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Helen Keller Day




  • Famous People & Celebrities

  • Women



Helen Keller Day celebrates Helen Keller and is observed on the anniversary of her birth. On June 5, 1980, Senate Joint Resolution 127 was passed, "a joint resolution to authorize and request the President to proclaim June 27, 1980 as 'Helen Keller Day,'" and in turn, on June 19, 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued Proclamation #4767 to make June 27, 1980, Helen Keller Day on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her birth. The proclamation said, in part:

Today we honor the 100th anniversary of Helen Keller's birth. In so doing, we honor also the patience and understanding of her devoted teacher Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller refused to let her handicaps cut her off from a life of usefulness and service to others. Through her own determination and faith, she was able to develop and use her talents and demonstrate how much even the most severely handicapped individual can accomplish when proper training and rehabilitation opportunities are provided.

As a mark of respect for her achievements, the Congress, by joint resolution, has authorized the President to proclaim June 27, 1980, as 'HELEN KELLER DAY'.

Now, Therefore, I, Jimmy Carter, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate June 27, 1980, as 'HELEN KELLER DAY'. I urge all appropriate Federal departments and agencies to foster the recognition of Helen Keller's achievements on that day with ceremonies, programs, and activities.

While Helen Keller Day has continued to be observed on June 27, historically it has been observed on other dates, and some organizations still observe it on other dates, such as The Lions Club International, which has observed it on June 1 since 1971. Although, it has sometimes been observed on June 27 before the 1980 proclamation. The earliest known Helen Keller Day was held in October of 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair. Similar observances were held at other fairs during these early years. President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed Helen Keller Day for March 3, 1938.

The first record of the holiday taking place on June 27 was in Keller's hometown of Tuscumbia, Alabama, when Mayor E.J. Henninger declared her birthday to be Helen Keller Day in 1952. Keller's birthplace was dedicated as a shrine that day. Governor James E. Folsom of state of Alabama proclaimed the day to be held on Keller's birthday in 1955, as did the acting mayor of New York City and Mayor Henninger in Tuscumbia. Helen Keller Day was proclaimed by a number of mayors in 1960, to be held on June 26, including Leo P. Carlin, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Arthur G. Ellington, mayor of Annapolis, Maryland, and Robert F. Wagner, Jr., mayor of New York City, to celebrate Keller's 80th birthday. These are just some examples of observances that preceded the 1980 holiday.

Helen Keller was an author, lecturer, disability rights advocate, and political activist. She was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880, to Arthur Henley Keller and Catherine Everett Keller. She was born at—and the family lived in—a homestead, Ivy Green, which had been built more than a half-century earlier by her paternal grandfather. At the age of 19 months, Keller came down with "brain fever"—which may have been meningitis or scarlet fever—which raised her body temperature and caused her to lose her sight and hearing. As a young child, Keller had limited communication with the world. Keller and Martha Washington, the daughter of the family cook, came up with 60 signs over the next few years, as a way to communicate.

After being inspired in 1886 by a Charles Dickens book, American Notes, which recounted the story of Laura Bridgman, a deaf-blind person who was educated in English, Keller's mother sent her daughter and husband to Baltimore, Maryland, to see a specialist, Dr. J. Julian Chisolm, who recommended they see Alexander Graham Bell. The telephone inventor was working with deaf children at the time and met with Keller and her parents. He sent them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, where Bridgman had been educated. The school's director, Michael Anaganos, suggested that Keller work with a recent graduate, Anne Sullivan.

Helen Keller met Anne Sullivan at Ivy Green in March of 1887 when she was six. Through tireless efforts, Sullivan found a way to communicate with young Helen and taught her to communicate with others. She started by teaching her finger spelling, and after many attempts, eventually got her to make the connection between objects and letters. The breakthrough came when Sullivan spelled out w-a-t-e-r on one hand while she flushed water from the pump of Ivy Green over her other. Keller then asked her to sign other familiar objects. Soon, Sullivan also taught her to read and write. Their relationship remained for nearly a century until Sullivan passed away in 1936. The story was recounted in The Miracle Worker, a 1957 television drama on Playhouse 90, a 1959 play, and a 1962 film, which was remade in 1979 and 2000.

In 1890, Keller began speech classes at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston. From 1894 through 1896 she focused on academic subjects and improved her communication skills at the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in Manhattan. In 1896, she went to the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and then in 1900 to Radcliffe College at Harvard University. She graduated cum laude in 1904, becoming the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree in the United States.

By this time, Keller could communicate in a number of ways: lip reading by touch, typing, finger-spelling, speech, and Braille. She published her first book, The Story of My Life, in 1903, with help from Sullivan and her future husband, John Macy. The Miracle Worker was based on this text. Keller went on to write 14 books along with numerous essays and speeches.

Keller was a social activist who focused on social and political issues including disability rights, women's rights causes like suffrage and birth control, pacifism, world peace, and labor rights. She became well-known throughout the United States and the world, shared her story, and worked to improve the lives of others with disabilities.

Keller became a socialist and joined the Socialist Party of America. She wrote about socialism, including the essay "Out of the Dark," and cast her presidential vote for Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs each time he ran. She helped found Helen Keller International in 1915, which focuses on blindness and malnutrition, and helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920. She was an active member of the American Foundation for the Blind and took part in many of its campaigns on behalf of the blind. In 1946, she became the counselor of international relations for the American Foundation of Overseas Blind. As part of this, she traveled to 35 countries on five continents between 1946 and 1957. She took her largest trip in 1955, at the age of 75, when she traveled 40,000 miles through Asia over a five-month period.

After a series of strokes in 1961, Keller spent most of the rest of her life homebound. She died in her sleep on June 1, 1968, at the age of 87, while at her home in Connecticut. She was cremated, and her funeral service was held at the Washington National Cathedral, where she was also buried. During her lifetime, she met every US President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson, and she counted Mark Twain, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charlie Chaplin as friends. She received the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal in 1936 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. Her birthplace is now a museum and National Historic Landmark. Her life is a testament to overcoming adversity and making a positive difference in the world. We celebrate her today with Helen Keller Day!

How to Observe Helen Keller Day

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