Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Helen Keller

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Unknown artist. Helen Keller, 1909. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Helen Keller
b. 1880, Tuscumbia, Alabama; d. 1968, Westport, Connecticut

Left blind and deaf by an illness in infancy, Helen Keller inspired a sea change in the perception and treatment of the disabled as an educator, a writer, and a model of progress. At the age of six, her family arranged for a teacher, the remarkable Anne Sullivan (1866–1936), from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. Herself visually impaired, Sullivan began the painstaking process of teaching Helen the relationship between objects and words, then—far more difficult—conceptual thinking itself. By 1890, Keller was living at the Perkins school with Sullivan; she could read and write braille, lip-read, and had begun to learn how to speak. In 1904, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College. From there, she embarked on a career of educating the public about the disabled through the example of her own life. She wrote about blindness for popular magazines, toured the world several times on the lecture circuit, and published many books, including The Story of My Life (1903), The World I Live In (1908), and Teacher: Anne Sullivan Macy (1955).

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