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Daily History

March 3 1887 Helen Keller Meets Anne Sullivan


Helen Keller Reads The Lips Of President Dwight D Eisenhower

On March 3rd 1887, Anne Sullivan began teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who had lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, the previously uncontrollable Keller flourished, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” remained Keller’s interpreter and constant companion until the older woman’s death in 1936.

Sullivan, born in Massachusetts in 1866, had firsthand experience with being handicapped: As a child, an infection impaired her vision. She then attended the Perkins Institution for the Blind where she learned the manual alphabet in order to communicate with a classmate who was deaf and blind. Eventually, Sullivan had several operations that improved her weakened eyesight.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, to Arthur Keller, a former Confederate army officer and newspaper publisher, and his wife Kate, of Tuscumbia, Alabama. As a baby, a brief illness, possibly scarlet fever, left Helen unable to see, hear or speak. She was considered a bright but spoiled and strong-willed child. Her parents eventually sought the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and an authority on the deaf. He suggested the Kellers contact the Perkins Institution, which in turn recommended Anne Sullivan as a teacher.

Sullivan, age 20, arrived at Ivy Green, the Keller family estate, in 1887 and began working to socialise her wild, stubborn student and teach her by spelling out words in Keller’s hand. Initially, the finger spelling meant nothing to Keller. However, a breakthrough occurred one day when Sullivan held one of Keller’s hands under water from a pump and spelled out “w-a-t-e-r” in Keller’s palm. Keller went on to learn how to read, write and speak. With Sullivan’s assistance, Keller attended Radcliffe College and graduated with honours in 1904.

Helen Keller became a public speaker and author; her first book, “The Story of My Life” was published in 1902. She was also a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind and an advocate for racial and sexual equality, as well as socialism. From 1920 to 1924, Sullivan and Keller even formed a vaudeville act to educate the public and earn money. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, at her home in Westport, Connecticut, at age 87, leaving her mark on the world by helping to alter perceptions about the disabled.

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Discussion

28 thoughts on “March 3 1887 Helen Keller Meets Anne Sullivan

  1. Great overview. Helen Keller was one of my childhood idols.

    Posted by sujinyan | March 3, 2012, 00:12
  2. Hellen Keller has been one of my biggest inspirations, but I never really gave the credit that Sullivan deserves. She was, after all, the one that helped her to succeed.

    Posted by Carlos | March 3, 2012, 00:29
  3. To tell the truth I’ve always been more interested in Sullivan then Keller. Sullivan certainly had her work cut out for her. Really enjoyed the post.

    Posted by J. G. Burdette | March 3, 2012, 01:12
  4. A very inspiring piece. *Thank you.*

    Posted by Brook | March 3, 2012, 05:07
  5. Two inspirational people who lived at the wrong time. Great post, Craig!

    Posted by Marc Phillippe Babineau | March 3, 2012, 06:54
  6. Reblogged this on jane222570 and commented:
    nice one

    Posted by ecigaretteexposed | March 3, 2012, 16:26
  7. Great post. Two people ahead of their time. Bravo!

    Posted by Jody Thompson | March 3, 2012, 16:53
  8. More about Helen Keller is at

    http://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/helen-keller-gets-statue-her-politics-ignored/

    and

    http://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/helen-keller-photo-rediscovered-after-120-years-2/

    Many United States ‘mainstream’ views on Keller omit her ‘inconvenient’ criticism of capitalism, of oppression of women, etc.

    Posted by petrel41 | March 3, 2012, 17:57
  9. Incidentally, I just recently discovered that Helen Keller was an ardent skeptic of William Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays, favoring instead the candidacy of Edward de Vere. Apparently, she and Mark Twain had similar views and discussed the topic often. Learned all this from James Shapiro’s “Who Wrote Shakespeare?”, which I reviewed recently on my own website, in case you are interested:

    http://superfluous-man.com/2012/03/01/who-wrote-shakespeare/

    Posted by superfluousblogger | March 3, 2012, 19:02
  10. Uplifting stuff. I only know about Helen Keller and Ann Sullivan from the 1962 film, but I remember it vividly. What inspirational women they both were – thanks for the reminder. Thanks for the follow, too 🙂

    Posted by norfolknovelist | March 3, 2012, 21:06
  11. As the father of a child who was born and diagnosed as being ‘profoundly deaf’ in both ears, I am happy an honored to report that today she is two years away from receiving her Masters degree at the University of Connecticut. I took her to see the play on Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan at the theater in the round in Manhattan several years ago and it still remains her favorite.
    Thanks for sharing…

    Posted by fantasyfurnace | March 4, 2012, 00:39
  12. This is a definition of inspiration and courage. Great article!

    Posted by mulrickillion | March 7, 2012, 03:20
  13. Thanks for reminding me of this beautiful story.

    Posted by Laal | March 8, 2012, 17:26

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