Helen Adams Keller (1880 - 1968)

Helen Adams Keller
1880 - 1968
updated August 25, 2020
Helen Adams Keller was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She died in 1968 in Easton, Connecticut at age 87.

Helen Keller
Born Helen Adams Keller June 27, 1880
Tuscumbia, Alabama, U.S. Died June 1, 1968 (aged 87)
Arcan Ridge, Easton, Connecticut, U.S.
Resting place Washington National Cathedral
Occupation Author, political activist, lecturer
Education Harvard University (BA)
Notable works The Story of My Life
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The story of Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, was made famous by Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life, and its adaptations for film and stage, The Miracle Worker. Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama, is now a museum and sponsors an annual "Helen Keller Day". Her June 27 birthday is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in Pennsylvania and, in the centenary year of her birth, was recognized by a presidential proclamation from Jimmy Carter.
A prolific author, Keller was well-traveled and outspoken in her convictions. A member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, anti-militarism, and other similar causes. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1971 and was one of twelve inaugural inductees to the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on June 8, 2015.
Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama.[3] Her family lived on a homestead, Ivy Green, that Helen's grandfather had built decades earlier. She had four siblings; two full siblings, Mildred Campbell (Keller) Tyson and Phillip Brooks Keller, and two older half-brothers from her father's prior marriage, James McDonald Keller and William Simpson Keller.
Her father, Arthur Henley Keller (1836–1896), spent many years as an editor of the Tuscumbia North Alabamian and had served as a captain in the Confederate Army.[3][4] Her mother, Catherine Everett (Adams) Keller (1856–1921), known as "Kate",[8] was the daughter of Charles W. Adams, a Confederate general. Her paternal lineage was traced to Casper Keller, a native of Switzerland.[9][10] One of Helen's Swiss ancestors was the first teacher for the deaf in Zurich. Keller reflected on this irony in her first autobiography, stating "that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his."
At 19 months old Keller contracted an unknown illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. She lived, as she recalled in her autobiography, "at sea in a dense fog."
At that time, Keller was able to communicate somewhat with Martha Washington, the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs;:11 by the age of seven, Keller had more than 60 home signs to communicate with her family, and could distinguish people by the vibration of their footsteps.
In 1886, Keller's mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickens' American Notes of the successful education of another deaf and blind woman, Laura Bridgman, dispatched the young Keller, accompanied by her father, to seek out physician J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice. Chisholm referred the Kellers to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. Michael Anagnos, the school's director, asked 20-year-old former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, to become Keller's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship during which Sullivan evolved into Keller's governess and eventually her companion.
Sullivan arrived at Keller's house on March 5, 1887, a day Keller would forever remember as my soul's birthday. Sullivan immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with "d-o-l-l" for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. In fact, when Sullivan was trying to teach Keller the word for "mug", Keller became so frustrated she broke the mug. But soon she began imitating Sullivan’s hand gestures. “I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that words existed,” Keller remembered. “I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like imitation.”
Keller's breakthrough in communication came the next month, when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of "water". Writing in her autobiography, The Story of My Life, Keller recalled the moment. "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. I knew then that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. The living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, set it free!" Keller then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.

Helen Adams Keller Biography

Vital facts & highlights of Helen's life to share with the world.

Helen Adams Keller
Most commonly known name
First name
Middle name
Maiden name
Last name(s)
Nickname(s) or aliases
Unknown. Did Helen move a lot? Where was her last known location?
Last known residence
Helen Keller was born in in Tuscumbia, Colbert County, Alabama United States 35674
Helen Keller died in in Easton, Fairfield County, Connecticut United States
Helen Keller was born in in Tuscumbia, Colbert County, Alabama United States 35674
Helen Keller died in in Easton, Fairfield County, Connecticut United States
There is no cause of death listed for Helen.
Cause of death
Do you know the final resting place - gravesite in a cemetery or location of cremation - of Helen Adams Keller?
Burial / Funeral

Ethnicity & Lineage

What is Helen's ethnicity and where did her parents, grandparents & great-grandparents come from?

Nationality & Locations Lived



Unknown. Was Helen a religious woman?


