Shreeya Mashelkar

3rd M.B.B.S

Grant Medical College


It was the third of March, 1887.She stood on the porch, dumb and expectant that morning. Her brown hair tumbled, pinafore soiled, black shoes tied with white string. She’d guessed vaguely from her mother’s signs and from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual was about to happen. She was proven right when she sensed the approaching gentle footsteps on the wooden front porch .The youthful woman made her way towards the child’s parents who had been waiting to receive her. After the footsteps stopped, the child heard a dull thud on the floor. Eager to know more about this guest,the inquisitive child jerked Sullivan’s bag away from her, rummaged in it for candy and, finding none, flew into a rage.


She banged her hands against the wooden floor. Her other hand grasping tightly at Anne’s, tugging it towards her. She was grunting in anger which wasn’t the usual way a student would call their teacher. But this wasn’t a usual case either. Anne flipped the angry child’s palm over, holding it by the wrist before scribbling D-O-L-L with her index finger across it. Anne gave the child a doll in her hands. This almost immediately calmed her down. The child began moving her finger across the doll, caressing her hair and moving down her face. On touching the doll’s eyes, she moved her hands towards her own closed eyes, almost trying to make a relation with the inanimate object that lay in her lap now. She ecstatically began pounding at her own chest and then at the dolls’. Anne immediately nodded guiding the child’s hands near her own face. The kid knew then,Anne’s touch and the doll’s beady eyes would be a window to the world she hadn’t seen before. This was the first interaction between Anne Sullivan and her student, Hellen; the start of a 49 year old companionship.


Before meeting her new student, Anne had her own doubts about meeting this trouble child. She had read her file on the way to Alabama from back at Perkins Institute for the blind.Alexander Graham Bell had recommended the Keller family to this institute. Hellen had been healthy at birth, achieving all the milestones appropriate for her age, until she turned 19 months old. A disease, then called the “brain fever”, erased not only the child’s vision and hearing but also, as a result, her powers of articulate speech. She 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.” It was days before Miss Sullivan, whom Miss Keller throughout her life called “Teacher,” could calm the rages and fears of the child and begin to spell words into her hand.


Hellen had imbibed numerous new word signs through her unique learning technique with Anne .But then arose a problem; the problem was of associating words and objects or actions: What was a doll, what was water? To this, miss Sullivan’s method of teaching was a stroke of genius .Anne took Hellen to the well-house nearby one morning. Kept her hand under the spout, Hellen could feel the gushing stream. She spelled into the other hand the word water, first slowly, then rapidly while Hellen stood still. Suddenly, she felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought. She knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened her soul, gave her light, hope and joy. Helen’s next opening into the world was learning to read.

As soon as she could spell a few words, Sullivan gave her slips of cardboard on which were printed words in raised letters.  She devoured everything in the shape of a printed page that came within the reach of her hungry fingertips. Helen’s progress was so rapid that in May, 1888, she made her first trip to the Perkins Institution in Boston, where she learned to read Braille and to mix with other afflicted children. For several years she spent the winters in the North and the summers with her family. It was in the spring of 1890 that Helen was taught to speak by Sarah Fuller of the Horace Mann School. Hellen would touch Fuller’s tongue and mouth while she spoke. She would then try to imitateher actions to reproduce a similar sound. Even so, it took a long time for the child to put her rushing thought into words. Most often Miss Sullivan was obliged to translate the sounds, for it took a trained ear to distinguish them accurately. But one had to talk slowly with her, articulating each word carefully. Nonetheless, her crude speech and her lip-reading facility further opened her mind and enlarged her experience. When she was 14, in 1894, Miss Keller undertook formal schooling, first at the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York and then at the Cambridge School for Young Ladies. With Miss Sullivan at her side and spelling in her hand, young Keller prepared herself for admission to Radcliffe, which she entered in the fall of 1900. It was indeed an amazing feat, for the examinations she took were those given to unhandicapped applicants, but no more astonishing than her graduation cum laude in 1904, with honours in German and English. Miss Sullivan was with her when she received her diploma, which she obtained by sheer stubbornness and determination.


While still in Radcliffe, Miss Keller wrote her first autobiography, “The Story of My Life” which was well received by the people. Hellen had always used all the 5 sensations within her, it was natural for her to use the words ‘look, hear and see”.After college Miss Keller continued to write, publishing “The World I Live In” in 1908, “The Song of the Stone Wall” in 1910 and “Out of the Dark” in 1913. Her writings, mostly inspirational articles, also appeared in national magazines of the time. And with Miss Sullivan at her side she took to the lecture platform. Miss Keller was developing a largeness of spirit on social issues, partly as a result of walks through industrial slums, partly because of her special interest in the high incidence of blindness among the poor and partly because of her conversations with John Macy, Miss Sullivan’s husband, a social critic. In, 1909 she joined the socialist party in Massachusetts. For many years she was an active member, writing inclusive articles in defence of Socialism, lecturing for the party, supporting trade unions and strikes and opposing American entry into World War I. She was among those Socialists who welcomed the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. She travelled to twenty-five different countries giving motivational speeches about deaf people’s conditions. She had speech therapy in order to have her voice heard better by the public.


She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities. She was a suffragette and pacifist, many of her writings and speeches revolved around the topics concerning wars and women’s rights. She toured across the world on behalf of an advocate of deaf and blind, meeting eminent people as a consequence. Alexander Graham Bell ,Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain being one of her close associates later on .She used her fame to support and speak about the social causes she worked for. Hellen used her senses not only to change her perception of the world but she also changed people’s perception of disabled people from being handicapped to differently ABLED .For her work Keller was honoured by universities and institutions throughout the world — the universities of Harvard, Glasgow, Berlin and Delhi, among them. She was received in the White House by every president from Grover Cleveland to John F. Kennedy. In 1964 she was one of 30 Americans on whom President Johnson conferred the nation’s highest civilian recognition, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Step by step my investigation of blindness led me into the industrial world. And what a world it is! I must face unflinchingly a world of facts—a world of misery and degradation, of blindness, crookedness, and sin, a world struggling against the elements, against the unknown, against itself. How reconcile this world of fact with the bright world of my imagining? My darkness had been filled with the light of intelligence, and, behold, the outer day-lit world was stumbling and groping in social blindness. At first I was most unhappy; but deeper study restored my confidence. By learning the sufferings and burdens of men, I became aware as never before of the life-power that has survived the forces of darkness—the power which, though never completely victorious, is continuously conquering. The very fact that we are still here carrying on the contest against the hosts of annihilation proves that on the whole the battle has gone for humanity. The world’s great heart has proved equal to the prodigious undertaking which God set it. Rebuffed, but always persevering; self-reproached, but ever regaining faith; undaunted, tenacious, the heart of man labours towards immeasurably distant goals. Discouraged not by difficulties without, or the anguish of ages within, the heart listens to a secret voice that whispers: “Be not dismayed; in the future lies the Promised Land.”-Hellen Keller

Hellen Keller died on 1st June,1968 at Connecticut in her sleep.Though she has passed away ,her spirit will endure as long as man can read and stories can be told of the woman who showed the world there are no boundaries to courage and faith.


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