Helen Keller's Life and Legacy
Helen Keller is known the world over as a symbol of courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Yet she was so much more. A woman of luminous intelligence, high ambition and great accomplishment, she was driven by her deep compassion for others to devote her life to helping them overcome significant obstacles to living healthy and productive lives.
A Living Legacy
Helen Keller International was co-founded in 1915 by two extraordinary individuals, Helen Keller and George Kessler, to assist soldiers blinded during their service in the first World War. Since our founding, we have committed ourselves to continuing Helen’s work.
Guided by her fierce optimism, we have been working on the front lines of health for more than 100 years. We deliver life-changing health care to vulnerable families in places where the need is great, but access is limited. Our proven, science-based programs empower people to create opportunities in their own lives.
Today, our programs prioritize preventing vision loss and blindness—as well as addressing major global health problems such as malnutrition and neglected diseases that threaten sight and well-being.
Our commitment to continuing Helen’s work is firmly rooted in her own belief:
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 World War I 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.
Help sustain—and build—Helen’s legacy. Your donation now can transform the lives of vulnerable children and adults facing vision loss, malnutrition and diseases of poverty.
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.