National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Born Tuscumbia, Alabama
Struck by an illness that left her both blind and deaf at nineteen months, Helen Keller spent her early years locked in a solitary universe that those around her were incapable of penetrating. In early 1887, when a new teacher named Anne Sullivan came into her life, Keller learned to communicate via tactile sign language and began to connect to those around her. That summer she was writing her first letter. Keller’s quick progress did not stop there. By 1904, she had graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, written a best-selling autobiography, and become an admired symbol of the human spirit’s power to overcome adversity. In 1924 she became the official spokesperson for the newly formed American Foundation for the Blind and, thanks to her successful lobbying, gained inclusion of a clause in the Social Security Act of 1935 that made the blind eligible for grant assistance.