Birth of Helen Keller 

U.S. #1824 was issued on Keller’s 100th birthday.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Keller was born with the ability to see and hear, but lost both senses when she was 19 months old to scarlet fever or meningitis. Over time she developed her own system of about 60 home signs. She could also identify people walking to a room by the vibrations in their footsteps.

When Keller was six, her mother read about the successful teaching of a deaf and blind woman in Charles Dickens’ American Notes. Her mother then consulted a doctor who led her to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell referred them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where they were introduced to 20-year-old Anne Sullivan. Sullivan was also visually impaired and agreed to become Keller’s teacher, marking the start of a 49-year-long friendship.

U.S. #1824 FDC – Keller Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Sullivan officially began teaching Keller in March 1887. She taught her through touch by spelling out words on her hand. Keller initially had trouble with the lessons, but Sullivan had a major breakthrough when she ran water on one of Keller’s hands while making the sign for it on the other. Keller soon wanted to know the names of everything else in her world.

U.S. #2783-84 – American Sign Language issue.

With Sullivan’s teaching, Keller was soon able to attend a school for the deaf before being admitted to Radcliffe College. When she was 24, Keller graduated, making her the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She soon learned to speak so she could deliver lectures, and found she could understand people by reading their lips or sign language with her hands.

Item #CNAL25D pictures Keller and is the first U.S. coin to utilize braille.

Keller soon became famous around the world as an advocate for people with disabilities. She visited 25 different countries delivering motivational speeches. She was also a suffragette, pacifist, and socialist. In 1915 she founded the Helen Keller International organization, which researches vision, health, and nutrition. She also helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller was also an accomplished writer, publishing 12 books and several articles.  Her birthday was proclaimed Helen Keller Day in 1960.

After suffering a series of strokes in 1961, Keller spent her final years at home but also worked to raise funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. In 1964 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Keller died on June 1, 1968.

Item #81941 – Commemorative cover marking Keller’s 109th birthday.

Click here to read Keller’s autobiography.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. The story of her early life with Anne Sullivan is, of course, the subject of the play and film, “The Miracle Worker”. It is very moving and inspirational, and worth seeing. Was privileged to play a small part in a local production of the play a few years ago.

  2. This is one of my favorite stories and how great she became . Keep things like always going, It
    may help our children of today learn how you can also help other people. It is so much better
    to help people then to make jokes of how they learn and live. thank you for sharing these stories
    of people.

  3. Yes, it still is a forgotten war. It is one that I will never forget since I had just completed the Frogman (UDT) course and sent to Korea.

  4. Happy Birthday Helen Keller! I am a hearing impaired person but I can read the lips very excellent when I was two years old in 1958. I went to the oral deaf school (Boston School the Deaf in Randolph now defeated since 1994). I know a sign language a little.

  5. When I was six years old Helen Keller visited our school when I was livng in Forest Hills, New York. This was probably in 1942 0r 1943. At the time, of course, I had no idea who she was. What I remember was that she walked slowly to the front of the room guided very carefully by someone she had brought with her. When she spoke, she spoke in a strong monotone which I didn’t think was odd, just different. I don’t recall what she said to us, only the image of her presence, and that remained with me for the rest of my life. And later when I was older and realized how special it was to have her visit us, I read her autobiography with an added sense of awe.

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