On this day in 1880, Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She was a precocious little girl who was stricken with "brain fever"--likely menegitis or scarlet fever--at 18 months. The illness left her deaf, blind, and, for a time, mute.
When she was 6, her parents hired as Helen's teacher Anne Sullivan, a graduate of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. Sullivan would remain Helen's teacher, friend and mentor for 49 years. Their relationship was portrayed in the play and movie, "The Miracle Worker."
She helped transform an unruly child into a poised, curious, accomplished young woman, who learned to speak by feeling the vibrations of sounds made by someone talking. Sullivan accompanied Keller on trips to meet interesting and influential people--Keller became friends with Mark Twain--and sat with her as she attended Radcliffe College. Keller was graduated cum laude in 1904.
As a prolific writer and social activist, she went on to helped start the American Civil Liberties Union; to support Eugene V. Debs; to become a Socialist; and to travel the world helping and inspiring others, especially those who were blind. She was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies) and she campaigned for women's suffrage and labor rights.
Helen Keller died in 1968. Her autobiography, "The Story of My Life," remains an amazing, wonderful book.