just emphasized a time period of corruption and greediness for wealth and power. If Helen Keller were to be in this time period, she would have been very successful. Many people would have a gained a better insight in how to make an impact in both their own and the society's lives.As an advocate of feminism, she would have fought for better occupations for women instead of the feminized professions and low wages. She also would have fought for suffrage and work hand in hand with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony and other feminists, and become a member of the National American Suffrage Association. The industrial workers had several strikes such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1887 and formed numerous labor unions such as the National Labor Union and the Knights of labor. Helen Keller had become a socialist for the sole purpose of gaining better conditions for workers. After learning that socialism was going at a slow pace she became an Industrial Worker of The World. Although she was against war, she explained that during the process, workers learn to become independent and take matters into their hands. Helen Keller believed in revolution, fighting to turn the wrongs into rights.

If I had the same skills as Helen Keller,I would have done same as her. I would have fought hard to gain more rights for women and the workers. I would not have invented anything but instead write a book that would change society's perspective on women and the importance they have on both their family and to the public. If I was as fearless as Helen Keller, I would fight next to the workers and not stop till they gained the conditions and wages they deserve. The overall impact I would hope to make is to make people not afraid of fighting for what they believe in and continue with that determination till they achieved their goal.

Conclusions drawn during the Progressive Era

The Progressive Era was an attempt at improving life in the industrial age, although these progressives were not extremists they were able to give a voice for the people in their democracy and a more active role in the federal government. They fought for better education, limitation of hours women worked and exposure of corruption occurring in factories. Progressives, Eugene V. Debs and Mary Jones, founded The Industrial Workers in the World (IWW), in hope to close the gap between the rich and the poor.Helen Keller, when she grew up, wanted to support working people and became a socialist. A socialist was very different from a progressive as they both hoped to achieve the same political and economic goal. The main difference was that a socialist wanted to diminish capitalism while a progressive believed capitalism was crucial to bringing prosperity to people. She believed that people who profited from the workers' labor, only wanted these workers to protect capitalists.
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Historical Summation

link of secondary source: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/15107

To commemorate Helen Keller on her 125th birthday (participial phrase), author Kim E. Nielson wrote the article, "Helen Keller: What She Really Taught Us About People with Disabilities".The author starts of the article by stating how a little girl who was first learning the word "water" at the age of eight became a successful woman who has made a huge impact on society. Keller was frustrated that the public and editors only wanted to learn about her disability instead of her political conceptions on the real world. She knew that she had the mindset equivalent to that of any other man but people would pity her for her disability. But acknowledging the not so positive attitude and the yearning to give up Helen experienced during her childhood, they delineate the emotions any common man would have gone through (periodic sentence). It also shows that the public has the ability to ignore the discrimination, injustices and attitudes that would have made her mad and instead treat her as an equal. Nielson believes that if society can respond with emotions other than sympathy and skepticism, it can go past stereotypes and realize the diversity brought in by the disabled.

For activists

Her Cause:

Helen Keller was a major advocate of: education, women's rights such as suffrage and birth control, worker's rights, and establishing more laws protecting and helping the blind and deaf in acquiring stable lives equivalent to those who are able to sustain a life without aid.

Initiated her involvement in the cause? Motivation?

While Helen Keller was attending Radcliffe College, she came to realize the social and political issues. H.G. Wells book, New Worlds For Old, began her interest in socialism. She became an advocate of working people and joined the U.S. Socialist Party in 1909. The real world cannot give every unskilled man a job and reassurance of it being permanent. Keller wanted all the workers in the world to have a decent job that supported a standard living and fortuity for a proper education. At the same time, a deaf or blind person was unable to get a job due to belief that they were incompetent. Helen wanted to create factories and institutions specially for the blind and aid them in establishing independence.

What was accomplished by her involvement

Many believed that as a deaf-blind child Helen wouldn't get far in life, but she became the first blind-deaf women to graduate with honors and earn a bachelor's degree. Keller formed the American Foundation for the Blind which build state commissions and rehabilitation centers for those who were born blind or became blind due to the war or disease; she expanded this foundation to other countries as she hoped to improve the conditions of the people who couldn't afford it themselves. She was also founder of the Massachusetts Commissions for the Blind, which was the nation's first agency in aiding services to adults who are blind.

What methods did she use to further the cause and accomplish goal

After Helen graduated, she wrote five books and traveled all over the world and spoke to various organizations; most of her work consisted of helping the blind and deaf.She believed that although a person may be blind or deaf, it doesn't mean that he or she cannot be in the same working class as others who fight for the same freedom. Her first article, Unemployed, was her first venture in educating the working blind to fight for their rights. In 1919, Keller turned to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) because she believed it was the most radical and militant workers' organization. Keller wrote an article, Why I became an IWW, which expounded on her dissatisfaction with the Socialist Party. In 1917, radicals were arrested for their ideas and organizations, Helen would have been imprisoned but she wasn't due to her disabilities. She was a proponent of revolution and said that without revolution there would be no education and no true liberation. In her support for women's suffrage, Keller wrote various articles, Call, Why Men Need Women Suffrage (1913), Great American Women(1932), and Put Your Husband in the Kitchen (1932). She believed that women were the key from preventing war and diminishing the thought of a possible war in the future.Keller didn't oppose war for sentimental reasons but was concerned for the aftermath; a democracy that becomes unjust and tolerates no freedom, child labor and imprisonment for fighting for what is right.

Sacrifices made on behalf of the cause

The biggest sacrifice Helen Keller has made was putting other's lives in front of her own life. Ever since she graduated college, she hasn't stopped advocating for the blind and deaf and women's suffrage. Helen Keller advocated for the American Foundation for the Blind till she was in her late seventies; she traveled to over 39 countries in hope for government funding for the blind. She died in 1968, but her legacy still continued.

Which causes would this person have adopted during your chosen compare/contrast time period?

During the Gilded Age, many of the causes fought by feminists and rights for labor worker were similar to causes during the Progressive Era since women's suffrage and other rights were not accomplished till later during that time period. But Helen Keller would have been an advocate of the Grange Movement, fighting for more education and social rights for farmers.