How much do I want to read more? 7/10
A nice and real story of a little girl who became blind and death in her early age after going through a severe fever.
It's inspiring and shows that the possibility and curiosity of the human mind can expand with no limit when set in the right environment with the right teacher. Helen Keller surely wouldn't have become this successful if she hadn't met Annie Sullivan.
Born more than 100 years ago, Helen learned to speak and read and write. Those may not sound like great accomplishments. But Helen Keller was both deaf and blind.
Imagine that your ears are stuffed with cotton. You can’t hear anything—not even someone shouting. A blindfold covers your eyes. You can’t see anything, either. Your world is dark and silent. This was Helen Keller’s world.
When Helen grew up, few deaf people learned how to speak. There were very few schools for deaf and blind children. Few blind people learned how to read and write. Helen Keller not only did both, but also did much more. She wrote several best-selling books. And she gave lectures around the world. She showed that her handicaps had not held her back. Above all, she gave hope to other people who, like her, could not hear or see.
Chapter 1 - The Early Years
Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
The first girl in the family, baby Helen lit up a room. She laughed and cooed. Helen was the apple of her mother’s eye. Her father adored her. Helen wrote about her early life. She said, “The beginning of my life was simple and much like every other little life … I came, I saw, I conquered, as the first baby in the family always does.”
Helen was smart. She spoke early. Her first words were said to be “tea, tea, tea” and “wah-wah” for water. If she did not know the words for things, Helen made up signals to show her mother what she wanted. She learned to walk at an early age. Soon Helen was racing around the house.
Then before she was two years old, Helen became sick. Very sick. She ran a very high fever. At that time, there were few medicines to cure sickness. The doctor thought that Helen would die. Then, suddenly, the fever broke. Helen slept peacefully. Her family rejoiced.
But Helen wasn’t fine. While Helen’s mother was bathing her, she moved her hand in front of Helen’s face. Helen did not blink. Helen’s eyes stared straight ahead. Kate tried again. She hoped that she was wrong. But she wasn’t. Helen was blind. And that was not all.
Every evening, a bell was rung to call the family to dinner. Everyone heard the loud, clanging noise. They stopped what they were doing and came to dinner. But Kate noticed that Helen no longer turned her head toward the sound. Kate called to the Captain and his sister Evelyn, who lived with them. They shouted at Helen. They spoke softly. They clapped their hands next to her ears. Helen did not react. Mrs. Keller’s fear was true. Her daughter was deaf as well as blind.
Chapter 2 - Dark Years
There were no days or nights in Helen’s world. She could not see the sun rising each morning or the moon with its silver glow at night. She could not hear birds sing or crickets chirp. She lived in silent darkness. Imagine if you could not hear, see, or speak. How would you let people understand you? How would you “talk”?
Helen was smart. She followed her mother around everywhere. She clung to her skirts. Helen noticed different smells. She felt vibrations as people and things moved around her. Over time, Helen found ways to communicate. She made up signals to tell people what she wanted.
There were not many schools for deaf or blind children when Helen was little. There were none where she lived in Alabama. At schools for the deaf, children learned to make signs with their hands. The signs stood for words.
By the time she turned five, Helen had made up over fifty signs of her own. She pulled at her mother or her father. That meant “come with me.” She shoved them away when she wanted them to go.
For “bread,” Helen acted out cutting a slice and buttering it. To say “small,” Helen pinched a small bit of the skin of her hand. Helen spread her fingers wide and brought them together to mean “large.” Helen also had signs for everyone in her family. For Captain, or Father, Helen mimed glasses and for her mother, she pulled her hair into a knot at the back of her head.
Helen knew that people talked with their lips. She tried moving her lips, but no sounds came out. She did not understand why. It made Helen so mad. She kicked and screamed with frustration. Her tantrums stopped only after she became too tired to scream anymore.
