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Helen Keller

Helen Keller was an American author, lecturer and political activist. She was also deaf-blind. Born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama she lived to be 87, dying in 1968 having been the first deaf-blind person to be awarded a bachelor of arts degree. A fervent campaigner for disabled, feminist, socialist and labour causes Keller was an early advocate for birth control. The Helen Keller International organisation was devoted to researching vision, health and nutrition. HKI was founded after George A. Kessler (known as the Champagne King) was fighting for his life in the Atlantic having been aboard the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. He swore he would dedicate his life to a worthwhile cause, he decided to assist Allied soldiers who were blinded whilst fighting; Keller was befriended after and the HKI was born. Keller was also a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920.

Helen Keller speaking in 1911

Well travelled Keller visited over 40 countries with her companion and former teacher Anne Sullivan (who died in 1936 after a coma, Keller was there holding her hand). During a visit to Japan in 1937 Keller told someone she would like an Akita dog- she received one within a month called Kamikaze-go. When Kamikaze-go died the Japanese government gifted his older brother, Kenzan-go, to her in 1938. Keller was a cultural heavyweight meeting the President of the United States from the 22nd to the 36th iteration of the roles- that’s Grover Cleveland through to Lyndon B. Johnson. Her friends included Charlie Chaplin, Alexander Graham Bell and Mark Twain. Her and Twain had been considered political radicals at the start of the 20th century for their views on women’s suffrage and contraception, something that is often glossed over in the popular memory of the two. Keller’s life has been the subject of many films, documentaries and books. She appeared in a silent film in 1919, Deliverance, which told her story using melodrama and allegory. Keller died at home in her sleep on June 1 1968. A service was held in her honour at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., her ashes were placed next to her companions Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson.