There are few historical figures as inspirational as Helen Keller. Born in Alabama in 1880, a childhood illness left her both deaf and blind by the age of two. Despite this, she went on to become a prolific author and political activist.
Chances are you’ve seen her story in the 1962 film The Miracle Worker, starring Patty Duke as Keller and Anne Bancroft as her companion Anne Sullivan, but there’s so much to this incredible woman.
Here, we’re taking a look at some of the little-known facts about Helen Keller.
1. She had many famous friends
In 1895, when she was just a teenager, Keller met legendary Adventures of Huckleberry Finn author Mark Twain at a lunch in New York. They bonded over their political views, with Keller, who was the same age as Twain’s daughter, saying he “treated me not as a freak, but as a handicapped woman seeking a way to circumvent extraordinary difficulties.” Twain introduced her to oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers, who, along with his wife, funded her education.
Prior to meeting Twain, when she was just six years old, Keller met Alexander Graham Bell (the inventor of the telephone). Bell, whose wife was also deaf, had founded several schools for the deaf and advised Keller’s parents to enrol her at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, which she attended and soon met former student Sullivan. Bell and Keller remained friends until his death in 1922.
2. Two of her greatest passions were music and animals
Even though she could not hear, Keller was a great fan of music. Through her highly sensitive fingers, she could “hear” music through the vibration of instruments and the human voice.
She was also a great lover of animals, particularly dogs, with whom she was able to forge a strong connection. In fact, she was responsible for introducing the popular Japanese breed of dog, the Akita, to America, after being gifted one (called Kamikaze-Go) from a police officer while visiting Japan.
3. She won an Oscar
Well, not quite, but the 1956 documentary about her life (The Unconquered) won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, which Keller herself accepted. She also dabbled in acting, starring in a 1919 silent film about her life, Deliverance, and performing on the Vaudeville circuit with Sullivan.
4. She travelled the world
Keller’s advocacy for people with disabilities took her all over the planet. She visited 39 countries, including the UK, France, India, South Africa and Korea, and met with historical figures the likes of Winston Churchill and Japanese Emperor Hirohito.
5. She almost married – three times
At the age of 36, Keller fell in love with her then-assistant Peter Fagan, a newspaper journalist seven years her junior. The couple took out a marriage license and tried to elope three different times.
Sadly, they were never able to go through with it. At the time, eugenics (the belief that reproduction should be limited to those with desirable health and physical traits) was still popular, and to top it all off, Keller’s family stood in the way of at least one of their failed elopements due to concern that only they could care for her.