Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)



Thursday, August 02, 2012

Helen Keller's Lost Chance at Love

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched; they are felt with the heart.”
~Helen Adams Keller

Image of Helen Keller in 1914
Helen Keller, ca. 1914. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
So much emphasis is placed on Helen Keller’s deaf-blindness that many people tend to forget that Helen Keller was a woman with a distinct personality, likes, dislikes, and faults. In an Amazon search, there are 285 books about Keller made for young children and focus mainly on her first few years with her teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy. Keller lived to be 87 years old, which means that she lived 80 years more after the famous scene at the water pump where she learned to communicate with others. When authors and teachers do discuss her later life, they usually only discuss her work advocating for people with disabilities.
There is an aspect of Helen Keller that is rarely mentioned. She was a real woman – a woman with the same desires, needs, and feelings as other women, with or without disabilities. She may not have giggled with her teenage girlfriends about the cute captain of the football team, but she did have at least one romantic (maybe sexual) relationship with a man.
Helen didn’t leave us too much detail about this man, but there are a few things we do know from her writings, the writings of her family, and historical research. Helen met Peter Fagan in January 1916. Fagan, who was in his 20s, was Helen’s fingerspelling secretary. By November 1916, the two had plans to wed. Unbeknownst to Anne Sullivan Macy or Helen’s mother, Helen and Peter applied for a marriage license in Boston. Unfortunately for them, a Boston newspaper leaked the story. Although Peter and Helen denied the news, Anne and Helen’s mother had an absolute fit. The two women forced Helen to leave Boston and return to her mother’s home in Alabama. Peter followed them, but was chased away by Helen’s gun-wielding brother-in-law!
Tragically, family letters reveal that Helen’s family saw her waiting, dressed, and with a suitcase, on the front porch all night long waiting on her lover who never arrived. Helen’s mother felt that it would be “unseemly” for Helen to marry – i.e. for her to have a sexual relationship with a man. In her autobiography, Midstream: My Later Life, Helen wrote that her brief love affair was “an island of joy surrounded by dark waters. I am glad that I have had the experience of being loved and desired. The fault was not in the loving, but in the circumstances.”
It is so, so sad that two people who apparently loved each other were unable to be together because society’s view of people with disabilities. Helen was 36 at the time – more than old enough to make her own decisions, at least in today’s world. Thankfully, society’s views about love and sex for people with disabilities have changed over the years. The reluctance of many to acknowledge this aspect of Helen Keller’s life illustrates the stigma that is still attached to the issue.
People who have disabilities should never again have to endure what reads like a Shakespearean tragedy in their pursuit of love.

No comments:

Subscribe to receive posts via email

* indicates required

Browse Articles by Subject

Follow us on Twitter


Write for us

Your input and support in the evolution of Fred's Head are invaluable! Contact us about contributing original writing or for suggestions for updating existing articles. Email us at


The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.

The products produced by the American Printing House for the Blind are instructional/teaching materials and are intended to be used by trained professionals, parents, and other adults with children who are blind and visually impaired. These materials are not intended as toys for use by children in unstructured play or in an unsupervised environment.

The information and techniques contained in Fred's Head are provided without legal consideration (free-of-charge) and are not warranted by APH to be safe or effective. All users of this service assume the risk of any injury or damage that may result from the use of the information provided.

Information in Fred's Head is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Consult your physician before utilizing information regarding your health that may be presented on this site. Consult other professionals as appropriate for legal, financial, and related advice.

Fred's Head articles may contain links to other websites. APH is not responsible for the content of these sites.

Fred's Head articles created by APH staff are (C) copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. You must request permission from APH to reprint these articles. Email to request permission.

Any submissions to Fred's Head should be free of copyright restrictions and should be the intellectual property of the submitter. By submitting information to Fred's Head, you are granting APH permission to publish this information.

Fair Use Notice: This website may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holder(s). This site is operated on the assumption that using this information constitutes 'fair use' of said copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.

Opinions appearing in Fred's Head records are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Printing House for the Blind.