Helen Keller has fascinated me for quite some time. What she achieved in her life time, being both blind and deaf.
One question though, how did she begin to comprehend the English language being both blind and deaf?
Helen KellerHelen Keller Few Alabamians have risen to the level of worldwide fame held by Helen Keller (1880-1968). Ironically, despite her many accomplishments as an adult, she is probably best remembered today as the deaf and blind child who learned sign language from her teacher Anne Sullivan at her parents' backyard water pump. During her lifetime, she was known for her tireless activism on behalf of workers' and women's rights, her literary work, and her tenure as an unofficial U.S. ambassador to the world. Although Keller left Alabama at the age of eight, she always claimed Ivy Green, her family's house in Tuscumbia, as home, and she continued to identify herself as a southerner throughout her life and travels. She was selected to represent Alabama on its 2003 state quarter, and on October 7, 2009, a bronze statue depicting seven-year-old Keller at the water pump replaced that of J. L. M. Curry in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Arthur Keller Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Colbert County, to Capt. Arthur H. Keller, a newspaper editor, and Kate Adams Keller, and had a brother and a sister. At the age of 19 months, Keller contracted what doctors at the time called "brain fever," which may have been scarlet fever. Although Keller survived the illness, it left her deaf and blind. As she grew, her parents became more and more frustrated with their increasingly uncontrollable daughter. Family members urged the Kellers to place Helen in an asylum or institution. Apparently neither parent considered sending her to the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, perhaps because southerners often looked at such educational institutions with suspicion given the connections between educational reformers and abolitionism. Helen Keller Birthplace In March 1887, the 21-year-old Sullivan arrived at Ivy Green and started what would be a lifelong partnership with Helen Keller. The two generally communicated by finger-spelling, a process by which individual letters are spelled out in sign language on the open palm. Soon after she was able to teach the young Keller language, the forceful Sullivan persuaded her reluctant parents to allow the pair to move to Boston so that Keller could attend the Perkins School for the Blind. She argued that Helen needed to be removed from her overly protective family circle and that Perkins was the sensible educational choice. Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan While in college, Keller undertook an essay assignment that evolved into a magazine serial and then into her 1903 autobiography, The Story of My Life, which remains her most famous publication. In it, she chronicled her education and first 23 years, and Sullivan provided supplementary accounts of the teaching process. Harvard scholar and friend John Macy helped negotiate a publishing contract and edited the book, and he married Sullivan in 1905. Literary success revolutionized Keller's world. The autobiography became an almost unparalleled best seller in multiple languages and caused Keller to dream of life as an economically self-sufficient author. Ivy Green Water Pump After graduating college, Keller assumed that she would build on the massive literary success of her autobiograpnhy, but she found supporting herself as an author more difficult than she anticipated. Editors and the reading public only wanted to read about her disability, but Keller wanted to write on her expanding and increasingly controversial economic, political, and international views. The critics panned and few bought The World I Live In (1908), Song of the Stone Wall (1910), and her collection of political essays Out of the Dark (1913). She and Sullivan tried the lecture circuit, starred in the 1919 Hollywood film Deliverance (which also featured her brother), and lectured about her education and politics on the vaudeville stage in an effort to support themselves. Neither woman enjoyed the constant travel and public scrutiny, and Sullivan (who both married and separated from her husband John Macy during this time period) particularly disliked the stress of travel and public performance. President Coolidge and Helen Keller Keller entered the 1920s seeking a meaningful public life and financial stability. The newly created American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) supplied both, becoming the center of her and Anne Macy's lives as they worked from their Forest Hills, New York, home. Working on behalf of blind people with and through the AFB, Keller became an inveterate fundraiser and political lobbyist. From the 1920s through the early 1940s, she worked almost ceaselessly, raising funds and lobbying state and national legislatures. She emphasized educational and employment possibilities for people with disabilities, particularly those who were blind. Amidst these efforts she also published My Religion (1927). In 1896, she had converted to Swedenborgianism, a Christian sect established by eighteenth-century Swedish spiritual leader Emanuel Swedenborg and a growing movement among turn-of-the-century