Helen Keller (04:44)
A statue of Keller was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol in 2009 to honor her disability rights work. Most Americans' knowledge of Keller was created by the media and focused on her childhood.
Keller's Childhood (03:52)
Keller went blind and deaf as a toddler. Her mother, Kate, read about a blind-deaf student at Perkins School for the Blind, who learned finger spelling. Michael Anagnos, the director, suggested recent graduate Annie Sullivan as a teacher.
Keller and Annie Sullivan (04:03)
A bacterial infection resulted in Sullivan's vision loss. She traveled to Alabama to become Keller's teacher. After getting Keller to obey, she taught her finger spelling, reading, and writing.
Keller and Oralism (05:16)
Though Anagnos publicized Sullivan's work, she disliked the embellishment he used. Keller learned lip reading through feeling facial movement and vibrations; she wanted to speak. At the time, many people chose oral speech over signing.
Doubts of Keller's Intelligence (03:34)
When she was 11, Keller wrote a short story for Anagnos as a birthday present. He had it published as evidence that Keller had independent thought, but the story was similar to another. Anagnos conducted an investigation and questioned whether Keller and Sullivan were frauds.
Keller's Education (04:53)
Keller left Perkins, but Sullivan encouraged her to publish an essay, impressing Mark Twain. At 16, Keller decided to continue her education at Radcliffe College. There was debate about whether women could handle college and many viewed Keller's admission as a publicity stunt.
Keller's Writing (03:14)
Keller became a professional writer while at Radcliffe, agreeing to write autobiographic essays for "Ladies' Home Journal." The essays became a book called "The Story of My Life." Keller decided to be a writer after college but struggled to sell her work.
Keller and Politics (06:10)
Keller was interested in socialism and became a writer for "The Call." She began doing disability rights work and joined a campaign to raise awareness about venereal diseases causing blindness in babies.
Keller's Public Persona (03:08)
At 30, Keller had surgery to replace both her eyes with glass ones so they would look more normal. She continued to work on oral speech, feeling she could achieve more if she could speak normally.
Keller's Activism (08:37)
Keller was a member of the labor rights movement, a suffragist, and a supporter of the NAACP. She used her fame to draw media attention to causes she supported, despite criticism. She opposed involvement in World War I.
Keller and Polly Thompson (04:26)
Hotels did not have disability accommodations and Sullivan's eyesight was decreasing. She and Keller hired Thompson to travel with them. They worked on a Hollywood film centered around disability rights.
Keller and Peter Fagan (04:12)
Keller had a romance with Peter Fagan, a socialist who knew fingerspelling. They got engaged, but Keller's family and Sullivan opposed it. Keller broke off the engagement and never had another romantic relationship.
Keller's Vaudeville (02:23)
Keller and Sullivan agreed to do an act at a vaudeville theater because of the high pay. They would give a speech and then take questions from the audience.
Keller and the AFB (05:30)
Keller became a spokesperson for the American Foundation for the Blind. She worked with the AFB for over 40 years and the organization benefited from her fame. Keller helped the nationwide initiative to standardize braille and its use in blind schools.
Sullivan's Death (03:07)
Sullivan died in 1936 after she and Keller had spent more than 50 years together. Keller was consumed with grief and went to Scotland to live privately. Keller wrote a book about Sullivan's last year of life and her fear of loss.
Keller During World War II (06:11)
Nazis publicly burned Keller's books. She and Thompson visited military hospitals to speak with newly disabled soldiers. After the war, she travelled to Japan and other countries as an ambassador for the state department.
Keller's Legacy (07:50)
Keller said she wanted to support every disadvantaged person. She travelled the world as an activist for women's rights, disability rights, and poverty. Keller gave playwright William Gibson permission to write "The Miracle Worker," which would overshadow her legacy.
Credits: American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller (01:05)
Credits: American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller
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