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14 Surprising Facts About Helen Keller That They Don't Teach You In School

Updated February 10, 2021 253.0k views14 items

If you’ve been granted even the scantest American education, you’ve probably heard of Helen Keller, the incredible woman who fought her way to prominence after being left both deaf and blind at just 19 months old. 

Thanks to the help of her famed teacher Anne Sullivan, Keller was no longer isolated and able to communicate on behalf of the disenfranchised. She was a tireless advocate for education and women’s rights until her peaceful death in 1968. For decades, her perseverance and ingenuity have been righteously celebrated by legions of fans who stand in awe of her achievements. Seriously, without the benefit of sight or hearing, Keller managed to figure out a way to communicate with the world around her with unfailing accuracy. Imagine the kind of brilliance that takes.

The flip side of Keller’s intelligence was her increasingly radical social and political beliefs. In her zest to conquer life, Helen Keller was turned on to some revolutionary (and often eccentric) perspectives, and Keller herself was never one to shy away from new ways of thought. You’ve heard about Helen Keller’s relationship with Sullivan and her courageous quest experience the world even though she could neither see nor hear it, but there’s more to the icon than just the Hallmark Channel stuff.

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  • Helen Keller Was Besties With A Literary Titan

    Photo: Michael T. Sanders / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    As her fame grew, Helen Keller became a highly sought after social companion. She reportedly had casual friendships with Martha Graham, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Charlie Chaplin. She was also invited to confer with the Queen of England and 12 US Presidents in a row, from Grover Cleveland to John F. Kennedy.

    More than any other, though, Helen Keller forged a lasting relationship with Mark Twain, whom she met at a luncheon in 1895. Twain was so taken with Keller that he wrote to a friend, asking him to fund Keller’s education.

    In the letter, Twain wrote, “It won’t do for America to allow this marvelous child to retire from her studies because of poverty. If she can go on with them she will make a fame that will endure in history for centuries.”

    In turn, Keller once wrote that Twain “treated me not as a freak, but as a handicapped woman seeking a way to circumvent extraordinary difficulties.”

    Twain once told reporters that the two most interesting characters of the nineteenth century were Napoleon Bonaparte and Helen Keller.

  • Helen Keller Was A Radical Socialist Firebrand

    Helen Keller was no stranger to politics. In fact, she was an ardent supporter of the worker's movement and the marxist ideals of one Vladimir Lenin. Given that Keller was a seriously awesome (and prolific) writer, she’s the one best equipped to explain her love of Lenin. These excerpts are highlights taken from a short essay entitled, "The Spirit of Lenin,” which  Keller wrote and first published in 1929.

    “I think that every honest belief should be treated with fairness, yet I cry out against people who uphold the empire of gold... I cannot help sympathizing with the oppressed who feel driven to use force to gain the rights that belong to them. That is one reason why I have turned with such interest toward the great experiment now being tried in Russia... Men vanish from earth leaving behind them the furrows they have ploughed. I see the furrow Lenin left sown with the unshatterable seed of a new life for mankind, and cast deep below the rolling tides of storm and lightning, mighty crops for the ages to reap.”

    It's fair to say, then, that she was a staunch supporter of the early-twentieth-century Russian Revolution.

  • Helen Keller Was Kind Of Forced To Be Celibate

    Photo: Los Angeles Times / Wikimedia Common / Public Domain

    Helen Keller never married. To a large extent, this was due to the fact that, in her heyday, society treated people with disabilities as though they should never be in romantic relationships. As a kid, Keller read romance novels on the sly, but even her famous teacher Anne Sullivan would chastise Keller for attempting to indulge her basic human desires. Even worse, her family wouldn’t let her be alone with men, so the idea of someone calling on her was unthinkable. 

    Keller came close to marriage once, when Anne Sullivan became deathly ill in 1916. Keller was sent a private secretary, a man named Peter Fagen, with whom she carried on a brief - yet chaste - relationship. The two were separated shortly after, and Keller was never really afforded the opportunity to have an actual adult relationship again.

  • She Might Have Been Involved In A Love Triangle That Included Anne Sullivan

    Okay, there’s nothing overtly sexual here, but you be the judge.

    John Macy was born in 1877; he was a brilliant scholar who worked his way through Harvard and totally dominated the literary scene there. While there, Macy made friends with Helen Keller (who was attending Radcliffe, the women's division of Harvard). Keller fascinated Macy who was so inspired by the woman that he offered to help with her writing. The two became extremely close friends to the point that Macy himself became a fixture in Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller’s home. At that time, Sullivan and Keller were said to have considered themselves essentially the same person, so when Macy became attached to Keller, he became attached to Sullivan, as well. 

    The three became inseparable between 1900 and 1914. Macy even convinced Sullivan to marry him in 1905. Unfortunately, the relationship wasn’t tenable. Keller was central to Macy’s life, but that meant she was constantly around (she even went on their honeymoon). What’s more, Sullivan was also a bit moody (for her own good reasons), which made things even more stressful.

    By 1914, Macy had moved out of the home for good.