Helen’s parents did not know how to handle her. Relatives told them that Helen should no longer live at home. She should be “put away.” That meant putting Helen in a hospital or home for the blind and deaf. In the nineteenth century, people with handicaps were often sent away like this. Once they were sent away, their family often did not see them again. But Mrs. Keller did not want to do that to her daughter. She knew her daughter was smart. But how could anyone teach her?
LONG AGO, A GROUP OF DEAF PEOPLE IN PARIS, FRANCE, DEVELOPED THEIR OWN SIGN LANGUAGE. THEN, IN 1755, A TEACHER WHO COULD HEAR, ABBÉ CHARLES MICHEL DE L’EPÉE, LEARNED THESE SIGNS AND ADDED NEW ONES TO FORM A STANDARD SIGN LANGUAGE OF FRENCH. NOW HEARING AND NON-HEARING PEOPLE COULD COMMUNICATE! MANY OF THE FRENCH SIGNS FROM LONG AGO ARE STILL USED TODAY.
Chapter 3 - Helen Teaches Herself
Even in her dark world, Helen had happy times. She loved to be outdoors. She’d feel her way carefully along the walls of the house. Helen loved to touch all the plants that grew around the house. She smelled the flowers. Soon she could tell plants apart by their feel and smell. This was how she got information.
Helen learned to do simple chores. She folded the clean clothes. She knew which clothes were hers. She also learned that when her mother put on her coat, she was going out. Helen tugged at her coat to go, too.
As she grew older, Helen developed a sense of mischief. She liked to play tricks. One day, Helen found some keys. She knew that keys locked doors. Her mother was in the pantry getting something, and Helen was right outside. Helen took the keys and locked her mother in the pantry. Her mother pounded on the door. She yelled to be let out. Helen sat on the porch where she could feel the vibrations of her mother’s pounding. Helen sat there and smiled. Mrs. Keller was locked in the pantry for three hours.
Helen and a young servant named Martha Washington often played together. Martha was a few years older than Helen. But Helen was the bossier of the two. One day, they were cutting out paper dolls on the porch. Helen soon grew tired of this. So she cut off all the flowers growing on vines near the porch. Still bored, Helen decided to cut Martha’s hair. Martha said no at first, but then gave in. Few people said no to Helen.
Then, when Helen was five, her sister Mildred was born. Suddenly Helen’s world changed. Someone else needed her mother’s love. Someone else sat in her mother’s lap. Helen became jealous of the baby who seemed to be taking her mother away.
One day, Helen discovered her baby sister sleeping in her doll’s cradle. Helen grew very angry. Before anyone else could stop her, Helen pushed over the cradle. Mildred tumbled out. Luckily, Mrs. Keller caught Mildred before she hit the floor. Now, Mrs. Keller realized that Helen was not only a danger to herself. She was a danger to others. If Helen’s mother could not control Helen who was still a young girl, what would happen when Helen got older? Helen had to change.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL
TODAY ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL IS BEST KNOWN FOR INVENTING THE TELEPHONE. BUT HE ALSO WORKED ALL HIS LIFE TO HELP THE DEAF. HIS MOTHER WAS NEARLY DEAF. AS A YOUNG MAN, BELL TAUGHT DEAF CHILDREN. HE USED DRAWINGS TO TEACH THE DEAF HOW TO USE THEIR TONGUE, LIPS, AND VOCAL CHORDS TO SPEAK. ONE OF THE DEAF STUDENTS HE WORKED WITH WAS MABEL HUBBARD. SHE HAD LOST HER HEARING AS A RESULT OF AN ILLNESS AS A YOUNG GIRL. A BRIGHT AND EAGER GIRL, SHE MADE GREAT PROGRESS. IN TIME, THE TWO FELL IN LOVE AND MARRIED. BELL’S WORK WITH SOUND AND SPEECH HELPED HIM TO CREATE THE TELEPHONE IN 1876.
Chapter 4 - A Ray of Hope
Accompanied by the Captain and her Aunt Evelyn, Helen went to see Dr. Bell. She was about six years old now.
