I'm Shirley Griffith.Graphic Image
And I'm Ray Freeman. Every week we tell about a person who wasimportant in the history of the United States. This week we tellabout Helen Keller. She was blind and deaf but she became a famouswriter and teacher.
The name Helen Keller has had special meaning for millions ofpeople in all parts of the world. She could not see or hear. YetHelen Keller was able to do so much with her days and years. Hersuccess gave others hope.
Helen Keller was born June twenty-seventh, eighteen-eighty in asmall town in northern Alabama. Her father, Arthur Keller, was acaptain in the army of the south during the American civil war. Hermother was his second wife. She was much younger than her husband.Helen was their first child.
Until she was a year-and-one half old, Helen Keller was just likeany other child. She was very active. She began walking and talkingearly. Then, nineteen months after she was born, Helen became verysick. It was a strange sickness that made her completely blind anddeaf. The doctor could not do anything for her. Her bright, happyworld now was filled with silence and darkness.
From that time until she was almost seven years old, Helen couldcommunicate only by making signs with her hands. But she learned howto be active in her silent, dark environment.
The young child had strong desires. She knew what she wanted todo. No one could stop her from doing it.
More and more, she wanted to communicate with others. Makingsimple signs with her hands was not enough. Something was ready toexplode inside of her because she could not make people understandher. She screamed and struggled when her mother tried to controlher.
When Helen was six, her father learned about a doctor inBaltimore, Maryland. The doctor had successfully treated people whowere blind. Helen's parents took her on the train to Baltimore. Butthe doctor said he could do nothing to help Helen. He suggested theKellers get a teacher for the blind who could teach Helen tocommunicate.Graphic Image
A teacher arrived from the PerkinsInstitution for the blind in Boston. Her name was Anne Sullivan. Sheherself had once been almost completely blind. But she had regainedher sight. At Perkins, she had learned the newest methods ofteaching the blind.
Anne Sullivan began by teaching Helen that everything had a name.The secret to the names was the letters that formed them. The jobwas long and difficult. Helen had to learn how to use her hands andfingers to speak for her. But she was not yet ready to learn. First,she had to be taught how to obey, and how to control her anger. MissSullivan was quick to understand this. She wrote to friends inBoston about about her experiences teaching Helen.
The first night I arrived I gave Helen a doll. As she felt thedoll with one hand I slowly formed the letters, d-o-l-l with myfingers in her other hand.
Helen looked in wonder and surprise as she felt my hand. Then sheformed the letters in my hand just as I had done in hers. She wasquick to learn, but she was also quick in anger. For seven years, noone had taught her self-control. Instead of continuing to learn shepicked up the doll and threw it on the floor.
She was this way in almost everything she did. Even at the table,while eating, she did exactly as she pleased. She even put her handsin our plates and ate our food.
The second morning, I would not let her put her hand on my plate.The family became troubled and left the room. I closed the door andcontinued to eat.
Helen was on the floor, kicking and screaming and trying to pullthe chair out from under me. This continued for half an hour or so.Then she got up from the floor and came to find out what I wasdoing. Suddenly she hit me. Every time she did this I hit her hand.
After a few minutes of this, she went to her place at the tableand began to eat with her fingers. I gave her a spoon to eat with.She threw it on the floor. I forced her to get out of her chair topick the spoon up.
At last, after two hours, she sat down and ate like other people.
I had to teach her to obey. But it was painful to her family tosee their deaf and blind child punished. So I asked them to let memove with Helen into a small one room house nearby. The first dayHelen was away from her family she kicked and screamed most of thetime. That night I could not make her get into bed. We struggled,but I held her down on the bed. Luckily I was stronger than she.
The next morning I expected more of the same, but to my surpriseshe was calm, even peaceful. Two weeks later she had become a gentlechild. She was ready to learn.
My job now was pleasant. Helen learned quickly. Now I could leadand shape her intelligence. We spent all day together. I formedwords in her hand, the names of everything we touched. But she hadno idea what the words meant.
As time passed, she learned how to sew clothes and make things.Every day we visited the farm animals and searched for eggs in thechicken houses. All the time, I was busy forming letters and wordsin her hand with my fingers.
Then one day, about a month after I arrived, we were walkingoutside. Something important happened.
We heard someone pumping water. I put Helen's hand under the coolwater and formed the word w-a-t-e-r in her other hand. W-a-t-e-r,w-a-t-e-r. I formed the word again and again in her hand. Helenlooked straight up at the sky as if a lost memory or thought of somekind was coming back to her. Suddenly, the whole mystery of languageseemed clear to her.
I could see that the word w-a-t-e-r meant something wonderful andcool, that flowed over her hand. The word became alive for her. Itawakened her spirit gave it light and hope. She ran toward thehouse. I ran after her. One by one she touched things and askedtheir name. I told her. She went on asking for names and more names.
From that time on Helen left the house each day, searching forthings to learn. Each new name brought new thoughts. Everything shetouched seemed alive.
One day, Helen remembered a doll she had broken. She searchedeverywhere for the pieces. She tried to put the pieces together butcould not. She understood what she had done and was not happy.
Miss Sullivan taught Helen many things -- to read and write, andeven to use a typewriter. But most important, she taught Helen howto think.
For the next three years, Helen learned more and more new words.All day Miss Sullivan kept touching Helen's hand, spelling wordsthat gave Helen a language. In time, Helen showed she could learnforeign languages. She learned Latin, Greek, French, and German.
Helen was able to learn many things, not just languages. She wasnever willing to leave a problem unfinished, even difficult problemsin mathematics. One time, Miss Sullivan suggested leaving a problemto solve until the next day. But Helen wanted to keep trying. Shesaid, "I think it will Make my mind stronger to do it now. "
Helen traveled a lot with her family or alone with Miss Sullivan.In eighteen-eighty-eight, Helen, her mother and Miss Sullivan wentto Boston, Massachusetts. They visited the Perkins Institution whereMiss Sullivan had learned to teach.
They stayed for most of the summer at the home of family friendsnear the Atlantic Ocean. In Helen's first experience with the oceanshe was caught by a wave and pulled under the water. Miss Sullivanrescued her. When Helen recovered, she demanded, "who put salt inthe water."
Three years after Helen started to communicate with her hands,she began to learn to speak as other people did. She never forgotthese days. Later in life, she wrote: "No deaf child can ever forgetthe excitement of his first word. Only one who is deaf canunderstand the loving way I talked to my dolls, to the stones, tobirds and animals. Only the deaf can understand how I felt when mydog obeyed my spoken command. "
Those first days when Helen Keller developed the ability to talkwere wonderful. But they proved to be just the beginning of her manysuccesses.
You have been listening to the first part of the story of HelenKeller. It was written by Katherine Clarke. Your narrators wereSarah Long, Ray Freeman and Shirley Griffith. Listen again next weekat this time to People in America, a program in Special English onthe Voice of America.