Talented author, dedicated activist, and passionate lecturer, Helen Adams Keller fulfilled these roles brilliantly. Her accomplishments stack up so high. You’d be tempted to forget that she had to overcome severe personal challenges to become a literary and disability rights pioneer.
Her marvelous work catapulted her to worldwide notability and forever stamped her name in the history books.
This article is your chance to fill a few gaps and get a fuller picture of who Helen Keller was. There are lots of interesting facts about Helen Keller that further highlight the importance of her legacy.
Here are 15 that’ll leave you feeling inspired.
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15 Interesting Facts About Helen Keller
Hellen Keller proved that you can persevere through the most adverse circumstances and lead a purposeful life full of joy and wonder. She did this and so much more in absolute style and in a unique way.
Are you ready to learn more about one of the world’s best writers? Let’s go.
1. Helen Lost Her Hearing and Vision at 19 Months Old
When Helen fell ill at 19 months old, she lost her hearing and vision. Her mysterious illness was similar to scarlet fever, meningitis, or rubella.
The condition became apparent when she failed to hear her mother’s dinner bells or detect movements in front of her face.
The Keller family developed Hellen’s first communication system using household signs. This method provided for her basic needs until she could embark on her formal education journey.
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2. She Believed Her Life Only Truly Began at Seven Years Old
Until she turned seven years old, Helen faced multiple communication obstacles. But it all changed for the better when her family finally hired an educator.
This wasn’t just any teacher. It was the “miracle worker” who shaped Helen’s learning and helped transform her life’s trajectory. Enter Anne Sullivan, an inventive Perkins School for the Blind graduate who used creativity to develop Helen’s skills.
Anne’s patience, empathy, and “loving tact” introduced Helen to a whole new world with exciting possibilities.
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3. Helen Was a Wild Child
The graceful, composed, and modest woman Helen became is part of the evolution of someone who, in fact, had a rough start in her childhood years.
While growing up, Helen was overly energetic and unruly. Her turbulent behavior was hard to deal with. She displayed emotional outbursts when expressing anger. And peculiar bouts of uncontrollable laughter in her happy moments.
Although confusing to her family, this was simply a combination of her intelligence and frustration over her communication limitations.
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4. Anne Sullivan Initiated Helen’s Language and Communication Advancements
Anne Sullivan entered Helen’s life in 1887, the beginning of a beautiful mentorship and lifelong friendship. She, too, was visually impaired.
Anne used a remarkable combination of innovative methods and tailored an effective language and communication system for Helen.
She taught Helen fingerspelling (in the palm), lip-reading (using touch), reading and writing braille, and how to sound words (enabling Helen to speak).
Anne and Helen were 14 years apart in age and enjoyed a close relationship that lasted 49 years until Anne died in 1936. They share the same resting place.
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5. “Water” Was Helen’s First Word
Helen learned that objects have names using Anne’s fingerspelling technique. But after realizing that Helen struggled to connect the letters pressed into her palm with their objects, Anne changed things up. She got more practical.
Anne let water run over Helen’s hands at a water pump outside while spelling the word into her other palm. This method was so successful that Helen demanded her next term by touching the earth.
By the end of that day, Helen had acquired 30 new words. Genius, right?
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6. She Was the First Deafblind Graduate
Helen was destined to break boundaries and go beyond the limitations surrounding her. Besides the exceptional strides she made under Anne’s tutoring, Helen was nowhere near done with her achievements.
In 1904, when few women attended college, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree (cum laude, of course) from Radcliffe College in Cambridge. Anne was right by her side, helping with interpretations and writing.
Helen’s outstanding autobiography, “The Story of My Life”, was published around this time.
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7. The American Foundation for the Blind Was Central to Her Life’s Work
Helen was dedicated to her work advocating for the rights of disabled people. She was devoted to raising awareness and funds through her services at the American Foundation for the Blind.
For over 40 years, Helen worked tirelessly for the foundation as a social, political, and cultural conversation starter and needle-shifter.