Helen walked into Bell’s office, and the two became friends right away. Helen got on Bell’s lap. The young child and the inventor felt at home with each other. Helen later wrote in her autobiography, “He understood my signs, and I knew it and loved him at once.” Bell felt that Helen could learn. He thought she was a smart and sensible girl. He wanted to see her succeed. Maybe, just maybe, Helen Keller could lead a more normal life.
Bell gave Helen his watch to play with as he talked to Captain. He told Captain to write to the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts (later called Perkins School). Dr. Bell told Captain that forty years earlier a deaf-blind child, Laura Bridgman, had been taught to read, write, and talk with hand signals. He was sure that the Kellers could find a teacher for Helen there.
Once back at home, Captain wrote to the head of the Perkins School. Captain Keller wrote that he needed a teacher for his daughter. The Kellers waited anxiously for his reply.
Michael Anagnos, the head of Perkins, wrote back that he did have a teacher in mind. Her name was Anne Sullivan. The Kellers were thrilled. What they did not know was that Anne Sullivan still needed to be convinced to take the job.
Who was Anne Sullivan? Anne, or Annie as she was called, was an orphan who had had a very hard and lonely life. As a child, she had been partially blind.
She was sent to the Perkins School and later on, operations restored her sight. Annie graduated first in her class at Perkins. Like Helen Keller, she was very bright and also very stubborn.
At twenty, Annie had never been a teacher. She was not sure she could do the job, or even that she wanted it. Mr. Anagnos kept encouraging her. He felt that this lonely, intelligent young woman would be right for the job. And Annie did not have many other choices open to her. It was either the teaching job or a job in a factory. Annie decided to take the job with the Kellers.
Annie took two months to prepare for her new job. She had met Laura Bridgman. She learned the manual alphabet. She talked to Laura by spelling into her hand. Now she studied the different ways to teach the manual alphabet. Annie prepared the best that she could. But really she had no idea what lay before her or how her new job would change her life.
THOMAS HOPKINS GALLAUDET
THOMAS HOPKINS GALLAUDET OF HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT, WAS THE MAN WHO BROUGHT EDUCATION TO DEAF CHILDREN IN AMERICA. HE WANTED TO HELP HIS NEIGHBOR’S YOUNG DEAF DAUGHTER, ALICE COGSWELL. IN 1816, GALLAUDET WENT TO PARIS, FRANCE, TO STUDY AT A SCHOOL FOR DEAF PEOPLE. AFTER A FEW MONTHS, HE RETURNED TO AMERICA, DETERMINED TO START HIS OWN SCHOOL. HE BROUGHT A FRENCH SIGN LANGUAGE TEACHER BACK WITH HIM. IN 1817, GALLAUDET FOUNDED THE NATION’S FIRST SCHOOL FOR DEAF PEOPLE IN HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT. SOON OTHER SCHOOLS FOR DEAF PEOPLE OPENED. THEN IN 1864 GALLAUDET’S SON FOUNDED GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Chapter 5 - Annie Sullivan Arrives
It was March 3, 1887. Helen did not know that this was to be the most important day of her life.
Helen was aware that everyone in the family seemed excited. She could feel the tension in the air. Her mother bustled about the house. Things were cleaned and polished. Her mother and stepbrother dressed to go to the train station. Helen pulled her mother, wanting to go out with them, but her mother said no.
Finally, Annie Sullivan arrived in Alabama on the six-thirty train. Mrs. Keller greeted her in a soft voice, her blue eyes sparkling. A small crowd gathered to see the “Yankee girl who was going to teach the Keller child.” Alone in a strange place, Annie looked anxious, pale, and tired.
On the way to the Keller farm, Annie sat in the back of the carriage and looked around her. The small town of Tuscumbia looked like towns in New England. This comforted Annie, and she relaxed. She was eager to meet her new pupil.
