Year
1887

Helen Keller meets her miracle worker

On this day in 1887, Anne Sullivan begins teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, the previously uncontrollable Keller flourished, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” remained Keller’s interpreter and constant companion until the older woman’s death in 1936.

Sullivan, born in Massachusetts in 1866, had firsthand experience with being handicapped: As a child, an infection impaired her vision. She then attended the Perkins Institution for the Blind where she learned the manual alphabet in order to communicate with a classmate who was deaf and blind. Eventually, Sullivan had several operations that improved her weakened eyesight.

Helen Adams Keller was born on June 27, 1880, to Arthur Keller, a former Confederate army officer and newspaper publisher, and his wife Kate, of Tuscumbia, Alabama. As a baby, a brief illness, possibly scarlet fever, left Helen unable to see, hear or speak. She was considered a bright but spoiled and strong-willed child. Her parents eventually sought the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and an authority on the deaf. He suggested the Kellers contact the Perkins Institution, which in turn recommended Anne Sullivan as a teacher.

Sullivan, age 20, arrived at Ivy Green, the Keller family estate, in 1887 and began working to socialize her wild, stubborn student and teach her by spelling out words in Keller’s hand. Initially, the finger spelling meant nothing to Keller. However, a breakthrough occurred one day when Sullivan held one of Keller’s hands under water from a pump and spelled out “w-a-t-e-r” in Keller’s palm. Keller went on to learn how to read, write and speak. With Sullivan’s assistance, Keller attended Radcliffe College and graduated with honors in 1904.

Helen Keller became a public speaker and author; her first book, “The Story of My Life” was published in 1902. She was also a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Blind and an advocate for racial and sexual equality, as well as socialism. From 1920 to 1924, Sullivan and Keller even formed a vaudeville act to educate the public and earn money. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, at her home in Westport, Connecticut, at age 87, leaving her mark on the world by helping to alter perceptions about the disabled.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Police brutality caught on video

At 12:45 a.m. on March 3, 1991, robbery parolee Rodney G. King stops his car after leading police on a nearly 8-mile pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles, California. The chase began after King, who was intoxicated, was caught speeding on a freeway by a California Highway ...read more

George Bizet’s Carmen premieres in Paris

Today, it is one of the most popular operas in the standard repertoire, but Georges Bizet’s Carmen faced many obstacles in even reaching the stage, let alone becoming a success. With a libretto based on a story that many considered too salacious for public performance, Carmen was ...read more

Russia makes a separate peace

Bolshevik Russia signs the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers, abandoning the Allied war effort and granting independence to its Polish and Baltic territories, the Ukraine, and Finland.Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War I was a primary factor that led to ...read more

Finland declares war on Germany

On this day, Finland, under increasing pressure from both the United States and the Soviet Union, finally declares war on its former partner, Germany.After the German invasion of Poland, the USSR, wanting to protect Leningrad more than ever from encroachment by the West—even its ...read more

Ho Chi Minh Trail

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a military supply route running from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam. The route sent weapons, manpower, ammunition and other supplies from communist-led North Vietnam to their supporters in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. ...read more

U.S. 5th Special Forces Group withdraws

The U.S. Army’s 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) departs South Vietnam. The Special Forces were formed to organize and train guerrilla bands behind enemy lines. President John F. Kennedy, a strong believer in the potential of the Special Forces in counterinsurgency operations, ...read more

First indoor game of ice hockey

On March 3, 1875, indoor ice hockey makes its public debut in Montreal, Quebec. After weeks of training at the Victoria Skating Rink with his friends, Montreal resident James Creighton advertised in the March 3 edition of the Montreal Gazette that “A game of hockey will be played ...read more

United States Geological Survey created

Congress establishes the United States Geological Survey, an organization that played a pivotal role in the exploration and development of the West.Although the rough geographical outlines of much of the American West were known by 1879, the government still had astonishingly ...read more

James Merrill is born

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill is born in New York . Merrill was the son of financier Charles Merrill, who founded the brokerage Merrill-Lynch. Merrill served as an Army infantryman during World War II and graduated from Amherst College in 1947. He became one of the ...read more

Birth of a Nation opens in New York

Director D.W. Griffith’s controversial Civil War epic The Birth of a Nation opens in New York City on March 3, 1915, a few weeks after its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles. A 40-piece orchestra accompanied the silent film. The movie, at 2 hours and 40 minutes, was unusually ...read more

Faulty door dooms plane

A DC-10 jet crashes into a forest outside of Paris, France, killing all 346 people on board, on this day in 1974. The poor design of the plane, as well as negligent maintenance, contributed to the disaster. Nearly two years earlier, on June 6, 1972, an American Airlines DC-10 ...read more