Tuesday, December 10, 2019

181. Helen Keller. Ishbel Ross Essay Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran


Helen Keller. Ishbel Ross Essay Reintroduced

P. S. Remesh Chandran

Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum

00. Article Title Image By . Graphics: Adobe SP.

The American wonder Helen Keller was deaf, dumb and blind but mastered the use of language and became a very famous writer and public speaker. Author Ishbel Ross wrote a fine article on Helen Keller. In girlhood, Helen was strong and behaved angrily. Anne Sullivan became her tutor at the age of six and they grew together. She put the child under control. Anne Sullivan later commented that ‘the girl's restless spirit was groping in the dark’. 

That living word awakened her soul and gave it light, hope and joy and set it free.

01. Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan in July 1888. The Earliest Photo. By New England Historic Genealogical Society. 

Anne Sullivan spelt words into the child's hand and the first letters she learned were d-o-l-l. Then the teacher poured water into the child’s hand and spelt the word w-a-t-e-r. It was a wonderful moment in her life. The child dropped the mug down and stood transfixed. A new light came into the child’s face- a godly radiance- which only the teacher witnessed. ‘That living word awakened her soul and gave it light, hope and joy and set it free.’ She learned four hundred words in the following three months. Counting was taught with beads, and addition and subtraction with bits of straw. Then at the Perkins Institute she learned using Braille books and learned the alphabet.

The deaf dumb and blind following Theodore Roosevelt’s speeches, Mark Twain’s jokes and Enrico Caruso’s music.

Helen’s mastery of speech was the greatest individual achievement in the history of education. She learned it from Mrs. Fuller, another of her tutors, at the age of ten. She made sounds by positioning her tongue and breathing through it. She thus produced ‘i, a, and o’. Mamma and Pappa were the first words she spoke. ‘I am not dumb now’ was the first sentence she spoke. She learned listening also by placing her fingers on the speaker’s lips and throat and feeling the vibrations. That was how she ‘heard’ voice. She followed Theodore Roosevelt’s speeches, Mark Twain’s jokes and Enrico Caruso’s music and instrumental music- something which would have raised the hairs of these celebrities if they knew. 

People wept at the sight of God making this incapacitated child walk before them in full glory.

02. Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan in 1897 By Notman.

Since she had learned to listen, speak and write, Helen Keller graduated at Twenty four. She travelled through foreign countries to collect funds for the blind and became a living legend. People got excited at the very sight of her and the crowds took roses from her hat and her dresses were torn. People wept out of emotion at the sight of God making this incapacitated child walk before them in the full glory of faculties. She was a very spiritual personality who always took the Braille Bible with her and learned whole passages by heart. She more liked the light of day than the darkness of night. Helen Keller considered death as a blessing which would free her from her physical limitations. Moreover, she could then be in Heaven to meet her beloved teacher Anne Sullivan. 


The army, literary, Swiss and American backgrounds of Helen Keller.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her father Arthur Henley Keller 1836–1896 was as an editor of the Tuscumbia North Alabamian and a captain in the Confederate Army. Her mother, Catherine Everett Adams Keller 1856–1921 was the daughter of a Confederate Army general, Charles W. Adams. Her paternal origins were in Switzerland. The family lived in the Ivy Green House, her grandfather built. Helen Keller had a sister, a brother and two half-brothers- Mildred Campbell Keller Tyson, Phillip Brooks Keller, and James McDonald Keller and William Simpson Keller. 

The child begins to communicate to people through home signs and recognized people through footstep vibrations.

03. Helen Keller in 1904 By Unknown.

At the age of one and half years an illness left her deaf and blind. The child communicated to people through home signs and recognized people through footstep vibrations. The sound magician Alexander Graham Bell experimenting with the deaf advised the parents to take her to the Perkins School and thus in 1887Anne Sullivan came to reside with her in her Alabama home and teach her. Their companionship lasted 50 years till Anne Sullivan died in 1936. 

She traveled through 35 countries, speaking and stealing the hearts of people.

In 1894 Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan temporarily moved from Perkins School in Massachusetts to the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York and after two years returned and joined first at The Cambridge School for Young Ladies and then at the Radcliff College of Harvard University where graduated as the first deaf and blind earning a Bachelor of Arts degree. It was Mark Twain’s initiative in introducing the Standard Oil Chairman that financed her studies. Where she was deaf and dumb her lip reading, touch, sign language and Braille faculties were acute. By learning to speak, she began her famous tour of speeches. She traveled through 40 countries speaking and stealing the hearts of people. Consequently she became the most beloved author, public speaker and political activist of that time. She became a favourite of people, especially of the Japanese. The American Foundation for the Blind greatly benefited from her tours and speeches. During this period, the Australian philosopher Wilhelm Jerusalem discovered the writer in her. 

Of her 12 works The Frost King 1891 was written at the age of eleven. Her autobiography The Story of My Life 1903 was written at the age of 22 while still at college. The World I Live In 1908 told how she felt about the world. Out of the Dark 1913 contained essays on her views on socialism. Light in My Darkness 1927, previously known as My Religion, explained her views on Christian theology. 