Did Helen finish grade school, get a GED, go to high school, get a college degree or masters? What schools or universities did Helen attend?


Helen Keller, c. 1912
Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles.
At age 22, Keller published her autobiography, The Story of My Life (1903), with help from Sullivan and Sullivan's husband, John Macy. It recounts the story of her life up to age 21 and was written during her time in college.
Keller wrote The World I Live In in 1908, giving readers an insight into how she felt about the world.[44] Out of the Dark, a series of essays on socialism, was published in 1913.
When Keller was young, Anne Sullivan introduced her to Phillips Brooks, who introduced her to Christianity, Keller famously saying: "I always knew He was there, but I didn't know His name!"
Her spiritual autobiography, My Religion, was published in 1927 and then in 1994 extensively revised and re-issued under the title Light in My Darkness. It advocates the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Christian revelator and theologian who gives a spiritual interpretation of the teachings of the Bible and who claims that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already taken place. Adherents use several names to describe themselves, including Second Advent Christian, Swedenborgian, and New Church.
Keller described the core of her belief in these words:
But in Swedenborg's teaching it [Divine Providence] is shown to be the government of God's Love and Wisdom and the creation of uses. Since His Life cannot be less in one being than another, or His Love manifested less fully in one thing than another, His Providence must needs be universal ... He has provided religion of some kind everywhere, and it does not matter to what race or creed anyone belongs if he is faithful to his ideals of right living.
Overseas visits
Keller visited 35 countries from 1946 to 1957.

Personal Life & Organizations

Share some highlights of Helen's personal life & organizations in which they participated.

Military Service

Did Helen serve in the military or did a war or conflict interfere with her life?

Average Age

Life Expectancy

Looking for a different Helen Keller?
View other bios of people named Helen Keller
Back to Top

Helen Adams Keller Family Tree

Helen's immediate relatives including parents, siblings, partnerships and children in the Keller family tree.

Helen's Family

Add a parent
Add a parent
Helen Adams Keller
Add a partner
Add a child
Add a partner
Add a child
Add a sibling


Click to add friends & family.

Helen's Family Photos

Photos and snapshots taken of Helen Adams Keller, her Keller family, and locations and places or events from her life.


Share Memories about Helen

What do you remember about Helen Adams Keller? Share your memories of special moments and stories you have heard about her. Or just leave a comment to show the world that Helen is remembered.

Helen Keller Obituary

This obit of Helen Adams Keller is maintained by Helen's followers. Contribute to her obituary and include details such as cemetery, burial, newspaper obituary and grave or marker inscription if available.

Helen Keller, 87, Dies
Special to The New York Times
WESTPORT, Conn., June 1--Helen Keller, who overcame blindness and deafness to become a symbol of the indomitable human spirit, died this afternoon in her home here. She was 87 years old.
"She drifted off in her sleep," said Mrs. Winifred Corbally, Miss Keller's companion for the last 11 years, who was at her bedside. "She died gently." Death came at 3:35 P.M.
She is survived by a brother, Phillips B. Keller of Dallas, and a sister, Mrs. Mildred Tyson of Montgomery, Ala.
After private cremation, a funeral service will be held at the National Cathedral in Washington. No date has yet been set.
Triumph Out of Tragedy
For the first 18 months of her life Helen Keller was a normal infant who cooed and cried, learned to recognize the voices of her father and mother and took joy in looking at their faces and at objects about her home. "Then" as she recalled later, "came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby."
The illness, perhaps scarlet fever, vanished as quickly as it struck, but it erased not only the child's vision and hearing but also, as a result, her powers of articulate speech.
Her life thereafter, as a girl and as a woman, became a triumph over crushing adversity and shattering affliction. In time, Miss Keller learned to circumvent her blindness, deafness and muteness; she could "see" and "hear" with exceptional acuity; she even learned to talk passably and to dance in time to a fox trot or a waltz. Her remarkable mind unfolded, and she was in and of the world, a full and happy participant in life.
What set Miss Keller apart was that no similarly afflicted person before had done more than acquire the simplest skills.
But she was graduated from Radcliffe; she became an artful and subtle writer; she led a vigorous life; she developed into a crusading humanitarian who espoused Socialism; and she energized movements that revolutionized help for the blind and the deaf.
Teacher's Devotion
Her tremendous accomplishments and the force of assertive personality that underlay them were released through the devotion and skill of Anne Sullivan Macy, her teacher through whom in large degree she expressed herself. Mrs. Macy was succeeded, at her death in 1936, by Polly Thomson, who died in 1960. Since then Miss Keller's companion had been Mrs. Winifred Corbally.

