As I mentioned in the last blog, last Monday we drove up to Florence, Alabama to visit a few sights as we waited for the work on LeuC to be completed. While up there, we visited Helen Keller’s birthplace, a Frank Lloyd Wright house and the Muscle Shoals Music Studio. In the last blog, I described our time at the music studio and embedded into the blog a number of the famous songs that were recorded there. Today, I will be sharing with you our visit to the Keller home and the Frank Lloyd Wright house.
My guess is that most of our readers may not be too familiar with Helen Keller. However, when Mary Margaret and I were growing up, “The Miracle Worker” which was about the life story of Helen Keller, was required reading in Junior High School. The book was based on the play of the same name which Anne Bancroft made famous on Broadway in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It is a story of a little girl who within the first two years of birth (June 27, 1880), contracted a disease that left her deaf and blind. Being so isolated from the world due to this disease, she was growing up as a near-feral child since her parents did not know how to deal with such a challenge. Helen was very frustrated due to her lack of stimulus and would have massive temper tantrums throwing and breaking anything that she came in contact with and hitting and scratching her parents and their servants. She was viewed as being totally uncontrollable.
In desperation, her parents contacted Alexander Graham Bell who was working with deaf children at the time. Graham referred them to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. A partially blind young woman had just graduated and was available to move in with the Keller family in an attempt to work with Helen. This woman was Anne Sullivan, who became “The Miracle Worker”.
She faced numerous difficulties in breaking through and reaching into the dark place that Helen had retreated into. Many of those difficulties Sullivan created herself. Being a northerner with an Irish background, she had a real distain for slavery and everything surrounding it. This caused real problems with the Keller family who were traditional southerners. Helen’s father had been a Captain in the Confederacy, his wife was related to the iconic southern general and leader, Robert E. Lee and many of their servants were former slaves. This antagonism between Sullivan and the Keller parents never abated.
Despite this self-inflicted difficulty, Sullivan was able to work with Helen and within a few months had broken through Helen’s isolation and started her down a path of communication and learning. As it turns out, Helen was extremely intelligent and rapidly soaked in techniques to use palm spelling, Braille and methods to learn multiplication tables.
Within a few years, it was agreed that it would be best for the Keller family and Helen if Helen and Sullivan were to move up to Boston and attend the Perkins School for the blind. Helen never again lived with her parents.
Helen’s formal education included attending the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf, the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, the Cambridge School for Young Ladies and in 1900, Radcliffe College, Harvard University. She graduated from Radcliffe, becoming the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Over the years, she learned to speak, wrote numerous books and articles and became a prolific speaker on aspects of her life. She traveled to twenty-five different countries giving motivational speeches about deaf people’s conditions, she was a suffragette, pacifist, radical socialist, birth control supporter and helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ two highest civilian honors. In 1965 she was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair.
Keller suffered a series of strokes in 1961 and spent the last years of her life at her home. She died in her sleep on June 1, 1968, at her home, Arcan Ridge, located in Easton, Connecticut, a few weeks short of her eighty-eighth birthday.
Here are some of the photos I took while visiting Helen Keller’s birth home.