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Vision Beyond Sight: Helen Keller, A True Visionary

By The Rev. Ms. Denise D. Tracy

[Edited version reprinted by permission of the author.]

Presented by Omni Virtual University

"The world is full of suffering. It is also full of the overcoming of it."

Helen Keller

Helen Keller was called "the 8th wonder of the world, in1890, by Michael Anagnos, Director of the Perkins School for the Blind. By the time she met Anagnos, at the age of 10, not only was she writing and reading in Braille and communicating in complete sentences, by the Manual alphabet in the English language, but she was also fluent in Greek, Latin, and German and beginning to converse in French.

At the age of 11, her best friends were: celebrated author, Oscar Wilde; Poet, J G Whittier; Supreme Court Justice, Olive Wendell Holmes, Jr.; and Authors and Clergymen, Phillips Brooks and Edward Everett Hale. By the age of 12, she had read the Classical literature in both Greek and Latin.

Within a few years, her two best friends would be none other than Alexander Graham Bell and Samuel Langhorne Clemens,a.k.a., "Mark Twain". Twain became one of Helen’s staunchest defenders. When someone once commented that, "Blindness and deafness must lead to a dull life', Twain took the commentator to task, saying: “You’re damned wrong there…blindness is an exciting business. If you don’t believe it, get up some dark night on the wrong side of the bed when your house is on fire and try to find the door.”

In a world where handicap meant pity, poverty, and dependence, Helen Keller challenged the very definition and cultural experience of the idea of handicap. When people tried to pity or talk down to her, she raged against their ignorance. She said, “A person who is severely impaired never knows what hidden sources of strength [s/he has] until s/he is treated like a normal human being and encouraged to shape [her/his] own life. Pity and over-protectiveness are the most destructive forces for the handicapped."

At the age of 16, Helen decided that she wanted to attend Radcliffe College. Why Radcliffe? “Because they didn’t want me and being very stubborn, I chose to override their objections.” Helen passed the entrance exams to enter Radcliffe in the class of 1900 at age 18. She graduated from Radcliffe College cum laude with honors in English.

Helen drew attention not just because of her endless list of achievements:

  • In her lifetime, she authored 14 books and numerous articles

  • In one year, she spoke to 250,000 people at 249 meetings in 123 cities

  • In one afternoon, she raised $100,000 for charity;

Helen Keller was also recognized because of a quality of life that transcended her handicap. Her passion and exuberance for life exuded from her at an early age. Her brilliance added to these to make her a model of human living. It is difficult to say how many lives her example has touched.

The first movie at which I ever cried was, "The Miracle Worker”. Besides crying during the movie, afterward, I remember practicing walking around for several days with my eyes closed, trying to experience the world with a new appreciation for all five of my senses. From the moment that Helen Keller stood at the water pump with water rushing over one hand as the word "w-a-t-e-r" was spelled out into the other, a connection was made for the rest of humanity- a human connection.

Perhaps the connection would not have been made had it not been for her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and her philosophy of teaching: “Learning must expand the worldview and open the mind, body, and spirit of the individual.", Sullivan said. This expansive educational philosophy imbued in Helen an openness and explorative sense that she was to maintain her entire life.

To study history, they traveled to Plymouth Rock where Helen stepped out of a boat onto land as the Pilgrims might have done. They went to Bunker Hill to study the Revolutionary War. Sullivan’s educational views enhanced and encouraged Keller’s remaining senses to their peak, fine-honing her skills. Sullivan said, “A teacher’s supreme reward is seeing the child she has taught grow into a living force in the world.”:

-By smell, vibration and sense, Helen could tell who entered a room.

-By touch of hand she could sense mood and deeper personality traits.

-By feel she could tell the colors of lilacs and roses.

-By touching someone’s throat as they spoke, Helen could tell whether they were from the North or the South.

Helen’s openness led her to say: “I have lost only two of God’s gifts. I still have many powers and the greatest gift of all is the mind---the mind [ which] can be cultivated and through which I can enjoy most of God’s blessings. Doubt and mistrust are the panic of a timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer and the large mind transcend, Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

Helen’s ability to transcend personal limits was aided by her philosophy of optimism: She said, “Shut out the gloomy, call in the bright.” She used her optimism as a primary force against all obstacles. Her optimism was accused of being unrealistic. Mark Twain again to the rescue-“But a well put together unreality is pretty hard to beat.”

