It's the birthday of author and educator Helen Keller, (books by this author) born in Tuscumbia, Alabama (1880). She lost her sight and her hearing when she was 20 months old. No one knows what disease she caught, but it was probably scarlet fever or meningitis. After she recovered, she had not only become blind and deaf, she'd also become extremely angry. She flew into tantrums at the slightest provocation, kicking, screaming, and biting her family members.But in spite of her disabilities, her parents could tell she was extremely intelligent. She invented her own simple system of sign language. She could fold laundry and could pick out her favorite outfits. And when she learned how to use a key, she managed to lock her mother in a closet, on purpose.Helen Keller's parents read about the work that inventor Alexander Graham Bell had recently been doing, teaching deaf people how to speak. He came and met young Helen, and he advised the family to hire a teacher from the Perkins Institution for children with disabilities. The teacher who eventually came to tutor Helen was a woman named Anne Sullivan. The day that Helen Keller met Anne Sullivan for the first time, she knocked out one of Sullivan's front teeth.But Anne Sullivan stuck with the job. Helen Keller learned to read letters that Anne Sullivan spelled out on her palm, but at first, Helen could only mimic the letters that Sullivan taught her. Then, one day, Anne Sullivan spelled the word "water" on Keller's palm while Keller held her hand in the water from the well. Keller later wrote, "I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten, a thrill of returning thought, and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me." Within the next few hours, Helen learned 30 new words, and by the end of the month, she'd stopped her temper tantrums.Within a year of Keller's breakthrough, newspapers all over the United States and Europe were writing about her achievements. When she was eight years old, she met President Cleveland at the White House. She went on to college at Radcliffe, where she wrote her autobiography, The Story of My Life, which came out in 1903.
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