Timeline of Helen Keller

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

Almost everyone must have heard of the iconic name Helen Keller at least once in their lifetime. She was a woman of steel who did not let anything get in her way in spite of fighting sight and hearing disabilities. She created waves as a writer, lecturer, and political activist. Even today, she is considered as an influential example of vigor and protagonism for all those who are fighting handicaps or impairments.

FACT FILE
Helen Keller

June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968



Author, Activist, and Lecturer

She was the first ever deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

Member of: Socialist Party of America & Industrial Workers of the World

Causes supported: Women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism

She was ceremoniously placed in the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1971.

June 27: Helen Keller Day in Pennsylvania, US

At the age of 75, she was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the Harvard University.

Childhood and Sickness

1880

Helen Adams Keller was born to Kate Adams and Captain Arthur Keller at Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

1881

Helen contracted a severe illness, which was called ‘brain fever’ (meningitis) back then. As no treatment was available at that point of time, she lost her visual and hearing ability.

Though the symptoms hint toward modern-day meningitis or scarlet fever, the actual disease remains unknown.

1886

Laura Bridgman was the first deaf and blind girl to have received successful formal education. Charles Dickens had written a piece on her in the ‘American notes’ several years ago. Kate Keller, Helen’s mother, happened to stumble upon it in 1886, which inspired her to seek professional advice for her daughter.

Helen’s father then took her to Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, an ENT specialist in Baltimore, who referred them to visit none other than Alexander Graham Bell.

» Here, Bell recognized Helen as a bright and intellectual child and suggested them to get in touch with the Perkins School for the Blind, South Boston.

» This was the same school that Laura Bridgman had earlier attended.

It was here that Anne Sullivan, a 20-year-old girl, came into the picture. Sullivan was visually impaired and had received education from the very same institute.

Appointed as Helen’s instructor and governess, a heart-touching story of their companionship began in the coming year and continued for almost half a century.

Anne Sullivan – Her Tutor

1887

In the March of 1887, Anne Sullivan came to stay with the Kellers as Helen’s tutor and began teaching her manual sign language.

Before this point, Helen had only 60 home signs with which she would communicate with her parents.

Anne tried to teach Helen the basis of language by making her understand that everything had a particular word assigned it.

» The tough journey began with the word ‘doll’ and continued till Anne taught her the word ‘water’ by spelling it out on Helen’s palm and then pouring cold water over it.

» The difficult start was overcome as Helen understood the concept of words and soon began picking up new ones. Her inquisitiveness soared as she tired out Anne by learning 30 new words the very same day!

What Anne has accomplished was a crucial milestone as during those days there was no completely effective method of communication for the deaf and blind.

1888

During 1888, Keller, her mother, and Anne journeyed to meet Alexander Graham Bell, then president Grover Cleveland, and Michael Anagnos, the director of the Perkins Institute.

Helen went for her first vacation with Anne to Cape Cod. It was her first incidence of swimming in the ocean when she was washed off by a wave. As Anne got her out of the water, Helen asked as to who added salt to the water!

Helen’s communication skills improved further more as she learned Braille.

1889

Helen began attending Perkins School for the Blind during fall. Here, she was considered as a ‘guest’ student.

She was not an official student there and was nowhere registered within the Institute’s records.

1890

Helen learned how to talk clearly and audibly. This time, Ms. Fuller, Principal of the Horace Mann School was her helpful teacher.

1891

Helen and Anne went to Perkins School where Helen began her education. While studying there, Helen learned of a deaf and dumb boy named Tommy Stringer from Pennsylvania. Tommy’s tale was a tragic one set amidst financial crunch and the sad demise of his mother. She wrote to Bishop Phillips Brooks and the Boston Globe, and with her determination, she was able to collect enough funds to support 2 years of Tommy’s education at Perkins.

Helen Keller was fond of writing letters. She wrote letters with the help of a grooved writing board. The grooves helped her maintain uniformity in the size of her alphabets while ensuring a single line of text. Many of her letters were included in her autobiography, The Story Of My Life comprising almost 100 pages of the same.

By the end of the year, Keller wrote her first story, The Frost King and presented it to Michael Anagnos, the Principal of Perkins as a gift on his birthday.

» Thereafter, The Frost King was published in the school subscription, ‘The Mentor’.

» However, sometime down the line, its story was found to be similar to that of The Frost Fairies by Margaret T. Canby.

» Being charged of plagiarism, Keller was devastated. Though Anagnos ruled the argument in her favor momentarily, the trust he placed in Sullivan and Keller was broken. Years later, he was cited as calling them a ‘living lie’.

Keller was shattered over the incident and had a nervous breakdown. It was after this story that she never tried her hand at fiction again.

1892

Because of the recent upheaval at the Perkins Institute, Helen and Sullivan decided to leave from there permanently.

1893

They traveled to Niagara and thereafter attended the World’s Fair with Alexander Graham Bell.

Next, they resided in Hulton, Pennsylvania for a short duration where a neighbor taught Helen mathematics and grammar.