Americans. Keller valued the opportunity to share that faith in My Religion. In 1929, she published Midstream, a continuation of her 1903 autobiography. Helen Keller in Japan A subsequent trip to Japan in 1948 was the catalyst for Keller's transformation from tourist to semi-official ambassador for the United States. Keller had been strongly affected by the devastation caused by World War II and the U.S. atomic attacks and was thrilled by the enthusiastic reception she received from the Japanese citizens. She thus grew convinced of her calling to international service, and the AFB leadership agreed. Thrilled by her reception in Japan and always alert to opportunities to promote the U.S. image abroad during the Cold War, the State Department worked with the AFB to fund and facilitate her travels and promote her persona as a representative of Americanism. Seeking renewed purpose and escape, while also believing in her cause, Keller increasingly turned to international travel and advocacy of people with disabilities. Alabama State Quarter During the years after Macy's death, Keller strove to redefine herself professionally and personally. By this point, her contacts with Alabama were minimal. Her father had died in 1896, and her mother in 1921. She largely communicated with her brother and sister by letter. From her adopted home of Westport, Connecticut, she developed new friends and venues of expression. Sculptor Jo Davidson became one of the most important of these friends, stimulating her interest in life through intellectual debate and the arts. For example, on a trip to Italy he arranged a tactile "viewing" for Keller of sculptures by Michelangelo and Donatello. Other friendships grew out of the New York world of friend and editor Nella Braddy Henney. With Henney's assistance, Keller published Journal in 1938, Helen Keller Statue at the Capitol a chronicling of the months after Macy's death, and Teacher, her memorial to Macy, in 1956. Keller grew to love interacting with these people and valued them for their wit, sharp opinions, and knowledge of the political world. Good friends already knew or learned to finger-spell in order to communicate with Keller, and her speech was easily understood by those accustomed to hearing it. With individuals who did not finger-spell, Keller sometimes relied on her own form of lip reading. She sat very close and with her left index finger, middle finger, and thumb she touched their nostril, lips, and larynx in order to understand words. At other times, Polly Thomson interpreted on-going conversations by finger-spelling.
In 1955, Keller won an Oscar for her participation in the documentary The Unconquered (also titled Helen Keller in Her Story). In 1964, Pres. Lyndon Johnson awarded her the Congressional Medal of Freedom. When she died on June 1, 1968, at the age of 88, she was one of the most famous people in the world—as she had been since nearly the age of eight. The young girl from Tuscumbia, whose parents had foreseen a grim future for their deaf-blind girl, had literally and figuratively travelled far.
Foner, Philip S., ed. Helen Keller: Her Socialist Years. New York: International Publishers, 1967.
Loss of Sight and Hearing
Keller lost both her sight and hearing at just 19 months old. In 1882, she contracted an illness — called "brain fever" by the family doctor — that produced a high body temperature. The true nature of the illness remains a mystery today, though some experts believe it might have been scarlet fever or meningitis.
Within a few days after the fever broke, Keller&aposs mother noticed that her daughter didn&apost show any reaction when the dinner bell was rung, or when a hand was waved in front of her face.
As Keller grew into childhood, she developed a limited method of communication with her companion, Martha Washington, the young daughter of the family cook. The two had created a type of sign language. By the time Keller was 7, they had invented more than 60 signs to communicate with each other.
During this time, Keller had also become very wild and unruly. She would kick and scream when angry, and giggle uncontrollably when happy. She tormented Martha and inflicted raging tantrums on her parents. Many family relatives felt she should be institutionalized.
Seven fascinating facts you probably didn't know about Helen Keller
Helen Keller is arguably Perkins’ most famous student, with her teacher Anne Sullivan a close second. The story of the little girl who was deafblind and learned to communicate when her teacher spelled “water” into her hand was made famous by the movie “The Miracle Worker.”
Since 1837, Perkins has been educating children who can neither see nor hear. Deafblind education has evolved over the decades, and today Perkins educators use a variety of methods to challenge each student to reach and grow. You can find more information on how you can support this critical work here.
Of course, Helen Keller grew up to become a household name as an author, political activist and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. But as famous as she was, there’s a lot you probably don’t know about her. Read on:
- She was the first person with deafblindness to earn a college degree. From Radcliffe, no less, from which she graduated cum laude in 1904 with a Bachelor's Degree.
