You’ve probably heard of Helen Keller, the well-known writer, political activist, and disability rights pioneer.
But there’s a lot more to Helen’s tale than you probably know, so we decided to delve a little deeper and reveal some lesser-known facts about her.
1. Helen lost her sight and hearing as a result of a childhood illness. Helen Keller was not born with a disability, but when she was 19 months old, she became ill with “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain,” according to the doctors. Her condition would have been diagnosed as Scarlet Fever or Meningitis today, both of which are treatable now but had serious repercussions back then.
Helen’s mother observed she wasn’t responding when the dinner bell rang or when a hand was waved in front of her face a few days after her fever broke.
Helen had lost both her sight and her hearing shortly after that.
2. Helen was once referred as to an “unruly child.” Helen’s behavior has grown exceedingly irregular since she was a small child. She was having daily emotional outbursts, kicking and shouting when furious and smiling excessively when joyful. Many of her relatives believed she should be institutionalized.
But, in reality, her actions were merely a result of her high intelligence and her irritation at not being able to communicate after she realized she couldn’t participate in other people’s conversations.
Helen’s need to be able to express herself became so intense that she and her friend Marsha Washington devised a form of sign language, and by the time she was seven years old, they’d already devised over 60 signs to communicate with one another.
3. Helen believed her life began when she was seven years old. Helen didn’t believe her soul was born’ until she met her instructor Anne Sullivan (who later became her mentor and friend).
Helen first met Anne in March of 1887, when she was seven years old. Anne, who was only 14 years Helen’s senior, was likewise blind and had recently graduated from high school.
Anne taught Helen ‘finger spelling’ before long, allowing her to speak with those around her for the first time.
Anne did this by handing Helen a doll and tracing the letters ‘d-o-l-l’ onto her palm.
Helen didn’t notice the link between the letters on her palm and the objects at first. But it was when Anne brought Helen outside to the water pump and, while spelling “w-a-t-e-r” into Helen’s palm, let the water stream over the girl’s other hand that became renowned.
She quickly came to a halt and pressed her hand against the soil, demanding the letter name, and by midnight, she had mastered 30 words.
4. She referred to Mark Twain as a “best mate.” It’s surprising, but it’s true! Helen met Mark at Cambridge School for Young Ladies when she was 14 years old, and the two remained close friends until Mark’s death 16 years later.
Mark smoked 10 to 20 cigars every day, which made it easy for Helen to recognize her friend by his aroma.
“He regarded me not as a freak, but as a handicapped lady seeking a method to overcome great problems,” she wrote in her memoirs.
Read more: You Should Know These 100 Psychology Facts!
5. Helen was the first deaf and blind person to receive a diploma. Helen was accepted into the prestigious Radcliff College in Cambridge in 1900. (along with her loyal teacher Anne, who attended alongside her to help interpret lectures and texts).
Helen authored her autobiography, ‘The Story of My Life,’ during her junior year here.
By 1904, she had not only written a book but also earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, making her the first deaf and blind person to do so.
She had mastered various modes of communication by the time she went to college, including reading by touching people’s lips, braille, typing, and fingerspelling. She had also learned to communicate, however, she was never satisfied with her voice because it was difficult to understand.
6. Helen was on the FBI’s radar, Helen was a true trailblazer in her day, and for a woman in the early twentieth century, she was politically active and seen to have some extreme notions.
She went on to become a well-known author and speaker, with a particular concentration on advocating for disabled people.
But she didn’t stop there; she was also anti-war and focused on social and political concerns, such as women’s freedom to vote and use birth control (something Mark Twain and Helen had in common). Helen was also one of the founding members of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Because of her radical leftist views, she was even investigated by the FBI.
7. Her fiancé was barred from marrying her. It’s heartbreaking and difficult to comprehend, but society in Helen’s day felt that women with disabilities shouldn’t fall in love or experience any type of romance, let alone marry.
Helen was completely in love with Peter Fagan, an ex-newspaper reporter who worked as her secretary when she was 36, and the two were secretly engaged.
They even got a marriage license before Helen’s family discovered what they were up to and forbade them from going any further due to her limitations.
Helen subsequently expressed remorse over never marrying, saying, “If I could see, I would marry first.”
8. Helen’s teacher died while holding her hand, Helen maintained a 49-year friendship with her beloved instructor Anne.
Anne lapsed into a coma in 1936 after suffering from coronary thrombosis, and she tragically died. Helen stayed with her right up till the end, and when she died, she was clutching Helen’s hand.
Helen’s ashes were placed next to Anne’s when she died quietly in her sleep in 1968, and they’re retained by each other’s side to this day.