By LeAnn Morgan
Published May 20, 2021 in The Burg
Back in 1904 an outstanding young woman graduated Cum Laude from Radcliffe College in Cambridge Mass. She excelled in English literature, German, French, and Latin. Even as she’d been accepted to the college, she was told not set her sights on such a difficult and prestigious school. But this young lady had such a desire and thirst for knowledge she refused to let any obstacles stand in her way.
That was quite a feat back then for any young woman to achieve. But this female’s burning aspiration was especially challenging as she happened to be blind and deaf—the steadfast Helen Keller.
Helen Keller was born in 1880 in the small town of Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Arthur Keller, the local newspaper editor and his wife, Catherine. After a high fever at 19 months, the child was left both blind and deaf.
When Helen was 7-years-old, her mother had a ray of hope. She had just read a piece Charles Dickens had written about a girl named Laura Bridgman who was also blind and deaf…and had been formally educated.
Mr. Keller sought the advice of the Scottish born Dr. Alexander Graham Bell who had a
residence in Washington. Dr. Bell advised the hopeful father to write to the director of the
Perkins Institution in Boston. Within a few weeks a letter came to the Keller home that a
teacher had been found. Anne Sullivan arrived that summer of 1886.
At the age of 5, Anne Sullivan was struck with an eye disease called trachoma that left
her almost blind. Anne had lived in poverty and endured physical abuse by her alcoholic father.
At age 7, her mother died and her father abandoned his children to an orphanage. Shortly
thereafter, her disabled brother passed away. Despite her dismal beginnings, Anne prospered.
When Anne was 14-years-old, the state board chairman of charities visited the orphanage. The strong-willed teenager literally threw herself down in front of the chairman.
She cried and begged him to let her go to school. Thankfully, the merciful man listened to her plea. Six years later, in 1886 Anne graduated as valedictorian of her class from the Perkins Institute. After graduation, a series of operations helped to partially restore her eyesight.
The first day that Anne arrived at the Keller home, it became quickly apparent the
strong-willed Helen had met their match. Anne knew the key to all learning for Helen had to be discipline…so her first challenging task set toward Helen was the lesson of obedience.
Throughout Helen’s education Anne was consistently by her side.
Eventually, Miss Sullivan’s own eyesight failed her. Toward the end of her life she
received recognition from three different Universities for her tireless commitment to Helen.
In 1902, when Helen was a junior at Radcliffe, she wrote and published her autobiography, ‘The Story of My Life.’ As I read this amazing account of Anne and Helen’s life,
what struck me most deeply was Helen’s engaging charm, eloquence, and sense of humor. The book is filled with extracts from her letters, plus fascinating progress reports and letters from Miss Sullivan.
Helen became a prolific author, was well-traveled, and outspoken in her anti-war convictions. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights and was a voice to the poor and disabled, particularly for the blind.
The Story of My Life is a profoundly inspirational book to read. I believe this wonderful
piece of literature needs to be dusted off and brought to life again…and forever.