- She was great friends with Mark Twain. The two met when Keller was 14, and remained friends until Twain died 16 years later. He admired her sense of humor and sharp intelligence. Twain, in fact, was the first to call Sullivan a “miracle worker” for bringing Keller out of the darkness. When they met in person, Keller was able to identify Twain by his distinctive tobacco-infused scent – he smoked 10 to 20 cigars a day.
- She worked the vaudeville circuit. In 1920, Keller and Sullivan began a five-year stint in vaudeville to supplement their dwindling finances. Touted as the “8th Wonder of the World,” Keller performed a 20-minute show, where she told her life story in her own words (translated by Sullivan). Q&A sessions with the audience allowed Keller to demonstrate her intelligence and sense of humor. For example, shortly after Prohibition became the law of the land, she was asked by an audience member, “What do you think is the most important question before the country today?” Keller’s response: “How to get a drink.” She left the vaudeville circuit after Sullivan’s health declined too much for them to continue.
- She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. The nomination came after Keller visited the Mideast in 1952 and met with local leaders to advocate for the rights of those who were blind or disabled. She secured a promise from Egypt’s Minister of Education to create secondary schools for the blind that could lead to a college education. The legacy of her visit still lives on at the Hellen Keller School in Jerusalem, Israel.
- She was extremely political. In addition to being a member of the Socialist Party, Keller was a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and a strong supporter of birth control, all radical views for a woman in the early 20th century.
- She fell in love and almost eloped. Keller was in her late 30s when Sullivan fell suddenly ill. Keller brought in a private secretary named Peter Fagan, with whom she fell in love and planned to elope. But her family strongly objected because they believed that women with disabilities should not marry, ultimately thwarting the couple’s plans.
- She remains influential and respected even after her death. In 1999 her name appeared on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most important figures of the 20th century, alongside such iconic figures as Albert Einstein, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. That’s an impressive accomplishment for anyone, and more so for a woman who couldn’t see or hear.
For more information on Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, check out the Perkins Archives.
In May of 1888, Anne Sullivan brought Helen Keller to Perkins School for the Blind, where a new world of friendship began.
"The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrast between the two lives which it connects."
- Helen Keller
Helen Adams Keller was born June 27, 1880, in the northwest Alabama city of Tuscumbia. Her father, Arthur H. Keller, was a retired Confederate Army captain and editor of the local newspaper her mother, Kate Keller, was an educated young woman from Memphis. When Helen Keller was 19 months old, she was afflicted by an unknown illness, possibly scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her deaf and blind.
Keller was extremely intelligent and tried to understand her surroundings through touch, smell and taste. However, she began to realize that her family members spoke to one another with their mouths instead of using signs as she did. Feeling their moving lips, she flew into a rage when she was unable to join in the conversation. By the age of six, Keller later wrote in her autobiography, “the need of some means of communication became so urgent that these outbursts occurred daily, sometimes hourly.”
The birthday of her soul
Anne Sullivan came to Tuscumbia to be Helen Keller’s teacher on March 3, 1887. Later Keller would call this day her "soul's birthday." Perkins Director Michael Anagnos had been wise to choose the strong-willed Sullivan, for few young women would have persevered through the tempestuous first weeks of the relationship. Keller hit, pinched and kicked her teacher and knocked out one of her teeth. Sullivan finally gained control by moving with the girl into a small cottage on the Kellers’ property. Through patience and firm consistency, she finally won the child’s heart and trust, a necessary step before Keller's education could proceed.
Sullivan started with the techniques developed by Perkins' first director, Samuel Gridley Howe, when he worked with Laura Bridgman 50 years earlier. She fingerspelled the names of familiar objects into her student’s hand. She also innovated by incorporating Keller’s favorite activities and her love of the natural world into the lessons. Keller enjoyed this “finger play,” but she didn't understand until the famous moment when Sullivan spelled “w-a-t-e-r” while pumping water over her hand. Keller later wrote:
Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! …Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life.
