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Helen Keller: Socialist and Pacifist

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Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968 in Connecticut. Most of us learned about her childhood. But they didn't tell us she was a Socialist and a pacifist. This is from a letter she wrote to Eugene V. Debs, labor leader and Presidential candidate, while he was in jail for advocating draft resistance during World War I.

Helen Keller, in a letter to Eugene V. Debs, whom she addressed as "Dear Comrade" (March 11, 1919) excerpted in Don't Know Much About History:

"I write because I want you to now that I should be proud if the Supreme Court convicted me of abhorring war, and doing all in my power to oppose it. When I think of the millions who have suffered in all the wicked wars of the past, I am shaken with the anguish of a great impatience. I want to fling myself against all brute powers that destroy the life, and break the spirit of man.
. . . We were driven onto war for liberty, democracy and humanity. Behold what is happening all over the world today! Oh where is the swift vengeance of Jehovah that it does not fall upon the hosts of those who are marshalling machine-guns against hungry-stricken peoples? It is the complacency of madness to call such acts 'preserving law and order.' What oceans of blood and tears are shed in their name! I have come to loathe traditions and institutions that take away the rights of the poor and protect the wicked against judgment."

What most people know of Helen Keller (1880-1968) comes from the play and film The Miracle Worker which tells the remarkable story of the relationship between Helen Keller, who became blind and deaf at the age of two, and her teacher Anne Sullivan. That story stops with Keller's triumph in learning to sign. With Sullivan as her companion, Keller went on to Radcliffe, then Harvard's female counterpart, from which she graduated in 1904 with honors. Born into a conservative Alabama family, Keller eventually became both an outspoken feminist and pacifist. In 1909, she joined the Socialist Party and became friends with party leader Eugene V. Debs, who had been imprisoned for expressing his antiwar views at the time Keller's letter was written.

And here's a quick quiz about Keller from Don't Know Much About Anything

People who change history are supposed to be politicians and generals, not little girls. But one child born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880 certainly made a difference in the world. After an illness destroyed Helen Keller's sight and hearing as an infant, she lived for the next five years as a kicking, screaming wild child. In 1887, Anne Sullivan (1866-1936), child of poor Irish immigrants and nearly blind herself, was hired to tutor the uncontrollable Helen. Through touch, Sullivan was able to reach Keller. Using a manual alphabet in which words were spelled out in her hand, Keller gradually learned to read and write Braille, eventually learned to speak and went on to college. As a writer and speaker, she crusaded to improve conditions for the blind and deaf-blind until her death in 1968. What do you know about this heroic conqueror of physical disabilities? Take this quick quiz.

1. What famous American inventor advised Helen's father to seek help at Boston's Perkins Institution for the Blind?
2. What college did Helen Keller attend ?
3. How did Helen Keller "listen" to people?
4. In the 1962 film of Helen's story, The Miracle Worker, Helen was played by Patty Duke, who won an Oscar, and Anne Bancroft portrayed Anne Sullivan. Who played the Sullivan role in a 1979 television remake?

Answers
1. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, whose wife was also hearing impaired.
2. She went to Radcliffe in Cambridge, Mass., and graduated in 1904 with honors. Sullivan assisted her through her college years, interpreting lectures.
3. She "read" lips by touching the lips and throat of people as they spoke.
4. Patty Duke. The role of Helen was taken by Melissa Gilbert.

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