Helen Keller's Life and Legacy

Helen Keller holding a book

Helen Keller is known the world over as a symbol of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Yet she was much more than a symbol. She was a woman of luminous intelligence, high ambition and great accomplishment. Driven by her deep compassion for others who cope with significant obstacles to living healthy and productive lives, she devoted her own life to helping people fulfill their true potential. 

A Living Legacy

Helen Keller International, co-founded by Helen in 1915, is one of the world’s premier international nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing blindness and reducing malnutrition. Working in 20 countries, we combat the root causes and extended consequences of blindness and malnutrition by establishing cost-effective and sustainable programs that are based on scientific evidence, original research and—inspired  by Helen’s example—an unwavering determination to succeed against challenges that are too often seen as insurmountable.

Our ongoing efforts have wide-ranging, positive results for the people we serve, providing them with the means to improve their own lives and communities. We remain committed to this mission because, as Helen herself said:

“The welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all.”


A Brief Biographical Timeline

1880: On June 27, Helen Keller is born in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

1882:  Following a bout of illness, Helen loses her sight and hearing.

1887: Helen’s parents hire Anne Sullivan, a graduate of the Perkins School for the Blind, to be Helen’s tutor. Anne begins by teaching Helen that objects have names and that she can use her fingers to spell them. Over time, Helen learns to communicate via sign language, to read and write in Braille, to touch-lip read, and to speak.

1900: After attending schools in Boston and New York, Helen matriculates at Radcliffe College.

1903: Helen’s first book, an autobiography called The Story of My Life, is published.

1904: Helen graduates cum laude from Radcliffe, becoming the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

1915: Helen, already a vocal advocate for people with disabilities, co-founds the American Foundation for Overseas Blind to support veterans blinded in combat. This organization later becomes Helen Keller International and expands its mission to address the causes and consequences of blindness, malnutrition and poor health .

1920: Helen helps found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

1924: Helen joins the American Foundation for the Blind.  She serves as a spokesperson and ambassador for the foundation until her death.

1946: Helen begins touring internationally on behalf of the American Foundation for Overseas Blind (see 1915 above), expanding her advocacy for people with vision impairment. In 11 years, she will visit 35 countries on five continents.

1956: Helen wins an Academy Award for a documentary film about her life.

1961: Helen suffers a stroke and retires from public life.

1964: Helen is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson.

1968: On June 1, Helen dies peacefully at her home in Connecticut. Her ashes are interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.