When she became a socialist, those who praised her frowned upon her.

04. Helen Keller in 1904 Graduation By Whitman, Chelsea.

The most unexpected thing of Keller was her becoming a radical socialist. She joined the American Socialist Party in 1909 and the Industrial Workers of the World in 1912. Utter poverty of the people and her social conscience moved her to do this. She was also a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. When she became a socialist many American journalists who were praising her earlier began to shame her in their writings. Even a few among the press refused to print her works. 

Died in sleep and buried beside lifelong companions.

Besides Anne Sullivan, there were other companions for Helen Keller. Polly Thomson who kept her house became her constant companion and secretary. Winnie Corbally who nursed Polly Thomson in illness never left Helen Keller since then. 

Helen Keller was awarded the U. S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. She died in her sleep on 1 June 1968 at the age of 88 in Connecticut. She was buried beside her lifelong companions, Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson. The most acclaimed film based on Helen Keller’s autobiography was The Miracle Worker, emphasizing the contributions of Anne Sullivan- the miracle worker- to the celebrity. In Switzerland, France, Israel, Portugal, Spain and the United States, there are roads named after her. Also there have been stamps, coins and statues in her honour. 


05. Helen Keller in 1909 By Unknown.

Johanna Mansfield Sullivan Macy (1866-1936) or Anne Sullivan in short was an American teacher, and the tutor and lifelong companion of Helen Keller. She was born in 1866. Her family emigrated from Ireland to America. When her mother died and her father abandoned, she grew up in a poor home in Massachusetts. While very young she had eye ailment which several operations could not cure. She remained partially blind and could not read or write. In 1880 she was admitted to the Perkins School for the Blind at the age of 14, after staying as a destitute in a multitude of places. While studying there she had more operations and her eye sight improved, slightly. She graduated in 1886.
 06. Helen Keller in 1909 Reading Braille By Unknown.

Helen Keller’s father Arthur Keller approached the Perkins School’s director for a teacher for the seven-year-old deaf and blind Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan was recommended by the director. Thus at the age of 21 Anne became the teacher of Helen at Alabama and there began a lifelong companionship. She spelled words out into the palm of Helen who within a few months mastered many words, multiplication tables and the Braille system. In 1888 she accompanied Helen to Perkins School for proper education and stayed with here there for so many years during which years the bright child gained fame and funds for the school and the teacher and her protégée also rose to fame. The director's cottage at the Perkins School is still called the Keller-Macy Cottage in this duo’s honour. Helen Keller graduated from Radcliff College. 

Anne Sullivan married Harvard teacher and literary critic John Albert Macy who also lived with them in the Keller home but after nine years they parted. The problem for someone honouring Helen Keller was they had to honour Anne Sullivan also because without her Helen’s achievements would not have been possible. So the Scottish Educational Institute awarded them both honorary fellowships in 1932 and the Temple University honorary degrees. She died on 20 October 1936 in Helen Keller’s hands.

07. Helen Keller in 1913 with Anne Sullivan By W H Langley.


Ishbel Ross was an American author-journalist born in Scotland, emigrated to Canada and started career as a reporter in the Toronto Daily News. In 1919 she joined the New-York Tribune. In 1932 her first novel Promenade was published. She left reporting, turned to novel writing and four more novels followed in her life. In 1936 she published her classic work on women journalists- Ladies of the Press. Soon she became famous as a biographer of famous women. Her literary career lasted around sixty years. She died on 21 September 1975 in New York. 

Books written by Ishbel Ross.

Promenade Deck 1932, Highland Twilight 1934, Ladies of the Press 1936, Isle of Escape 1942, Child of Destiny 1944, Journey into the Light 1951, Rebel Rose 1954, First Lady of the South 1958, The General's Wife 1959, The Expatriates 1970, The President's Wife 1973, and Silhouette in Diamonds 1975 are her most noted works.

(Prepared as a lecture to undergraduate literature students in January 1996)
First published on: 11 December 2019

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Anne Sullivan, Braille Books Bible, Deaf Dumb Blind, Helen Keller, Ishbel Ross, Learning Alphabet, Lip Throat Vibration, Living Legend, Mastering Speech, Mrs Fuller, Physical Limitation, Spiritual,

About the Author P. S. Remesh Chandran:

08. Author Profile Of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives.

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of Swan: The Intelligent Picture Book. Born and brought up in the beautiful village of Nanniyode in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Trivandrum, in Kerala. Father British Council trained English teacher and Mother University educated. Matriculation with distinction and Pre Degree Studies in Science with National Merit Scholarship. Discontinued Diploma studies in Electronics and entered politics. Unmarried and single.

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E-Mail: bloombookstvm@gmail.com

Post: P. S. Remesh Chandran, Editor, Sahyadri Books, Trivandrum, Padmalayam, Nanniyode, Pacha Post, Trivandrum- 695562, Kerala State, South India.

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