On this day in history in 1880, Helen Adams Keller - author, political activist, and lecturer - was born. The story of how Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and movies, The Miracle Worker.
Helen Keller was born with the ability to see and hear, until the age of 19 months, when she contracted an illness - possibly scarlet fever or meningitis - which left her both deaf and blind. Desperate to find help for Helen, Keller's mother Kate sought physician J. Julian Chisholm, and E.N.T from Baltimore, for advice, who then referred them to Alexander Graham Bell for his work with deaf children at the time. They were then referred to the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where the School's Director asked 20-year old former student Anne Sullivan to become her instructor.
Anne herself was visually impaired, with a protruding left eye. Anne began working with Helen in March of 1887, teaching her to communicate by spelling words into her hand, such as d-o-l-l, m-u-g, though the process frustrated the child. Her big breakthrough came a month later, while Anne was pouring cool water over one hand, while spelling w-a-t-e-r with the other. Helen was finally able to make the connection of the word being spelled with the thing she was feeling/touching. She developed a thirst for knowledge, demanding the names of all the familiar objects in her world.
Anne's relationship with Helen developed from instructor, to governess, and finally to companion.
Helen went on to a formal education with Anne at her side, graduation from Radcliffe College at the age of 24, becoming the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Helen learned to speak, spending much of her life giving speeches and lectures. She even learned to "hear" by reading lips with her hands. She was able to use Braille and read sign language with her hands. By placing her fingertips on a resonant tabletop, she was even able to experience music played close by.
Helen Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author, remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, and numerous other causes.
Today is also "Happy Birthday to You" Day, Industrial Workers of the World Day, National HIV Testing Day, National Bomb Pop Day, and PTSD Awareness Day.
Here are some interesting things that happened on this day in history:
- The 1st woman's magazine "Ladies' Mercury" was published in London in 1693.
- John Galt's Canada Company was incorporated in 1825.
- Prudence Crandall, a white woman, was arrested in 1833 for conducting an academy for black females at Canterbury Connecticut.
- North America's oldest continuously run horse race, the Queen's Plate, was first held at Toronto's Carleton Track in 1860. It was open to all horses bred in Upper Canada that had not yet won money, and the prize was 50 Guineas.
- Nova Scotian George Dixon won the world bantamweight boxing crown in 1890.
- Slave, Dogrib, Hare, Loucheux, and other tribes ceded the Mackenzie River region of the Northwest Territories to the federal government in 1921.
- Environmentalist Richard Vollenweider, who helped set the limit for phosphorus loading to the Great Lakes, thus avoiding severe eutrophication of the world's largest supply of fresh water, was born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1922.
- The first transatlantic air service began with a Pan American flight between Botwood, Newfoundland and Southampton, England in 1939.
- In 1941, the Canadian federal government passed legislation that allowed women to enlist in the army.
- Novelist Malcolm Lowry, author of Under the Volcano, died at the age of 48 in 1957.
- The 1st sci-fi soap opera, "Dark Shadows", premiered on ABC-TV in 1966.
- Synchronized swimmer Sylvie Frechette, who was awarded an Olympic gold-medal a year and a half after she competed in the 1992 Olympics, was born in Montreal in 1967.
- Canada's national anthem, "O Canada", was approved by Parliament under the National Anthem Act in 1980.
- Anne White shocked Wimbledon by wearing only a body stocking in 1986.
- Aerosmith became the first major band to let fans download a full new track free from the Internet in 1994.
- Artist and filmmaker Joyce Wieland, who was passionately concerned with the aesthetic perspective of the woman artist, died in Toronto in 1998.
Stay tuned for our next, "On This Day in History"!