Helen stood on the porch. She felt the vibrations of the carriage coming down the lane. She stretched out her arms for her mother. Instead, a stranger walked into her arms and held her. Helen didn’t like strangers. She refused to let Annie kiss her.
But Helen was curious about strangers, too. Helen felt Annie’s face, dress, and bag. Then Helen opened Annie’s bag. She expected to find the treats that company often brought for her. Her mother tried to stop Helen. Finally, Mrs. Keller had to rip the bag out of Helen’s hands.
Helen grew very angry. Her face turned red. She clutched her mother’s skirt and began to kick. No one did anything. Then Annie held her small watch against Helen’s face. Feeling it ticking, Helen quieted down. The tantrum passed.
Helen followed Annie upstairs to Annie’s room. Helen helped Annie remove her hat. Then Helen put the hat on and moved her head from side to side. Annie watched Helen and wondered how she would teach this beautiful young colt of a girl. She was not sure she could. Annie took a deep breath. But tomorrow, she would start trying.
The next morning, Helen was brought to Annie’s room. Helen helped Annie unpack. There in Annie’s trunk Helen discovered a lovely doll.
The doll was a gift to Helen from the children at the Perkins School. Laura Bridgman, the former deaf and blind student there, had made some of the doll’s clothes. Annie spelled the word doll slowly into Helen’s hand. Helen thought that the doll was now hers. Whenever Helen wanted something, she pointed first to it, then to herself, and nodded. But Annie had no way of knowing this. She was trying to show Helen that d-o-l-l meant doll—that the word stood for something. Annie took the doll back. She was going to repeat the spelling of doll in Helen’s hand. But Helen grew furious. She thought Annie was taking the doll back after she’d given it to her.
Annie tried to take Helen’s hand. Helen would not let her. Helen began to throw another temper tantrum. Annie tried to sit Helen in a chair. She wanted to calm Helen. She wanted to start the lesson over. No use. Helen got angrier and fought harder. Annie finally let Helen go.
But Annie was not giving up. She ran downstairs and got a slice of cake. She brought it to Helen. She spelled c-a-k-e into Helen’s hand while holding the cake under Helen’s nose. Helen tried to take the cake. Annie spelled the word cake again and patted Helen’s hand. This time Helen spelled the word back. Annie gave Helen the cake to eat. Did Helen understand that c-a-k-e meant cake? No, not really. Helen was just copying Annie. Helen did not know that if she went to Annie and spelled c-a-k-e in Annie’s hand that Annie would realize that Helen wanted cake.
Once more, Annie spelled the word doll into Helen’s hand. Helen spelled back d-o-l. Annie spelled the last “l” and gave Helen the doll. Helen fled downstairs with the doll. “I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed,” Helen later wrote. “I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation.”
Helen refused to have anything to do with Annie for the rest of the day. Annie sighed. Teacher and pupil had a long, hard road ahead of them.
The next few days did not go any easier. Helen stayed away from Annie. Would Annie be able to break down the wall that kept Helen in her silent world? She was not sure.
One day at breakfast, another battle began. Helen always ate from everyone’s plate. She helped herself to food as she went around the table. No one in the family tried to stop her nor did anybody say anything. Annie was shocked. Helen was not going to eat from her plate!
Helen flew into a rage when Annie kept her plate away from her. She fell to the floor kicking and screaming. Annie continued to eat. Then Annie asked the Keller family to leave the room. Upset and confused, they left Helen with Annie, who locked the door behind them.
The war was on.
Annie returned to finish her breakfast. Helen tried to knock over Annie’s chair. She failed. Helen began to quiet down. Then, she got up and felt around the table. She realized that only Annie was in the room. Helen was confused. She tried again to steal food from Annie’s plate, but Annie would not let her. Finally, Helen sat in her place. Helen began to eat her breakfast with her fingers.
