Helen Keller’s Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy

Helen Keller's Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy

Helen Keller was not just some blind lass from the last century. She was a fierce socialist, pacifist, author and sufragette who believed in birth control, workers rights and women’s rights. The first blind person to complete a Bachelor’s Degree, she was a bold trailblazer with a sweet nature.

Helen Keller's Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy
“I seldom think about my limitations, and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers.” – Helen Keller

Keller won hearts all over the place, befriending luminaries of the time such as Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain and actor Charlie Chaplin.

Born with all of her five senses intact in 1880 in Alabama, she suffered a “brain fever” aged 18 months old which was later thought to be scarlet fever or meningitis. This robbed her of her sight and hearing.

With Anne Sullivan

Keller was naturally bright, her talents were recognised by teacher Anne Sullivan, who remained Helen’s close friend, teacher and confidant until Anne’s death fifty years later.

Helen Keller's Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy
Helen Keller's Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy

With Alexander Graham Bell

When Keller was a child her parents contacted inventor Alexander Graham Bell for his help. Bell then put the family in touch with the Perkins Institute where Keller met her life-long friend and teacher Anne Sullivan. Keller said of Bell that as soon as she met him she “loved him instantly.”

Although  Bell is best known for his monumental inventions: telephone, metal detector, phonograph, hydrofoil and more. He would later in his life declare that he was most proud of his accomplishments with the deaf. He was a big supporter and benefactor of the Perkins Institute and his research into telephony was sparked by a curiosity about the mechanics of speech and hearing. His work with the deaf was“more pleasing than even recognition of my work with the telephone.”

Helen Keller's Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy
Helen Keller and Alexander Graeme Bell

With Charlie Chaplin

Helen Keller's Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

With Mark Twain

Keller found a strong and close friendship in Mark Twain, the famous writer’s correspondence with her demonstrates this. From one writer to another there’s a measure of reverence, respect and adoration there.

Helen Keller's Fierce Friendships and Bold Legacy
Helen Keller and Mark Twain

Riverdale – on – the Hudson
St. Patrick’s Day, 1903.Dear Helen: I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they’ll say, “there they come–sit down in front.” I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Roger’s last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not at all well–you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever.

I am charmed with your book–enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world–you and your other half together–Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make complete and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen–they are all there.

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul–let us go farther and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances in plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them any where except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.

When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten thousand men–but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his but there were others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone, or any other important thing–and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite–that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Then why don’t we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen–to the extent of fifty words–except in the case of a child; its memory tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the natural language can have graving room there and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person’s memory tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man’s mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own.

No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and how imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes’s poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my “Innocents Abroad” with. Ten years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass–no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your “Plagiarism Court,” and so when I said, “I know now where I stole it, but who did you steal it from,” he said, “I don’t remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had!”

To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole histories, their whole lives, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn’t know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they’ve caught filching a chop! Oh, dam–

But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.

Every lovingly your friend (sic)


Glimmering Quotes from Helen Keller 

College isn’t the place to go for ideas.

Knowledge is love and light and vision.

Eclipse Hunting For Star-gazing Dreamers

No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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