Helen Adams Keller was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist, and lecturer who was born on June 27, 1880, and passed away on June 1, 1968. She was born in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, and when she was 19 months old, a bout of illness caused her to lose both her sight and her hearing. Until she was seven years old, when she met Anne Sullivan, her first teacher and lifelong companion, she communicated primarily through home signs. Keller received instruction in reading and writing from Sullivan. Keller attended both mainstream and specialist schools before enrolling at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College and becoming the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
From 1924 to 1968, she was employed by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). She toured the United States and traveled to 35 countries to advocate for people with vision loss during this time.
Keller was also a prolific author—he wrote 14 books and hundreds of speeches and essays about everything from animals to Mahatma Gandhi. He also advocated for people with disabilities, labor rights, world peace, and women’s suffrage. She became a member of the Socialist Party of America in 1909. She was one of the American Civil Liberties Union’s founders.
Keller made her education and relationship with Sullivan public in her 1903 autobiography, The Story of My Life. William Gibson adapted it into a play, which was later made into a movie with the same name, The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace is a National Historic Landmark that has been preserved. It has been a house museum since 1954 and sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day.”
1971 marked Keller’s induction into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. On June 8, 2015, she was one of twelve inaugural inductees into the newly established Alabama Writers Hall of Fame.
Helen Henley Keller, better known as “Kate,” was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She was the daughter of Arthur Henley Keller (1836–1896) and Catherine Everett (Adams) Keller (1856–1921). Her family lived on the homestead known as “Ivy Green,” which her paternal grandfather had constructed decades earlier. Mildred Campbell (Keller) Tyson and Phillip Brooks Keller, both full siblings; and her father’s two older half-brothers, James McDonald Keller and William Simpson Keller, from her father’s first marriage.
Her father was an editor at the Tuscumbia North Alabamian for many years. In the Confederate Army, he had held the rank of captain. Before the war, the family belonged to the elite who owned slaves, but later lost their status. Her mother was the daughter of a Confederate general named Charles W. Adams.
Casper Keller, a Swiss citizen, was identified as Keller’s paternal ancestor. Helen’s Swiss ancestor was the first deaf educator in Zurich. “That there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his,” Keller reflected on this fact in her first autobiography.