Annie put a spoon in Helen’s hand. She threw it to the floor. Annie made Helen pick it up. Then Annie held the spoon in Helen’s hand and made her eat with it. Realizing that Annie would not give up, Helen finished her breakfast using the spoon.
Next came the napkin. Annie wanted Helen to fold it. Helen threw the napkin onto the floor. She ran to the door. Finding it locked, Helen began to kick and scream again. Annie spent the following hour getting Helen to fold her napkin. When it was finally folded, Annie let Helen out. Helen ran outside far away from Annie. Worn out, Annie went to her room.
After a good cry, Annie felt better. Annie said of these battles, “To get her to do the simplest things, such as combing her hair or washing hands … it was necessary to use force, and of course, a distressing scene followed.” The family could not stand these scenes. They tried to help Helen. Her father could not stand to see her cry. Their helping Helen did not allow Annie to teach her. So Annie came to a decision.
Annie realized that she had to live alone with Helen. Just the two of them. It was the only way Annie could break down Helen’s dark, silent wall. Annie talked to the Kellers. She thought they’d say no, but they didn’t. The Kellers would do anything to help Helen. So Helen and Annie went to stay in the cottage near the big house.
Annie did not want Helen to know that she was only a quick run from the house and her parents. So Annie had all the furniture moved around in the cottage. Then Annie and Helen went on a long ride in the carriage before arriving at the cottage. It worked. Helen thought she was in a new, strange place.
Helen and Annie had many battles in the cottage. Annie would not let Helen eat until she was dressed. Helen refused to get dressed.
Captain Keller watched through a window one day. He wanted to send Annie away, but the family talked him out of it. And it was lucky that they did.
Over the next two weeks, Helen slowly began to change. She began to obey Annie.
Then on April 5, 1887, a miracle happened. Helen was washing the dishes. Annie spelled the word water in her hand. Helen did not react. The two went outside.
At the water pump. Helen held her mug under the tap. Annie pumped out the cold water and spelled water in Helen’s hand. Helen dropped the mug. A look of wonder filled her face. Helen spelled back water several times to Annie. Now, at last, Helen understood that words stood for things!
Later in her autobiography, Helen wrote, “Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought.”
Annie spelled many different words into Helen’s eager hands. Finally, Helen asked what to call Annie. Annie spelled teacher. And so Annie became Teacher. At seven, Helen’s world had opened at last. The wall had come down. Annie and Helen moved back to the main house.
Helen made rapid progress. Annie saw that Helen loved to be outdoors. So most of their lessons were outside. Annie used the world around them to teach Helen. By the river, Helen learned geography. They dug canals and built mountains. For science, they studied nature. Helen soon knew many different plants and how they grew. Helen loved words and language.
Helen memorized words easily. She learned nouns, verbs, and descriptive words. She began to understand abstract words, such as think. Helen could now “talk” to her family. Annie spelled what people said into Helen’s hand. Then Helen replied. Mrs. Keller learned to speak with her fingers. Now she and Helen could talk. Even Captain learned to speak this way.
By June, Helen knew about four hundred words. Annie wrote to Mr. Anagnos. She told him of Helen’s progress. Mr. Anagnos told the Boston newspapers about Helen. The papers ran stories about her. Readers wanted to know more about this deaf-blind child who was beautiful and smart.
Most children Helen’s age could read and write. Annie decided that Helen would learn to read and write, too. Annie read books to Helen. She did this by spelling out the whole story in Helen’s hand. Helen’s world became filled with fairy tales, heroes, villains, myths, and legends.
Annie taught Helen to write. She used a wooden writing board that had grooves on it. A paper was placed over the grooves. Helen then guided her pencil to form letters. This is how blind people learn to write.
Helen had made great progress. She learned Braille, too. Braille is a system of writing for the blind. Soon Helen could read Braille books on her own. And so, another world opened for Helen.
