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Helen Adams Keller was an extraordinary woman who led the path for deaf and blind women and men. She was born in the town of Tuscumbia, Alabama. At 19 months old, a mysterious illness plagued her. Helen survived the sudden ailment, though famously, Helen was tragically left without her hearing nor her sight. After the illness, it was very hard for Helen to communicate with her friends and family. Helen felt as if she was lost in a strange and dark world without anyone to help guide her. Helen describes it as, “It felt like invisible hands were holding me, and I made frantic efforts to free myself.” Helen’s silence was broken when on March 3, 1817, when Helen’s teacher and past babysitter, Anne Sullivan, came to live with Helen’s family.
Anne Sullivan was a very patient woman. She is known as the only person able to teach young Helen. Miss Sullivan’s special and unique way of teaching was to give Helen the name of the object via spelling the word onto her hand and then letting her feel the object. Helen learned the words through imitation, and from her feeling the object. The first word that Helen learns through Miss Sullivan is water. Helen is overcome with joy as she learns her first word, water. She feels as that the word were a living thing and through it her triumph is felt throughout the passage, Helen is thrilled as she realized that that water and the word set something alive in her. From this experience, Helen began to learn new words and language rapidly. Soon after, Helen learned how to read books. Helen particularly enjoyed studying with Miss Sullivan out in the open such as in the backyard or deeper out. They would also take scenery walks, with Helen asking questions about their surroundings and Miss Sullivan answering her questions.
One of Helen’s more frightening experiences happened in the summer of 1887 when Miss Sullivan and her were having a picnic under a tree. Ms. Sullivan went to get their lunch and told Helen to stay at the base of the tree. Helen had not listened though, and climbed up the tree, had sat on a seat on one of the branches. A sudden storm blew up when Ms. Sullivan had gone to get the lunch. Helen suddenly feels a fear of being alone creep up upon her. She wants Ms. Sullivan to return and to get down from the tree. A strong wind blows the tree shaking the branches and almost blowing Helen off. Just as Ms. Sullivan returns Helen feels safe again, having been returned to her teacher and not being alone.
The first time Helen learned her first abstract idea/word, was a few days after Helen’s tree incident. Helen was stringing beads into symmetrical groups. Helen kept getting it wrong and Miss Sullivan would patiently point out her errors. Helen stops for a moment to think of how she could have done it better. Miss Sullivan jumps at the opportunity. She taps at Helen’s forehead and spells ‘Think’ into Helen’s hand. Helen then immediately understands that the process that is happening in her head is called ‘thinking’.
After Miss Sullivan came to Tuscumbia, the Christmas that followed was Helen’s most memorable. She remembers that her family and friends has put large amounts of gift everywhere, from her stocking to the table and the floors. Helen is amused that she is preparing surprises for her friends and family while they are also too. Helen’s favorite gift was from Ms. Sullivan, a canary whom Helen named Little Tim. Helen was overjoyed and described her sensation as a small cup that was filled with water spilling from the rim. Miss Sullivan taught her how to feed her pet and every morning gave the bird a bath. One day, Helen was ready to take her bird for a bath when she felt a large cat walk by her on the way to Little Tim’s cage. Helen felt around the cage but could not find him. She knew that she would not be able to pet or give the bird a bath again.
It was then decided that Helen and Ms. Sullivan should spend a vacation at Brewster, Cape Cod. This was where Helen first experienced the sea.
Helen put her bathing suit on and rushed into the water. Helen felt ecstasy, the movement of the water thrilled her. A moment after this, the tide changed, Helen’s foot slipped against a rock. She fell into her water and the waves pushed her back and forth. Helen was then pushed up back onto the land by the waves and rushed to Miss Sullivan. During that moment, she felt mixed emotions, first shock, then terror and lastly, fear. After Helen had recovered, she demanded to know who put salt into the water. After this, the two spent every winter they had in the north.
Once she had learned to read, Helen’s next goal was to learn how to speak. Her teacher and countless others believed it would be extremely hard for her to ever speak normally with friends and family. In 1890, Miss Sullivan took Helen to the Horace Mann School to begin studying under Miss Sarah Fuller. Helen learned by touching the position of Miss Fuller’s lips. This technique is called lip-reading. After continuous study with Ms. Fuller, Helen was able to speak.
In May 1888, Helen went to visit Boston in the north. She spent her time studying at the Perkins Institute for the Blind where she developed a friendship with her teacher, Mr. Anagnos. Helen quickly made friends with the other blind girls who were her age. Helen was happy that she could talk to similar children and speak to them in her own language.
In winter of 1892, Helen firsthand experienced plagiarism. Helen wrote a story she called the Frost King and sent it to her teacher at the Perkins Institute. Mr. Anagnos, Helen’s Perkins Institute teacher decided to publish the story. It was soon was found out that Helen’s story was very similar to another already published book, called ‘The Frost Fairies.’ Helen was read the original book by Margaret T. Canby and the words had been rooted in her mind so that she had unknowingly written plagiarized content. This made Helen very careful and paranoid of what she wrote because of the fear of plagiarism. When ever Helen would write letters to her family she would be terrified that what she wrote was not her own writing and she would read the lines over and over to check if it matched her books.
Helen attended the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in 1894, and began studying subjects including history, Latin, French, German, and arithmetic. In 1896, Helen enrolled in the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in Massachusetts. During her time at Cambridge, Helen studied to prepare for her college examinations to Radcliffe, Harvard’s “sister school” for women. Helen’s teacher in the Cambridge School, Mr. Gilman wanted to put Helen two years behind her class so she could have more time to prepare for the examinations for Radcliffe. Miss Sullivan disagreed with this however and there was an argument between this issue. However, Helen’s mother eventually removed her from the Cambridge School to finish her tutoring with a private teacher because of the argument. She successfully was entered for Radcliffe in 1899, and entered her college in the fall of 1900.
I learned from this story that perseverance can lead to meeting goals. Even though Helen Keller was born both deaf and blind, serious obstacles in the way of her life and education, she managed to attend and graduate one of the most prestigious colleges in the world. Which was a amazing feat for women at that time. Helen was always determined to follow her goals, as with her promise to get into Harvard. Though at that time, women’s entry into Harvard was a very low if not impossible goal. Helen though, deaf and blind, succeeded in her goal by successfully entering Radcliffe, a school similar to Harvard. Another theme is the patience and understanding of Anne Sullivan. Without the kind patience of Helen’s teacher, she would have never found her love for studying and learning new words. Overall, I learned that through patience, understanding and perseverance, people can achieve any goals they can dream of.
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