On this day in 1968 was the death of Helen Keller, known by many for being blind, deaf, and mute. However, many people’s knowledge of Helen stops there, and doesn’t extend beyond to her work as a writer, lecturer, or political activist. After college, where she was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, Helen began to travel and give lectures, with the aim of helping improve the welfare of blind people. She spoke before Congress to advocate for blind people, helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), met every president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson, and was friends with a number of famous people, including Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, and Alexander Graham Bell.
Helen Keller was also a suffragette and a pacifist, as well as a supporter of birth control, and a radical socialist. As a socialist she supported the working class, and found that as she became outspoken about her political beliefs, the media and press turned on her, claiming that her beliefs (as the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote) came from the “limitations” of her disabilities. Helen’s response was to recall a time she had met the editor previously, and remark, “At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him. … Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.”
In her lifetime, Helen Keller published 12 books, several articles, and numerous essays. In September of 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (one of the U.S.’s two highest honors for civilians), and in 1965 she was elected to the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. She spent much of her later years raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind, and died in June of 1968, just shy of her 88th birthday.
Also on this day…
In 1310, a French mystic named Marguerite Porète was burned at the stake for heresy, for refusing to recant the views she detailed in her book, The Mirror of Simple Souls (about the workings of Divine Love). In 1533, Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England– as you likely know, she was later sentenced to death and beheaded on charges of witchcraft and adultery. On this day in 1660, Mary Dyer was hung after returning to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where Quakers had been banned. And on this day in 1926 was the birth of Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jean Mortenson), a tragic figure who suffered through neglectful parents, drug addiction, and a series of horrible and/or abusive male figures, before taking her own life.
So take all that as you will!