Helen’s life was much happier now. But she still had a temper. Helen had a name for herself when she lost her temper. She called herself “the Phantom.” But her tantrums came less and less often. Helen now liked playing with her little sister, Mildred. Helen’s mind was now free to learn and her heart was free to love.
Mr. Anagnos asked Annie to write a paper about Helen. At nights when Annie was at her desk writing, Helen sat quietly beside her, writing her own letter to the blind children at Perkins. No one would have believed this quiet scene possible just four months earlier.
Mr. Anagnos shared stories about Helen and Annie. The Boston newspapers ran more stories about them. The papers began calling Helen the “wonder child.” Readers wanted to meet her and know more about her. Some doubted if the stories could be true. Either way, Helen was becoming famous.
Annie and Helen continued their lessons unaware of their growing fame up North. Christmas was coming. It would be the first time that Helen understood the holiday and would be able to take part in it. Helen and Annie read Christmas stories. They made up their own Christmas stories. Helen got caught up in the excitement and joy of the holiday. She loved making gifts and then dropping hints as to what the gifts were. The Keller family had much to be thankful for this holiday. And so did Annie who, at last, had a home.
The new year, 1888, dawned full of hope. Helen would turn eight. But more important, Helen would leave home that year. Helen wanted to visit Perkins. And Annie was going to take her there. But first, Helen had to prepare for the trip.
Annie and Helen worked even harder at their lessons. Mrs. Keller worried that Helen was pushing herself too hard. Helen was often tired. She talked to Annie, but Annie said that she could not slow Helen down. Helen never wanted to rest. There was too much to learn.
By May 1888, Helen was ready to go. But an amazing thing happened that changed their plans. Helen and Annie were invited to the White House to meet President Grover Cleveland! Like so many other people, the president was amazed by how much Helen could do. Most people thought that blind people would always be helpless. Many thought that, just because they could not see or hear, blind and deaf people were not smart. Helen proved to the president of the United States just how wrong that was.
MANY BLIND PEOPLE READ BY TOUCH INSTEAD OF SIGHT. THEY RUN THEIR FINGERS OVER PAGES THAT ARE PRINTED IN RAISED DOTS. DIFFERENT ARRANGEMENTS OF DOTS STAND FOR DIFFERENT LETTERS. LOUIS BRAILLE INVENTED THIS SPECIAL KIND OF WRITING.
LOUIS BRAILLE WAS BORN IN 1809 IN A SMALL TOWN IN FRANCE. HE BECAME BLIND AT THE AGE OF FOUR. MOST BLIND PEOPLE THEN COULDN’T READ OR WRITE. MANY HAD TO BEG TO MAKE A LIVING. BUT LOUIS WAS LUCKY. HE WENT TO A SCHOOL FOR BLIND BOYS. HE LEARNED TO READ LETTERS THAT WERE MADE BY PRESSING COPPER WIRE INTO A SHEET OF PAPER TO MAKE A RAISED SHAPE. LOUIS COULD READ, BUT HE STILL DID NOT KNOW HOW TO WRITE.
THEN, ONE DAY, A SOLDIER CAME TO THE SCHOOL. HE SHOWED THE STUDENTS A SYSTEM CALLED “NIGHT WRITING.” IT HELPED SOLDIERS IN BATTLE COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER IN THE DARK WITHOUT HAVING TO TALK. IT WAS BASED ON A SERIES OF RAISED DOTS.
LOUIS WAS VERY EXCITED BY THIS NEW KIND OF WRITING. HE SAW HOW USEFUL IT COULD BE. HE EXPERIMENTED UNTIL HE FOUND A SYSTEM OF USING SIX DOTS. BLIND PEOPLE COULD READ IT. AND THEY COULD ALSO WRITE IT. THEY USED A STYLUS (A POINTED PEN-LIKE TOOL) TO MAKE THE DOTS.
TODAY, BRAILLE HAS BEEN ADAPTED FOR ALMOST EVERY LANGUAGE AND IS USED ALL OVER THE WORLD.