Keller wrote of the days that followed, “I did nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched and the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world.” Sullivan fingerspelled to her constantly, and coached her in the give-and-take of conversation. Many people believe that Keller’s love of language, her great articulation and grace as a writer and public speaker were built upon this foundation.
Exploring a new world
In May of 1888, Sullivan brought Keller to Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, where a new world of friendship began: “I joined the little blind children in their work and play, and talked continually. I was delighted to find that nearly all of my new friends could spell with their fingers. Oh, what happiness! To talk freely with other children! To feel at home in the great world!”
After that visit, Keller spent nearly every winter studying at Perkins: “In the school where Laura Bridgman was taught I was in my own country.” Keller studied French, arithmetic, geography and other subjects. She especially enjoyed the library of embossed books and the tactile museum’s collection of bird and animal specimens.
In the fall of 1891, Keller wrote a story she called “The Frost King” as a birthday gift for Anagnos. Delighted, he published it in the Perkins alumni magazine. Soon Anagnos was informed that Keller’s tale was very similar to a previously published story. It appears that Keller had read the original many months earlier and recreated the story from her memory, believing it was her own creation.
The accusation of plagiarism was extremely wounding to the 11-year-old girl and her teacher, and in 1892 Keller and Sullivan left Perkins and did not return. Fortunately, Keller later forgave Perkins for her unhappy experience. In 1909, she donated many braille books to the Perkins library, and in 1956 she officiated at the dedication of the Keller-Sullivan building when it became the home of the school’s Deafblind Program.
Throughout her life, Keller devoted her energies to humanitarian pursuits, advocating for economic justice and the rights of women and of people with disabilities. She asserted her right “to feel at home in the great world” and through her eloquence and tireless activism, she fought for the same right on behalf of all people.
Helen Keller's Political and Social Activism
Helen saw herself as a writer first—her passport listed her profession as "author." It was through the medium of the typewritten word that Helen communicated with Americans and ultimately with thousands across the globe.
From an early age, she championed the rights of the underdog and used her skills as a writer to speak truth to power. A pacifist, she protested U.S. involvement in World War I. A committed socialist, she took up the cause of workers' rights. She was also a tireless advocate for women's suffrage and an early member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Helen's ideals found their purest, most lasting expression in her work for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). Helen joined AFB in 1924 and worked for the organization for over 40 years.
The foundation provided her with a global platform to advocate for the needs of people with vision loss and she wasted no opportunity. As a result of her travels across the United States, state commissions for the blind were created, rehabilitation centers were built, and education was made accessible to those with vision loss.
Helen's optimism and courage were keenly felt at a personal level on many occasions, but perhaps never more so than during her visits to veteran's hospitals for soldiers returning from duty during World War II.
Helen was very proud of her assistance in the formation in 1946 of a special service for deaf-blind persons. Her message of faith and strength through adversity resonated with those returning from war injured and maimed.
Helen Keller was as interested in the welfare of blind persons in other countries as she was for those in her own country conditions in poor and war-ravaged nations were of particular concern.
Helen's ability to empathize with the individual citizen in need as well as her ability to work with world leaders to shape global policy on vision loss made her a supremely effective ambassador for disabled persons worldwide. Her active participation in this area began as early as 1915, when the Permanent Blind War Relief Fund, later called the American Braille Press, was founded. She was a member of its first board of directors.
In 1946, when the American Braille Press became the American Foundation for Overseas Blind (now Helen Keller International), Helen was appointed counselor on international relations. It was then that she began her globe-circling tours on behalf of those with vision loss.
Co-Founding the ACLU, Fighting for Labor Rights and Other Helen Keller Accomplishments Students Don't Learn in School
W hile the world marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3, the history of people with disabilities is still not fully taught in schools. In the U.S., if American schoolchildren learn about any person with disabilities, they learn that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once had polio and used a wheelchair in office, and they learn about Deafblind activist Helen Keller.
