Good Old Days Newsletter
|In the Good Old Days||'Til Next Time|
Most people remember the great movie from 1962, The Miracle Worker, starring Patty Duke as Helen Keller and Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan. Both won Oscars for their dramatic work in the film, Miss Bancroft for Best Actress and Miss Duke for Best Supporting Actress.
But how did Helen Keller herself end up receiving an Academy Award? Read the answer at the end of this letter.
The Indomitable Helen Keller
She was an inspiration to millions, both the sighted and the blind.
Hers was a remarkable story of perseverance, faith and love.
She was Helen Keller, the little girl who stole the hearts of presidents, philosophers, writers and scientists, and who grew up to accomplish more than anyone thought possible for a blind and deaf person.
It is hard for me to fathom that it has been 44 years ago this Friday since we lost this national treasure. Helen Keller died June 1, 1968, less than a month before her 88th birthday.
I won't try to retell the entire story of Helen and Anne Sullivan, the miracle worker who took Helen from her prison of darkness and silence into an ever-expanding life of education and philanthropy.
If you would like to read Helen's autobiography of the early part of her life, Helen Keller: In Her Own Words, click here to go to the American Foundation for the Blind website.
The AFB is the organization for which Helen worked so tirelessly. Be sure to take time to peruse the photograph section that offers a pictorial glimpse into her life and times.
|This portrait of Helen Keller was taken around 1887, about the time Anne Sullivan came into Helen's life. Click here to visit the American Federation for the Blind website to see more photographs of this remarkable woman.|
Helen was born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Ala. She contracted a disease -- possibly scarlet fever or meningitis -- at the age of 19 months and was left blind and deaf as a result. With no ability to understand the world around her, she grew into a wild child until a March day in 1887.
"The most important day I can remember in my life," as Helen would later describe it, was when Anne Sullivan arrived in Tuscumbia to become Helen's teacher. Anne began to teach Helen the alphabet using "hand-spelled" words. Helen quickly learned to form the letters and could even spell words, but there was no comprehension of what a bird was. Even if Helen could spell it, she had never seen a bird nor heard its song.
The breakthrough moment, so beautifully portrayed in the movie The Miracle Worker, was when Anne took Helen to her home's outdoor pump and began to pump water over one hand while hand spelling "w-a-t-e-r" into the other. Suddenly, there was an awakening! Helen realized the letters made up a word that meant the cool liquid that was flowing over her hand.
Now she had a connection, a ray of light shining through the darkness. By the end of the day she had already learned 30 words.
The rest of the story is as remarkable.
After her primary education in a school for the blind, Helen went on to a preparatory school and then to Radcliffe College where she graduated cum laude in 1904. Through it all, Anne -- "Teacher" as Helen always called her -- remained at her side. (Anne was Helen's faithful teacher and companion until Anne's death on Oct. 20, 1936.)
Her indomitable spirit was summed up in a letter to the chairman of the academic board at Radcliffe, explaining her need for Anne to accompany her to her classes. The college, naturally, had doubts in those days of a blind, deaf girl keeping up with academic demands. She concluded her letter, saying:
"Is it possible for the College to accommodate itself to these unprecedented conditions, so as to enable me to pursue my studies at Radcliffe? I realize that the obstacles in the way of my receiving a college education are very great -- to others they may seem insurmountable; but, dear Sir, a true soldier does not acknowledge defeat before the battle."
During her lifetime, she met every president of the United States from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson. She hobnobbed with writers like Mark Twain. She traveled the world over, lecturing and championing the causes of visually and hearing impaired people everywhere. She received countless honorary degrees and humanitarian awards.
Through it all she kept true to her own words of advice to a 5-year-old blind girl in 1932: "Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the face."
Looking back at her life and all that she accomplished, it makes me wonder: What if everyone in the world could see and hear as well as that remarkable blind and deaf woman did? Maybe the world would be a little less "disabled."
Helen Keller accepted the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film biography, Helen Keller in Her Story, in 1955. The film was produced seven years before the movie The Miracle Worker.
You may watch a clip of this film by clicking here.