Miss Keller's life was so long and so crowded with improbable feats--from riding horseback to learning Greek--and she was so serene yet so determined in her advocacy of beneficent causes that she became a great legend. She always seemed to be standing before the world as an example of unquenchable will.
Many who observed her--and to some she was a curiosity and a publicity-seeker--found it difficult to believe that a person so handicapped could acquire the profound knowledge and the sensitive perception and writing talent that she exhibited when she was mature. Yet no substantial proof was ever adduced that Miss Keller was anything less than she appeared--a person whose character impelled her to perform the seemingly impossible. With the years, the skepticism, once overt, dwindled as her stature as a heroic woman increased.
Miss Keller always insisted that there was nothing mysterious or miraculous about her achievements. All that she was and did, she said, could be explained directly and without reference to a "sixth sense." Her dark and silent world was held in her hand and shaped with her mind. Concededly, her sense of smell was exceedingly keen, and she could orient herself by the aroma from many objects. On the other hand, her sense of touch was less finely developed than in many other blind people.
Tall, handsome, gracious, poised, Miss Keller had a sparkling humor and a warm handclasp that won her friends easily. She exuded vitality and optimism. "My life has been happy because I have had wonderful friends and plenty of interesting work to do," she once remarked, adding:
"I seldom think about my limitations, and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times, but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers. The wind passes, and the flowers are content."
This equanimity was scarcely foreshadowed, in her early years. Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, on a farm near Tuscumbia, Ala. Her father was Arthur Keller, an intermittently prosperous country gentleman who had served in the Confederate Army. Her mother was the former Kate Adams.
After Helen's illness, her infancy and early childhood were a succession of days of frustration, manifest by outbursts of anger and fractious behavior. "A wild, unruly child" who kicked, scratched and screamed was how she afterward described herself.
Her distracted parents were without hope until Mrs. Keller came across a passage in Charles Dickens's "American Notes" describing the training of the blind Laura Bridgman, who had been taught to be a sewing teacher by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe of the Perkins Institution in Boston. Dr. Howe, husband of the author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," was a pioneer teacher of the blind and the mute.
Examined by Bell
Shortly thereafter the Kellers heard of a Baltimore eye physician who was interested in the blind, and they took their daughter to him. He said that Helen could be educated and put her parents in touch with Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and an authority on teaching speech to the deaf. After examining the child, Bell advised the Kellers to ask his son-in-law, Michael Anagnos, director of the Perkins Institution, about obtaining a teacher for Helen.
The teacher Mr. Anagnos selected was 20-year-old Anne Mansfield Sullivan, who was called Annie. Partly blind, Miss Sullivan had learned at Perkins how to communicate with the deaf and blind through a hand alphabet signaled by touch into the patient's palm.
"The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher came to me," Miss Keller wrote later. "It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was 7 years old.
"I stood on the porch, dumb, expectant. I guessed vaguely from my mother's signs and from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual was about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the steps."
Helen, her brown hair tumbled, her pinafore soiled, her black shoes tied with white string, jerked Miss Sullivan's bag away from her, rummaged in it for candy and, finding none, flew into a rage.
Of her savage pupil, Miss Sullivan wrote:
"She has a fine head, and it is set on her shoulders just right. Her face is hard to describe. It is intelligent, but it lacks mobility, or soul, or something. Her mouth is large and finely shaped. You can see at a glance that she is blind. One eye is larger than the other and protrudes noticeably. She rarely smiles."
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. The problem was of associating words and objects or actions: What was a doll, what was water? Miss Sullivan's solution was a stroke of genius. Recounting it, Miss Keller wrote:
"We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout.
"As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. 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.
"I knew then that 'w-a-t-e-r' meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free. There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that in time could be swept away."
Miss Sullivan had been told at Perkins that if she wished to teach Helen she must not spoil her. As a result, she was soon locked in physical combat with her pupil. This struggle was to thrill theater and film audiences later when it was portrayed in "The Miracle Worker" by Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen.
The play was by William Gibson, who based it on "Anne Sullivan Macy: The Story Behind Helen Keller" by Nella Braddy, a friend of Miss Keller. Opening in New York in October, 1959, it ran 702 performances.
Miss Keller, then 36, fell in love with Peter Fagan, a 29-year-old Socialist and newspaperman who was her temporary secretary. The couple took out a marriage license, intending a secret wedding. But a Boston reporter found out about the license, and his witless article on the romance horrified the stern Mrs. Keller, who ordered Mr. Fagan out of the house and broke up the love affair.
"The love which had come, unseen and unexpected, departed with tempest on his wings," Miss Keller wrote in sadness, adding that the love remained with her as "a little island of joy surrounded by dark waters."
For years her spinsterhood was a chief disappointment. "If I could see," she said bitterly, "I would marry first of all."

