Helen Keller

QUESTION:  How old was Helen Keller when she became blind and deaf?
A)  She was born blind and deaf.
B)  One year
C)  Nineteen Months
D)  Four years

The American Treasure Tour is host to a number of images dedicated to great Americans. We have addressed a number of them over the past few months, predominantly military figures or titans of business. All of the lithographs displayed represent men - except one. Displayed among images of Abrahama Lincoln and Andrew Carnegie is a portrait depicting Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Two remarkable women who overcame great personal diversity to become prominent figures in early twentieth century America. Helen Keller was a truly remarkable woman. Notably, she achieved her greatest achievements as an adult, although people who remember her today are most familiar with what she did as a young girl. Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880 to wealthy parents who were devastated when she was diagnosed as being both blind and deaf.  At the time, these disabilities meant she would have spent life alone and not living up to her potential.  Fortunately, the Kellers did not accept that fate for their daughter.  When she was seven years old, they hired  Anne Sullivan as her teacher.  Sullivan broke through her silence and helped her learn how to communicate. (The popular television show-then-play-then-movie The Miracle Worker tells this part of her story quite famously.)

Once Keller learned how to read, the world opened up to her. She became the first deaf/blind American to graduate from college and she published numerous books including her autobiography.  She also became an advocate for disabled men and women who, prior to her example, were rarely given an opportunity to lead regular lives. More than that, she became an outspoken advocate for women's suffrage, pacifism, and worker's rights.  This last cause she embraced proved to be highly controversial at a time when our country was swept up in a wave of anti-Communist fear. Business leaders accused anyone who defended collective bargaining, Keller included, as trying to undermine American values.  They reduced Keller's contributions to society as a footnote to her extraordinary life, ignoring everything about her except her childhood. When she passed away in 1968, she had already changed the way people regarded the disabled and received numerous awards, not the least of them the Presidential Medal of Freedom, earned in 1964. 

ANSWER:  C)  Nineteen Months. Some believe she contracted scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her without sight or hearing.