Helen Keller was someone who defied her disabilities to become one of the most prolific and outspoken authors of 20th century. She is also admired for her advocacy for women’s suffrage and labor rights. You may already know this much, but there’s so much more about her that you probably aren’t aware of. Here’s a list of 10 such interesting facts about Helen Keller.
Helen Keller Facts
1. Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to ever attain a bachelor’s degree
Helen Keller was admitted to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in 1888, which marked the beginning of her formal education. Later, she attended a number of other schools, including the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, before getting herself into Harvard University’s Radcliffe College in 1900. With Standard Oil magnate Henry H. Rogers and his wife taking care of her educational expenses, Keller went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1904. An interesting fact about Helen Keller is that she was the first deaf-blind person had graduated from college.
2. She wasn’t born with disabilities
Although Keller was deafblind for the longest part of her life, the condition wasn’t something she was born with. It was at the age of 19 months that she became sick with what is now believed to be either scarlet fever or meningitis. As far as the doctors of that day and age were concerned, it was an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain. The illness went away after a while, but left her both deaf and blind for the rest of her life.
3. Helen Keller’s long-standing teacher and companion died holding her hands
In 1887, Keller’s parents appointed a 20-year-old, visually-impaired Anne Sullivan to teach a 7-year-old, unruly Keller at the recommendation of then-Perkins director Michael Anagnos. In the author’s words, the day she first met Sullivan was “my soul’s birthday.”
It marked the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship, with Sullivan evolving from teacher to governess, and eventually to companion. After developing coronary thrombosis, Sullivan passed away in 1936. At the time of her death, Keller was sitting next to her, with their hands intertwined, an interesting Helen Keller fact.
4. She fell in love with her private secretary, but her family prevented their marriage
In 1916, after Anne Sullivan had fallen ill, Keller hired Peter Fagan, a Boston Herald reporter who has seven years younger than her, as her private secretary. The two fell for each other and apparently made three failed attempts to elope. However, it was Keller’s family and their eugenic beliefs that stood in the way of their marriage. Hence, she had to remain single for her entire life.
5. Despite her disabilities, Helen Keller was able to enjoy music
Keller may have been a deaf-blind person, but her willingness to communicate with the world was stronger than her disabilities. She was able to know what people were saying by reading their lips with her hands. What’s even more fascinating is that she was able to enjoy music played at a close proximity. How did she manage to do that?
Well, she did so simply by placing her fingertips on a resonant tabletop. Zoellner Quartet, a celebrated string quartet of the early 20th century, once played music for her, only to be left surprised by her ability to interpret their work of art.
6. Helen Keller was a socialist, and was even on the FBI’s radar
If there’s one thing about Helen Keller that the United States of America wants to blot out, it’s the fact that she was a socialist activist. Becoming a member of the Socialist Party in 1909, she went on to actively campaign and write in support of the working class for more than a decade. It was due to her radical views that she was a target of FBI surveillance for more than 30 years.
7. Keller was friends with Mark Twain
In 1895, while attending Cambridge School for Young Ladies, a 14-year old Keller had the opportunity to meet Mark Twain at a lunch. This encounter gave birth to a special friendship that lasted for around 16 years, until Twain’s death in 1910.
The two had a lot in common, including their political views, and their love for animals and travel. It was actually Twain who asked Henry H. Rogers to pay for Keller’s education, an important Helen Keller fact. The list of Keller’s famous pals also includes Alexander Graham Bell and Charlie Chaplin.
8. In her lifetime, Helen Keller had met 13 POTUS
At the age of seven, Helen Keller had a meeting with Grover Cleveland, who was the President of the United States at that time. This was the first time she had met a sitting POTUS, but not the last time. She went on to meet 12 other presidents – including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy. In 1964, Keller received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon B. Johnson, who was the last president she had met before her death in 1968.
9. At the age of 11, Keller was accused of plagiarism
When she was 11, Keller wrote a short story that was published in the Perkins alumni magazine named The Mentor as well as in a Virginia-based journal on deaf-blind education named The Goodson Gazette. Titled “The Frost King,” the story became a subject of plagiarism controversy. It appeared to be a mere reproduction of “Frost Fairies” from “Birdie and His Fairy Friends,” a book penned by Margaret Canby.
An in-house trial was held at Perkins, with eight teachers interrogating a young Keller for a couple of hours before fighting the issue to a draw. She had a nervous breakdown over the whole incident, and refrained from writing fiction for the rest of her life. After learning about the incident, Mark Twain remarked that the controversy was “owlishly idiotic and grotesque,” and the people who attacked Keller were “a collection of decayed human turnips.”
10. Helen Keller was the first American to own Akita dogs
You’ll find many Americans today who own an Akita dog, but nobody in the country had one until the late 1930s. An interesting fact about Helen Keller is that she was the first proud owner of this burly Japanese breed in the US. In 1938, the author who was extremely fond of animals received a pair of Akita dogs as a gift from the Japanese government. In the 1940s, however, many more of them were brought to the country by soldiers returning from war in Japan.
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