Followers & Sources
Other Records of Helen Adams Keller

1880 - 1968 World Events

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Helen's lifetime

In 1880, in the year that Helen Adams Keller was born, on February 2nd the city of Wabash, Indiana became the third city in the world to be lit by electricity.

In 1897, she was 17 years old when on March 4th, William McKinley became the 25th President of the United States. He had beaten William Jennings Bryan in the 1896 election by 51% to 46.7% in the popular vote. Six months into his second term as President, McKinley was assassinated.

In 1936, at the age of 56 years old, Helen was alive when on November 2nd, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) debuted the world's first regular high-definition television service. The channel had a short schedule - Monday through Saturday, 3:00p to 4:00p and 9:00p to 10:00p. The first broadcast was "Opening of the BBC Television Service".

In 1944, she was 64 years old when on December 16th, The Battle of the Bulge began in the Ardennes forest on the Western Front. Lasting for a little over a month, the battle began with a surprise attack by Germany on the Allied forces The U.S. suffered their highest casualties of any operation in World War II - 89,000 were casualties, around 8,600 killed - but Germany also severely depleted their resources and they couldn't be replaced.

In 1968, in the year of Helen Adams Keller's passing, on June 5th, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles by Sirhan after celebrating his win in the California presidential primary. He died the next day at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Other Biographies

Other Helen Kellers

c. 1911 - Unknown
c. 1918 - Unknown
c. 1901 - Unknown
1868 - 1948
Oct 19, 1920 - Mar 12, 2012
Aug 21, 1925 - Sep 29, 2007
Oct 23, 1909 - Dec 2, 2004
Mar 22, 1913 - Aug 25, 1983
Dec 31, 1969 - Nov 18, 1966
Dec 31, 1969 - Mar 15, 1988
Feb 18, 1925 - Oct 24, 2000
Dec 31, 1969 - Feb 16, 1978
Sep 24, 1910 - Mar 16, 1981
Dec 31, 1969 - Aug 10, 1989
Jan 30, 1920 - May 2, 1997
Unknown - Unknown
c. 1922 - Apr 18, 1933
c. 1918 - Jul 16, 1924
c. 1916 - Nov 28, 1944
c. 1873 - Nov 2, 1939

Other Kellers

Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown

Other Bios

Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Feb 28, 2016
Unknown - Unknown
Aug 4, 1864 - Jun 27, 1931
Unknown - Unknown
1836 - 1866
Unknown - Unknown
1800 - c. 1870
Unknown - Unknown
January 1848 - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Unknown - Unknown
Nov 1, 1900 - Unknown
1906 - Unknown
July 1862 - Mar 6, 1918
Aug 5, 1933 - Dec 24, 1992
May 23, 1885 - Unknown
1845 - 1929
Success Stories from Biographies like Helen Adams Keller
Created on Jun 04, 2020 by Daniel Pinna
Highlights of just a few of the many successes of sharing memories & family history at AncientFaces. From reuniting lost or 'orphan' photos with their families, seeing the faces of family for the first time, to connecting unknown and lost relatives.

These stories will warm your heart. Are you inspired to share photos and biographies of the people from your past?