Leaders and Legends: Helen Adams Keller

Helen Adams Keller
Inducted 2002
Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field

Helen Keller was born in Alabama in 1880. At the age of 18 months she experienced a fever that left her deaf, blind and unable to speak. An extremely intelligent and sensitive child, by the age of seven she had invented over 60 different signs by which she could talk to her family. Because of this restricted communication her frustration and anger grew and were not relieved until Annie Sullivan, a 20 year old graduate of the Perkins School for the Blind, came to be her teacher. With her help Helen learned the manual alphabet, braille, the Tadoma method of reading lips and later learned to speak. With Annie as her interpreter, in 1888 she attended Perkins Institute for the Blind and in 1894 the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York. She received a B.A. cum laude in 1904 from Radcliffe College. She thus became the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college. In 1936 she moved to Connecticut where she lived until her death in 1968 at the age of 87.

1956, Helen Keller presents the prestigious Albert Lasker Medical Research Award to Drs. Arnall Patz (right) and Everett Kinsey. Kinsey is the biochemist who organized a larger study that confirmed Patz's RLF oxygen findings.

While at Radcliffe, Helen Keller began a writing career which was to continue for 50 years. In addition to The Story of My Life, she wrote 11 other books and numerous articles on blindness, deafness, social issues and women's rights. Many books and plays were written about her life.

Despite the broad range of her interests, Helen Keller never lost sight of the needs of others who were blind and deaf-blind. Soon after the American Foundation for the Blind was established in 1921 she became a member of the Foundation staff, where she worked until her death in 1968 as counselor on national relations. In 1932 she also became a vice-president of the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the United Kingdom. In 1946 she was appointed counselor on international relations for the American Foundation for Overseas Blind (renamed Helen Keller International), visiting 35 countries during seven trips between 1946 and 1957.

First day cover commemorating the Helen Keller Centennial 1880-1980 postmarked June 27, 1980

Helen Keller received honorary doctoral degrees from Temple University, Harvard, Universities of Glasgow, Berlin, Delhi and Johannesburg. An entire room at AFB is devoted to a collection of her personal papers and memorabilia, including Brazil's Order of the Southern Cross, Japan's Sacred Treasure, the Lions Humanitarian Award for lifetime service and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. In 1965 she was one of the 20 elected to the Women's Hall of Fame at the New York World's Fair.

More rewarding to Helen Keller than the many honors she received, were the acquaintances and friendships she made with most of the leading personalities of her time. There were few world figures, from Grover Cleveland to Charlie Chaplin, to Nehru to John F. Kennedy, that she did not meet. She was truly a remarkable world ambassador and a distinguished leader advocating for better services for blind and deaf-blind wherever she went.

Helen Keller Helen Keller's Hall of Fame Plaque

Plaque sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind and Perkins School for the Blind

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan (1930 Newsreel Footage)

About the Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame for Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is dedicated to preserving, honoring, and promoting the tradition of excellence manifested by the specific individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame and through the history of outstanding services provided to people who are blind or visually impaired.

These significant professional colleagues of the recent and distant past are a fascinating cross-section of heroes and pioneers who not only shaped our rich history, philosophy, knowledge and skills, but also give us insights into current and future challenges. These giants shared their personal lives and showed us strategies to ensure that services for blind persons remain unique and specialized. Enjoy their lives and contributions and reflect upon your own list of heroes.

Hall of Fame: Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field is a project of the entire field of blindness. It is curated by the American Printing House for the Blind, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.

Visit the virtual Hall of Fame for the inspiring stories of many more heroes of the field of blindness.

Helen Keller on FaceBook

Author...Lecturer...Activist...World Traveler...Ambassador...Icon

Helen Keller was all of this and more. The life she led continues to be an inspiration.

That's why the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) recently launched the Helen Keller Facebook Fan Page to honor her many accomplishments, bring new life to her words and deeds, and introduce this amazing woman to a new generation of students, history buffs, blindness professionals, and so many others worldwide.

Please join us as a Fan of this page, http://www.facebook.com/HelenKellerFans, to enjoy quotes, fun facts, news about the work that continues in her name, exclusive photos and artifacts from the AFB Helen Keller archives, and share content and links with your friends and colleagues.

When you become a Fan you will also receive updates on the Helen Keller Gallery exhibits and learn how to sign up for a personalized tour.

For more information on Helen Keller you can also visit the AFB website at http://www.afb.org/helenkeller.


ReadHowYouWant said…
This video is amazing! Thank you for posting it--I had not seen it before. Helen and Anne were such a smart and dedicated pair :)

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