MARIN PEARSON ALLEN
Helen Adams Keller is undeniably the most famous, accomplished deaf-blind woman in U.S. history. Her achievements in writing and speaking brought her international fame. The public became aware of her accomplishments through news reports and stories in juvenile magazines and through her articles, which appeared in such publications as the Ladies Home Journal and the New York Times, and her journals and books. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life ( 1954), was translated into more than fifty languages. The public also learned about her life and activities through motion pictures and newsreels, through her public appearances on the lyceum and vaudeville circuits, and through books and stories about her teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy.
Throughout her eighty years, Helen Keller faced extraordinary obstacles. She was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Kate Adams and Captain Arthur H. Keller, who was a former Confederate officer and the editor of The North Alabamian. At the age of 19 months, she lost her ability to see and hear after a high fever of undiagnosed origin. Her parents, desiring to educate their daughter, found a tutor for her through Alexander Graham Bell, who sent them to Michael Anagnos at the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. Anagnos recommended Anne Mansfield Sullivan to them. Sullivan herself had had such difficulties with her vision that she had been a student at Perkins. On March 3, 1887, she arrived at the Keller home in Alabama, a date that Helen Keller would refer to repeatedly as "her soul's birthday" ( Harrity and Martin, 1962:31).
The relationship between Keller and Sullivan was stormy at first as Sullivan tried to bring some discipline to the life of a child who had been raised without limits or rules. She had tried to spell words into the resistant child's hand, but on the day that would be immortalized in books and plays and on film and television in such works as William Gibson The Miracle Worker, a breakthrough occurred at the water pump when Keller suddenly understood the symbolic link between words and their referents.