In cultivating a positive life perspective Keller said,

"I felt joyous, strong, equal to my limitations. Delicious sensations rippled through me and strange sweetnesses that were locked up in my heart began to sing.”

Helen’s openness and willingness to push limitations led her to become both a political and religious radical. She said:

True religion transcends orthodoxy and any sect. Religion is for the betterment of society and must inspire and encourage us to change our lives for the positive. Ceremonies are of no use, unless they do this.”

Keller became a "Swedenbourgian". Their belief is simple-- divine life can be found in love and if there is no love then we experience a spiritual death." The Swedenbourgians also believe that each person must love the right because it is right to help others. “Nothing is so unpardonable as to consent to a senseless, aimless purposeless life." she said. This religion became the springboard for her political views.

She became a devoted and dedicated socialist who, as an unconquerable liberal, took [the] people’s side in all matters. She accused Teddy Roosevelt of being the most bloodthirsty individual who ever lived. After the Ludlow massacre[1], she said of John D. Rockefeller that: "From this time on, I will ignore his charitable deeds for he is a monster of capitalism.”

Helen Keller wrote and spoke against child labor and capital punishment, for labor unions, pacifism and disarmament. She classified herself as a militant "suffragette" [2]. She wrote articles on “Why Men Need Women’s Suffrage”. She supported Margaret Sanger’s[3] birth control information and devices.

In 1927, in the Ladies Home Journal, she wrote an article on a then taboo subject , "blindness in babies as a result of venereal disease". Keller was ridiculed for her politics and often people only were open to hearing about her views on deafness and blindness.

She said:

I feel like Joan of Arc sometimes. My whole being becomes uplifted. I, too, hear voices that say, ‘Come and I will follow no matter what the trial I am placed under. Jail, poverty, they matter not. When I stand up to speak for the enslaved, the injured, the oppressed of the earth, I speak because I should be a coward and a hypocrite if I did not say my word for what I believe is just. I shall fight with the strength won from ceaseless battling with silence and darkness- with my faith, with my love and with the strength of the thousands that love me…

Helen Keller developed what she called a "soul sense"-a vision combining sensual, intellectual, and compassionate perspectives. She challenged the boundaries, explored the world, challenged its institutions, and shared her experiences freely so that others might transcend [their/our] limitations. Keller’s "soul sense" was a passionate perspective of wholeness, pushing all who heard her to follow her example- to transcend personal limitations and use our senses, bodies, and minds as "vision beyond sight". This "vision beyond sight" combined all strengths and resonated with the power and possibility of life. This "vision beyond sight" built character and integrity that is unafraid and open to life. This "vision beyond sight" was founded in truth, grounded in love and, when experienced, left the individual hungry for more life. "Vision beyond sight"---True Vision for a True Visionary.


[1] Ludlow Massacre-" The Ludlow Massacre was a mass killing perpetrated by anti-strike...soldiers from the Colorado National Guard and private guards employed by Colorado Fuel and Iron Company [who] attacked a tent colony of roughly 1,200 striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914...John D. Rockerfeller, Jr., a part-owner of CF&I, was widely blamed for having orchestrated the massacre." Wikipedia

[2] Suffragette - A woman seeking the right to vote through organized protest.

[3] Margaret Sanger- An American birth control activist, sex educator, writer, and nurse... Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States, and established organizations that evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America." Wikipedia

"A Rare Recording of Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan, and Polly Thompson" by Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller, and Polly Thompson

Recommended Reading:

The official bookstore of Omni Virtual University is When you click on titles that are linked below and make your book purchases, a portion of the proceeds from those sales go to support our work.

"Helen's Eyes" A photobiography of Anne Sullivan, Hellen Keller's teacher, by Marie Ferguson Delano

The following books are by Helen Keller:

"Light in My Darkness"

"The Open Door"

"Midstream: My Later Life"

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