By the end of 1893, they returned to Tuscumbia.

Schooling

1894

Helen and Anne attended the Chautauqua of the American Association where Helen’s prime motto was to encourage and promote speech lessons for the deaf.

Next, they traveled to the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf where Helen began her formal education.

1895

While she didn’t particularly excel at lip reading, or improvising her speaking, Helen found her love for German and French at Wright-Humason. She enjoyed her stay in New York throughout the two years spent there.

1896

Helen’s father passed away during this year.

It was during 1896 that Helen read ‘Heaven and Hell’, a Swedenborg book.

Hereafter, throughout her life she followed Swedenborgism as her religion.

1896 – 1897

Helen then joined the Cambridge School for Young Ladies for a two- to three-year program. However, she dropped out within a year, and her mother appointed a personal tutor, Mr. Merton S. Keith.

College

1899

Helen cleared the entrance exam for Radcliffe College (Women’s Annexe of Harvard University).

She accepted the offer to study from Radcliffe; however, she decided on taking a year off for preparation before commencing college.

Helen Keller was 20 years old at this point and became the first deaf and blind person in history to be accepted in a graduation college — one of the most prestigious institutions at that.

1900

Helen joined Radcliffe College under the Bachelor of Arts program.

» Anne Sullivan attended every single lecture along with Helen so as to fingerspell every lesson.

» Despite her obvious hindrances, Helen completed the degree without any special provisions.

» The syllabus, exams, and all other aspects were common for her and other regular students except the fact that she needed special Braille books and papers.

Her Writings

1903

With the help of her editor John Macy, Helen published her autobiography, ‘The Story of My Life’. The book is a classic till date and has been translated in over 50 languages.

Anne and Helen bought a house in Wrentham, Massachusetts.

Helen gained overnight popularity due to her accomplishments. Throughout her duration at Radcliffe, she had countless visitors, which included various celebrities, high-profile personalities, as well as normal people, who found her story both inspiring and unique.

1904

Helen graduated from the Radcliffe College. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a graduation degree.

1905

John Macy, the editor of The Story of My Life, married Anne Sullivan in Wrentham during this year. The two of them, along with Helen, stayed at their house in Massachusetts.

1907

Helen wrote an excerpt for ‘The Ladies Home Journal’. Her piece was an informative one that spread awareness among expecting mothers regarding prevention of blindness amongst infants. She propelled the movement because of which medical authorities took additive measures to prevent infancy blindness.

1908

Helen’s next book The World I Live In was published during this year.

Political Activities

1909

Helen, along with John Macy, joined the Socialist Party of Massachusetts. Helen was now publicly fighting for women’s rights when she joined the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

1913

Helen’s next classic, Out of the Dark was published during this year.

1913 was an important landmark for Helen and Anne, as it was during this year that they decided on becoming lecturers.

On the other hand, John Macy and Anne Sullivan’s marriage was gradually falling apart.

It is noteworthy that Helen decided to become a lecturer despite the fact that everyone she knew was in favor of teaching the deaf and blind and helping another person in need (just as Anne had chosen to help her).

1914

During this period, Helen worked with the ‘Women’s Peace Party’.

The highly-acclaimed moving speech by Helen Keller in the Carnegie Hall was also during this year. She spoke for several causes around pacifism and socialism.

In 1914, Polly joined Anne and Helen as Helen’s secretary. Just as Anne, she too remained inseparably with the duo till the very end.

Anne and John separated during this year.

They never officially divorced one another, and Anne never remarried. Thus, till she passed away, she remained Anne Sullivan Macy (informally). Her actual name was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan, which later became Johanna Mansfield Sullivan Macy.

Her Later Life

1927-29

My Religion got published in 1927. It was a chronicle of her beliefs in Swedenborgian.

In spring 1929, Midstream, another autobiography covering a report of Helen’s later life, was published.

1932-1946

Helen was elected to the The American Foundation for the Blind’s (AFB) board of trustees in Dec ’32.

In October 1936, Anne breathed her last. She passed away holding Helen’s hand till the very end.

Helen made a trip to Japan in 1937 and befriended many people out there. During this trip, she delivered 97 lectures in 39 cities. Here, she was specially gifted with a pet dog.

Helen Keller’s Journal was published in 1938.

During 1946, she traveled to several countries and spoke on behalf of the deaf people. Her lectures made an impact, and many government schools were opened to educate deaf and blind people.

1954-56

Helen’s hometown constructed a shrine in her honor in 1954.

Soon after in 1956, the Harvard University honored her with an honorary degree for all her achievements.

Towards the End

1961-1968

In the year 1961, Helen suffered a series of strokes after which she decided to bid adieu to her public life. Hereafter, she spend her last few years at home.

In 1964, she was bestowed with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson. However, she couldn’t make it to the ceremony to accept this highest civilian honor.

On June 1, 1968, Helen passed away in her sleep. She was 88. A service was held in Washington D.C., at the National Cathedral, and her ashes were laid next to Anne and Polly – her constant companions.

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