Most students learn that Keller, born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Ala., was left deaf and blind after contracting a high fever at 19 months, and that her teacher Anne Sullivan taught her braille, lip-reading, finger spelling and eventually, how to speak. Students may watch the Oscar-winning 1962 movie The Miracle Worker, which depicts these milestones as miraculous. Keller has become a worldwide symbol for children to overcome any obstacle. At the U.S. Capitol, there is even a bronze statue of 7-year-old Keller at a water pump, inspired by the movie’s depiction of a real milestone in Keller’s life in which she recognizes water coming out of the pump after Sullivan spells the word “water” into the youngster’s hand. However, there is still a great deal about her life and her accomplishments that many people don’t know.
What scholars of disability point out is that when students learn about Helen Keller, they often learn about her efforts to communicate as a child, and not about the work she did as an adult. This limited instruction has implications for how students perceive people with disabilities.
If students learn about any of Keller’s accomplishments as an adult, they learn that she became the first Deafblind graduate of Radcliffe College (now Harvard University) in 1904, and worked for American Foundation for the Blind from the mid-1920s until her death in 1968, advocating for schools for the blind and braille reading materials.
But they don’t learn that she co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 that she was an early supporter of the NAACP, and an opponent of lynchings that she was an early proponent of birth control.
Sascha Cohen, who teaches American Studies at Brandeis University, and wrote the 2015 TIME article “Helen Keller’s Forgotten Radicalism”, argues that Keller’s involvement in workers’ rights can help students understand the roots of the workers’ rights and inequality issues that persist today: “The Progressive Era when she was sort of working politically in different organizations was a period of rapid industrialization and so there were these new conditions in which workers were subjected to this sort of heightened inequality and even danger and risk physically. So she pointed out that a lot of times people went blind from accidents on the shop floor. She saw this real kind of imbalance in power between the workers…and the sort of what we would call the 1% or the very few owners and managers at the top who were exploiting the workers.”
Some of the reason schools don’t teach much about Keller’s adult life is because she was involved in groups that have been perceived as too radical throughout American history. She was a member of the Socialist Party, and corresponded with Eugene Debs, the party’s most prominent member and a five-time presidential candidate. She also read Marx, and her associations with all of these far-left groups landed her on the radar of the FBI, which monitored her for ties to the Communist Party.
However, to some Black disability rights activists, like Anita Cameron, Helen Keller is not radical at all, “just another, despite disabilities, privileged white person,” and yet another example of history telling the story of privileged white Americans. Critics of Helen Keller cite her writings that reflected the popularity of now-dated eugenics theories and her friendship with one of the movement’s supporters Alexander Graham Bell. The American Foundation for the Blind archivist Helen Selsdon says Keller “moved away from that position.”
People with disabilities and activists are pushing for more education on important contributions to U.S. history by people of disabilities, such as the Capitol Crawl. On Mar. 12, 1990, Cameron and dozens of disabled people climbed up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to urge the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was considered a moment that raised awareness and helped get the law passed four months later, but one rarely included in public school education.
Thirty years later, one in four Americans have a disability. At least three other states have made efforts to incorporate disability history into school curricula. It’s the law in California and New Jersey to teach the contributions of people with disabilities, and Massachusetts guidelines urge state educators to do the same.
In Sep. 2018, the Texas Board of Education approved a draft of changes to state social studies standards, which included the removal of some historical figures, such as Helen Keller. Shortly after the board opened the draft for public comment, Haben Girma, a Black disability rights lawyer and the first Deafblind Harvard Law School graduate, was one of many who spoke out on the importance of teaching Helen Keller. Girma argued that if Keller’s life is not taught, students might not learn about any history-makers with disabilities. Two months later, the Texas Board of Education approved a revised draft with Keller’s name back in the standards.
Girma agrees that more should be done to teach the full life and career of Helen Keller, and encourages students to read more of her writings to learn more about who she was as an adult. Keller wrote 14 books and more than 475 speeches and essays.
“Since society only portrays Helen Keller as a little girl, a lot of people subconsciously learn to infantilize disabled adults. And I&rsquove been treated like a child. Many disabled adults have been treated like children,” Girma says. “That makes it difficult to get a job, to be treated with respect, to get good quality education and healthcare as an adult.”
Or just look back at what Keller herself articulated in her 1926 memoir My Key of Life about the impact of inclusive education: “The highest result of education is tolerance.”
