Helen Keller Timeline

A brief timeline of Helen Keller's life and work.

1880
Helen Keller is born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27.
1882

In February, Keller contracts scarlet fever or meningitis and becomes deaf and blind at the age of 19 months.

1886

Keller and her parents meet Alexander Graham Bell in July for guidance about how to communicate with and educate Helen.

1887

In January, Helen Keller's father, Captain Arthur Keller, writes a letter to Perkins Director Michael Anagnos about employing a teacher for his daugther. Read the letter.

1887

On March 3, Anne Sullivan, a graduate of Perkins School for the Blind who is visually impaired, arrives in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to begin teaching Keller.

1887

On April 5, Keller feels water from a water pump as Sullivan fingerspells "W-A-T-E-R" into her hand and realizes that objects have names. Sullivan wrote, "A new light came into her face..., Within hours she had learned thirty new vocabulary words."

1888

In September, Sullivan brings Keller to Perkins to further her education and to meet other children who are blind and deafblind.

1891

Keller writes "Frost King," a short story, as a gift to Director Michael Anagnos for his birthday. The short story is published in The Mentor resulting in controversy. 

1894

Keller attends the Wright-Humason School in New York City.

1895

Meets Mark Twain for the first time; they remain friends for the rest of Twain's life.

1896

Keller enters the Camrbidge School for Young Ladies under the tutelage of Arthur Gilman. View the Helen Keller and Arthur Gilman Collection from the Perkins Archives.

1896

Keller's father, Captain Arthur Keller dies.

1900

Keller begins her studies at Radcliffe College (now part of Harvard University) in September. Read a blog post about Keller's college entrance exams. 

1903

The Story of My Life, Keller's autobiography and her first book, is published. Read or listen to the book online. 

1904

Graduates cum laude from Radcliffe, becoming the first person who is deafblind to earn a college degree.

1904

Keller purchases a home in Wrentham, Massachusetts.

1905

On May 3, Anne Sullivan marries John Macy, who joins the Wrentham household. (They separate in 1914.)

1906

Keller is appointed to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.

1908

Keller's book, The World I Live In, is published. Read or listen to the book online.

1914

Polly Thomson joins the household as a secretary, beginning her 46 years of service to Keller. Read a blog post about Polly Thomson. 

1915

Co-founds American Foundation for Overseas Blind to support World War I veterans who were blinded in the war. (Later becomes Helen Keller International.)

1916

Keller falls in love with and plans to elope with Peter Fagan, but her family objects and prevents the marriage.

1917

 Keller, Sullivan, and Thomson move the household to Forest Hills, located on Long Island in New York.

1918

Braille is established as the single writing system in the United States for people who were blind, due in part to the advocacy of Helen Keller. 

1919

Stars in the silent film, Deliverance, about her life. Watch the film online from the Library of Congress. 

1919

Assisted by Sullivan, Keller begins a successful five-year carer on the vaudeville circuit. Read a blog post about Keller's vaudeville performances.

1920

Keller helps found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

1921

Keller's mother, Kate Keller, dies.

1919-1924

Keller lectures and tours all over the United States while her fame worldwide increases.

1924

Begins work as the public spokesperson for the American Foundation for the Blind. She continues this work for the rest of her life.

1925

In an address to the Lions Club International, Keller challenges them to become "Knights of the Blind." 

1927

Keller's book, My Religion, is published.

1929

Keller's book, Midstream: My Later Life, is published. Read the book online.

1936

Anne Sullivan Macy, Keller's "Teacher", and companion dies on October 20. Browse a collection of condolence messages received by Keller.

1937

Visits Japan for the first time.

1938

Keller's book, Helen Keller's Journal, 1936-1937, is published.

1938

Meets First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who remains a friend for many years. Browse photos from the visit.

1939

Moves to Arcan Ridge in Easton Connecticut, where should lives for the rest of her life. View a picture of the house.

1943-1946

Visits wounded and blinded war veterans in military hospitals, providing support and encouragement.

1946

Begins a series of world tours that took her to 35 countries in 11 years. She advocates on behalf of people with disabilities, inspiring many governments to establish schools for students who are blind and deaf.

1946

Begins touring on behalf of the American Foundation for Overseas Blind.

1948 

Keller returns to Japan, visiting over thirty cities. Her civil diplomacy on this trip is credited with improving U.S. and Japanese relations at the end of World War II. 

1952

Keller receives the Gold Medal award from The National Institute of Social Sciences for her service to humanity. 

1954

Ivy Green, the house where Helen Keller was born, is restored, and becomes a National Historic Landmark.

1955

Keller wins an Oscar for Helen Keller in Her Story, a documentary about her life, directed by Nancy Hamilton. View the film on YouTube.

1955

Keller's book, Teacher - Anne Sullivan Macy, is published.

1956

The Miracle Worker (William Gibson) debuts on Broadway, with Patty Duke as Helen Keller and Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan.

1960

Meets with President John F. Kennedy, the tenth and the last United States President she met.

1961

Keller suffers from a stroke and retires from public appearances and work.

1964

Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

1965

Visitors to the New York World's Fair elected Keller to be one of twenty inductees into the Women's Hall of Fame, tying with Eleanor Roosevelt for the most votes.

1968

Keller dies on June 1, a few weeks before her 88th birthday, at Arcan Ridge. 

1968

On June 5, Keller's memorial service in the National Cathedral is attended by 1,200 mourners, and the choral music is performed by the choir of Perkins School for the Blind. 

1973

Keller is inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

1980

The United States Postal Service issues a stamp depicting Keller and Sullivan to commemorate the centennial of Keller's births. View a collection of the stamp.

1984

The Miracle Continues, a TV movie about Keller's college years and early adult life is aired.

1999

More than 30 years after her death, Keller is listed as one of the most important figures of the 20th century on Time Magazine's 100 list.

2003

Keller is honored on the Alabama state quarter.

2009

A bronze statue of Keller is added to the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Sources

Chronology of Life and Selected Quotes of Helen Keller. Compiled by Robert Moris and Carol Dollar of the Helen Keller Eye Research Foundation, September 1993. 

Herrmann, Dorothy, Helen Keller: A Life.

Lash, Joseph P., Helen and Teacher.

Nielsen, Kim E., Beyond the Miracle Worker.