Helen Keller was an inspiring individual. Early childhood illnesses left her both deaf and blind, but with the help of her teacher and caretaker, Anne Sullivan, she overcame adversity and went on to live an incredible life.
Helen Keller was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor’s degree, and her story became a worldwide sensation when she released her autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” which was later adapted into both a play and film called “The Miracle Worker.”
While you may know some of these things already, there are plenty of things about Helen Keller that you probably don’t know. Prepare to be surprised:
1. She was buddies with Mark Twain
As it turned out, Helen Keller not only knew Mark Twain, but she bonded with him.
They initially met at a New York luncheon when Keller was still a teen. Mark Twain had a daughter about Keller’s age and enjoyed her company. Later, Keller remarked that he treated her “not as a freak but as a handicapped woman seeking a way to circumvent extraordinary difficulties.”
Here are two fun facts about this unlikely friendship. First, Mark Twain was in part responsible for talking Henry Huttleston Rogers into contributing to Keller’s education. Second, he was the first to coin the phrase “miracle worker” in reference to Keller’s caretaker, Anne Sullivan.
When Keller’s autobiography came out, Twain even provided a blurb for the book. They remained friends for a long time, bonding over personal matters and similar political views.
2. She was on the vaudeville circuit
When you think of vaudeville, you probably think of novelty acts involving ventriloquists, tap dancing, and song and dance. You probably wouldn’t think of Helen Keller as the traditional vaudeville performer.
It may sound implausible, but Helen Keller enjoyed a long-term run on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s.
Faced with mounting expenses, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan went on the road for several years in the 1920s.
Her show involved a short performance that, along with the help of Anne Sullivan, told her story and shared a Q+A session with the audience. According to reports, she was a funny and quick-witted performer and was even known to make jokes when interacting with the audience.
While it was a good run, the vaudeville life proved challenging. Eventually, they had to leave the circuit when Anne Sullivan’s health deteriorated.
3. She almost eloped
A lot of attention is paid to Helen Keller’s incredible achievements in life. But she was also a human being and experienced both love and loss during her lifetime.
During her 30s, when Anne Sullivan fell ill, a reporter from the Boston Herald named Peter Fagan was brought in as a personal secretary/assistant. But he became much more.
The two fell in love, and Keller even planned to elope with Fagan.
However, this love story didn’t have a happy ending. Keller’s family was opposed to the marriage. At that time, the general belief was that those with disabilities should not marry or bear children.
It’s sad that the romance fizzled, but it’s interesting to wonder how things might have been different if she’d gone through with the marriage.
The secret history of Helen Keller
Helen Keller remains an impressive figure from history. Her achievements prove that incredible things are possible in life, even in the face of extreme challenges. But as you now know, her life was even more interesting and rich than you even realized.