Wednesday March 3, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Helen Keller
Today’s Smile has a particular meaning for me. I grew up in a family where deafness and/or extreme hardness to hear was a family trait. While I thought the deafness gene missed me, I ended up with a classic firearms hearing impairment so I share a story related to our families history.
On this Day:
On this day in 1887, Anne Sullivan began teaching 6 year old blind-deaf Helen Keller.
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, disability rights advocate, political activist and lecturer. Born in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, she lost her sight and hearing after a bout of illness at the age of nineteen months. She then communicated primarily using home signs until the age of seven when she met her first teacher and life-long companion Anne Sullivan, who taught her language, including reading and writing; Sullivan’s first lessons involved spelling words on Keller’s hand to show her the names of objects around her. She also learned how to speak and to understand other people’s speech using the Tadoma method. After an education at both specialist and mainstream schools, she attended Radcliffe College of Harvard University and became the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She worked for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) from 1924 until 1968, during which time she toured the United States and traveled to 39 countries around the globe advocating for those with vision loss.
Keller was a prolific author, writing 14 books and hundreds of speeches and essays on topics ranging from animals to Mahatma Gandhi. Keller campaigned for those with disabilities, for women’s suffrage, labor rights, and world peace. She joined the Socialist Party of America in 1909. She was a supporter of the NAACP and an original member of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1933, when her book How I Became a Socialist was burned by Nazi youth, she wrote an open letter to the Student Body of Germany condemning censorship and prejudice.
The story of Keller and Sullivan was made famous by Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, and its adaptations for film and stage, The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace is now a museum and sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day”. Her June 27 birthday is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in Pennsylvania and, in the centenary year of her birth, was recognized by a presidential proclamation from the U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1971 and was one of twelve inaugural inductees to the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on June 8, 2015 (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
A person who is deaf and who teaches sign language was telling his dad about “tactile sign”, which is a method that people who are both deaf and blind can use to communicate. It is like signing with someone’s hands on yours and the other person can ‘read’ the signs drawn on their hand. His Dad mentioned Helen Keller and the conversation went as follows:
Dad: “But how many people can really do that? How many people could really communicate with Helen Keller?”
Dad: “PROBABLY JUST A HANDFUL!”
Second, a Song:
Keller’s life has been interpreted many times. She appeared in a silent film, Deliverance (1919), which told her story in a melodramatic, allegorical style.
She was also the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary Helen Keller in Her Story, narrated by her friend and noted theatrical actress Katharine Cornell. She was also profiled in The Story of Helen Keller, part of the Famous Americans series produced by Hearst Entertainment.
The Miracle Worker is a cycle of dramatic works ultimately derived from her autobiography, The Story of My Life. The various dramas each describe the relationship between Keller and Sullivan, depicting how the teacher led her from a state of almost feral wildness into education, activism, and intellectual celebrity. The common title of the cycle echoes Mark Twain’s description of Sullivan as a “miracle worker”. Its first realization was the 1957 Playhouse 90 teleplay of that title by William Gibson. He adapted it for a Broadway production in 1959 and an Oscar-winning feature film in 1962, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. It was remade for television in 1979 and 2000 (per Wikipedia).
Here is a clip of the The Famous Water Scene from “The Miracle Worker” movie. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller
Have a great day!
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky