Saturday, January 26, 2008
One of the most important reformers during the Progressive era was Helen Keller (1880-1968). Well known for learning how to communicate despite visual and auditory impairments, Keller wrote books, went on speaking tours (with her teacher Anne Sullivan) and worked tirelessly on behalf of the blind, founding Helen Keller International. Keller's activism and convictions aligned her with socialist causes during her lifetime, and she was a member of the Industrial Worker's of the World, or "Wobblies."
Keller's papers are at the American Foundation for the Blind. This collection houses photographs, artifacts and awards from Keller's life, and documents and writing. Of particular interest are her comments about World War I, a letter to Woodrow Wilson, reflections on faith (read her exchanges with Mark Twain on this page too), and thoughts on education.
Also read her statement from "This I Believe" (1951), learn more about her work on behalf of women, and her thoughts about the senses.
There is an on-line HK kid's museum, a web presence for Ivy Green, Keller's birthplace, and a page for a women's hall of fame. There is even a Helen Keller Festival in Alabama. Check out her wikiquote page as well. Read an interview with Keller here, and watch video clips about Keller here and here and here.
Famous writings include an autobiography The Story of My Life (1903)--published the same year as The Souls of Black Folk--as well as "The World I Live In" (1908). Keller also published writing on socialism, "Out of the Dark" (1913), and a book on her Christian faith titled My Religion (1927). Many of her writings are available on-line here and here. A page devoted to her engagement with socialism is here. Similar to Du Bois, the FBI investigated the activities of Keller. Check out the file here. About how society remembers Keller, read this fascinating article.
Interestingly enough, W.E.B. Du Bois met Helen Keller in Roxbury, Massachusetts, while he was a student at Harvard. "Perhaps just because she was blind to color differences in this world," Du Bois wrote in 1931, "I became intensely interested in her, and all through my life I have followed her career."
Du Bois goes on to tell a story where when Keller once visited her home state of Alabama she "courageously and frankly...spoke out on the iniquity and foolishness of the color line. It cost her something to speak. They wanted her to retract, but she sat serene in the consciousness of the truth she had uttered. And so it was proven, as I knew it would be, that his woman who sits in darkness has a spiritual insight clearer that that of many wide-eyed people who stare uncomprehendingly at this prejudiced world" (Herbert Aptheker, ed., Writings by W.E.B. Du Bois in Non-Periodical Literature , p. 164).
Who is Helen Keller, and how much, if at all, has your view about her changed as a result of reading some of the things she said? Why? If you could ask Keller one question about her life, what would it be?
Read and respond by 7:50am, Tuesday 1/29.
[Photo credit here.]
Posted by Phil at 7:35 AM