Happy birthday, Helen Keller! Helen Keller is one of the world's best-known deaf-blind individuals. Born in Alabama on June 27, 1880, with her senses of hearing and sight, at 19 months Helen contracted an unknown illness that took away her hearing and sight. In 1886, Keller's mother read about another blind and deaf girl's education in Charles Dickens's American Notes, and sent Helen and her father to meet with a specialist in Baltimore, who recommended they see telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who then recommended the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston where Helen met Anne Sullivan. Thus the 49-year relationship between Helen and her teacher Anne began.
Many know the story of Anne teaching Helen the word "water" by taking Helen to the water pump, holding Helen's hand under the spout to feel the cool water, and signing the letters w-a-t-e-r into Helen's hand to help her connect that letters having meaning. The 1962 feature film The Miracle Worker dramatized this event. The film won two Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Anne Bancroft in her role as Anne "Annie" Sullivan) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Patty Duke in her role as Helen Keller).
Helen learned finger-spelling, typing, Braille, touch-lip reading and worked on her own speech, which was hard to understand even after years of practice. She graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904. She became an activist, testifying before Congress to improve the welfare of blind people, co-founded Helen Keller International and also helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, plus supported numerous campaigns and organizations to help deaf and blind individuals. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and received several honorary degrees from universities around the world. In her lifetime, she met each president from Grover Cleveland to John F. Kennedy. Her autobiography The Story of My Life has been translated into 50 languages.