Out of the Darkness and Silence
Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Arthur Keller and Kate Adams Keller. Her first nineteen months were unremarkable, until she contracted a brief unidentifiable illness, characterized by a high fever that left her deaf and blind, and with only snippet memories of the broad fields, wide sky, and tall trees of Tuscumbia. Physicians declared the Kellers’ daughter a hopeless case, suggesting that she be permanently institutionalized, but the devoted parents kept searching for ways to lift her from dark silence. They discovered the Perkins Institute, a training school for the blind in Boston, and inquired about a teacher for Helen. After some discussion, the headmaster sent Anne Sullivan to Tuscumbia, where she was met with an out-of-control, frustrated, and depressed six-year-old child—yet one with a hidden radiance and an eagerness which Sullivan was anxious to tap.
The outstanding results of the relationship between student and teacher were made famous by the 1962 film The Miracle Worker, which profiled Sullivan’s ability to connect with Keller and eventually provide her with the tools to learn and communicate by finger spelling words in the palm of her hand.  Keller’s quick mastery of that method launched her to organized classroom study at the Perkins Institute, where she learned to read Braille and to communicate more freely via the manual alphabet. Her vocal speaking practice was begun at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston. Although her speech would never be perfectly clear (something she regretted all her life), by the age of ten, she could at least make herself heard, and excitedly reported to Sullivan, “I am not dumb now.” 
BEFORE HELEN KELLER
Julia Brace was born on June 13, 1807, to a poor family in Hartford County, Connecticut. She was just 5 years old when she became deaf-blind from typhus fever. As a child, she did not get much formal education. She did learn tactile signing from staff and deaf students at the Hartford school.
Julia Brace / perkins.org
Brace was enrolled in Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (American School of Deaf). She was not shy to take part in the school community, and she made many friends there. She was a kind person and a compassionate nurse.
Samuel Gridley Howe was a teacher at Perkins School for the blind. During his visit to Hartford school, he met Brace at around 1837 where he saw Brace’s tactile signing.
Samuel Gridley Howe / wikipedia.org
Gridley came back to his school and started teaching deaf-blind Laura Bridgman, who was the first deaf-blind child to acquire an education in the English language, along with others like her. His teaching methods proved to be a success and he decided to go back to Hartford school with Laura Bridgman. He wanted to teach Brace (34 years old at that time) the English language and got her enrolled in Perkins School in 1842. Brace had the chance to learn but preferred tactile signing – she left and came back to Hartford after one year.
Laura Bridgman / flickr.com
Howe devised a teaching plan for Laura Bridgman that included tactile signing. Bridgman was taught how to read and write through tactile signing, a teaching method never used before. Howe remained persistent with his teaching strategy and achieved success.
At Perkins School, Bridgman shared a room with Anne Sullivan who was later to become Helen Keller’s teacher. Both of them became friends and Bridgman taught Sullivan the manual alphabet.
Ann Sullivan / perkins.org
Anne Sullivan contracted trachoma when she was five years old. She became blind soon after and received her education from Perkins School. After graduation, she became a teacher and met Helen’s father at the age of 20. Anne Sullivan taught Helen what she learned from Laura Bridgman – and that was the start of a remarkable journey.
Although Keller is the one who received most of the attention and accolades, Sullivan made it possible for Keller to achieve all that she did. Sullivan married John Macy, the editor of Keller's autobiography, but she did not let that interrupt her friendship. Instead, Sullivan continued to help her former student by manually spelling lectures and reading assignments into Keller's hand throughout school and college. When Keller toured on lecture, Sullivan accompanied her and gave her full support.
This mutually beneficial partnership ended with Sullivan's death in 1936. In 1957, a television play titled The Miracle Worker aired to high praise. It brought to the world the story of Sullivan and Keller at the well, where Keller first understood what language and communication were all about. Two years later, the play went to Broadway and was an immediate hit. The production ran for nearly two years. It was made into a movie in 1962 and earned Academy Awards (Oscars) for both actresses who played Keller and Sullivan.
Keller suffered a series of strokes in 1961 and took that as a sign that it was time to retire from public life. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive, in 1964. She died four years later at the age of eighty-seven.