She also contributed to the women’s suffrage movement. As co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, she was passionate about birth control and workers’ rights.
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8. Her Political Views Were Ahead of Her Time
So radical were Helen’s political views that she got herself noticed by the FBI. Yeap, she was under investigation because of how forward-thinking and outspoken she was.
As a socialist, Helen took a bold stance as an unrelenting supporter of women’s, workers, and disability rights.
Perhaps her contributions towards tackling the issue of women’s access to birth control and her anti-war beliefs irked the politicians of the time most.
Helen was undeniably influential, with the power to broaden people’s worldviews and opinions on sociopolitical matters.
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9. Her Skills Went Beyond Writing
Although Helen faced daily challenges the average person didn’t have to think about, she found time to go beyond writing to fill her life with color.
In addition to her famous writing, speeches, quotes, and humanitarian work, Helen loved music and writing poetry. She might not have been an Emily Dickinson, but she was still a gifted creative with a special way of expressing her thoughts.
Image by the Library of Congress on Wikicommons
10. She Regretted Never Marrying
Little is written about Helen’s love life, and yet she almost got married when she was 36 years old. She fell in love with Peter Fagan, a journalist.
He worked as Helen’s secretary during a crucial period following Anne’s ill health. The couple got engaged secretly and considered eloping.
During their time, society looked down on disabled people pursuing romantic love, believing they should never marry.
Helen’s family halted their plans when they found out and forbade their union. Consequently, Helen regretted never marrying, reflecting: “If I could see, I would marry first of all.”
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11. She Was Well-Traveled
Helen wrote 14 books and hundreds of articles. She considered herself an author before anything else. As a captivating speaker and lecturer, she was able to connect with people effortlessly and impart knowledge expertly.
This made the world an open playground that Helen explored to share her work and reach all kinds of people. She visited almost 40 countries on five continents, particularly between 1946 and 1957.
She met many world leaders and immersed herself among ordinary people to exchange life experiences and insights.
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12. Keller Was Close to Mark Twain
At the tender age of 14, Helen met fellow writer Mark Twain. The two grew close and nurtured their friendship over 16 years.
Helen appreciated Mark’s compassion towards her circumstances; he didn’t treat her differently. He delighted in her sense of humor and incredible intelligence (she had an IQ of 160, don’t you know).
Thanks to his distinct cigar scent, Helen could tell when Mark was nearby. Mark was a heavy smoker, puffing up to 20 cigars daily.
Her impressive friends’ list included President Lyndon B. Johnson, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, and legendary comedic thespian Charlie Chaplin.
Image by the U.S. government on Wikicommons
13. She Was a Natural Entertainer
Her friendship with Chaplin, among others, must have unlocked Helen’s natural wit, humor, and flair for entertaining. She and Anne worked in the 1920s vaudeville scene.
The two best pals performed for audiences for five years to generate more income. Helen shared her life story during their shows while Anne translated for her. Audiences interacted with them in Q&A sessions at the end of their shows.
As always, Helen was sharp, funny, and full of charm. She became known as the “8th Wonder of the World” because of her unique story-telling delivery.
Image by the National Photo Company on Wikicommons
14. Helen Had Countless Accolades
Her list of honors is extensive. Notable mentions include the following:
- 1953: She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
- 1955: She received an Oscar for her role in the documentary “Helen Keller in Her Story”.
- 1964: She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
- 1973: Helen was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
- 1999: She was featured on Time Magazine’s “100 Most Important Figures of the 20th Century” list. Famous figures like Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and the famed diarist of the Holocaust, Anne Frank, were also listed.
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15. Her Posthumous Recognitions Continue
Helen died aged 87, a few weeks before her birthday. In Tuscumbia, Alabama, her birthplace was turned into a house museum called Ivy Green, a National Historic Landmark.
The life of this phenomenal groundbreaker and leader is celebrated during “Helen Keller Day” on 27 June annually. Her image appears on the Alabama quarter and is the first North American coin with braille.
So many more recognitions are a part of her legacy, all capturing how special and significant she was in world history.