Despite her wide spread recognition as an icon of perseverance, Helen Keller is actually a multifaceted figure who people know very little about. The empty version of her story that everyone knows goes a little some thing like this: once upon a time there was a little girl called Helen Keller who became blind and deaf due to an illness at the age of two; because of the loss, she was an uncontrollable child; to try and sort this problem, her parents hired a private tutor, Anne Sullivan, who led Helen to the threshold of language; as Helen entered this door, she was no longer the tantrum throwing child, but a mature figure that, through immense effort, became one of the first women to attend college.
This story represents the way she is depicted not only in child books of Helen Keller, but also in most of adult reading material including biographies and newspaper articles written at the time. Due to this pandemic belief, Keller spent most of her adult life trying to fight this empty shell that people created. When she graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904, she had become a global celebrity, and it became harder than ever to prove that she was more than just a blind and deaf person that knew how to read, write, and learn.
In 1908, Helen Keller joined the Socialist Party (SP), which was a completely unexpected move. Her readings of society and philosophy eventually led to Karl Max, and other contemporary socialists. Her want to know about the reality of the disabled in America, led her to realize that poor people had to work in very harsh conditions, and the conditions often led to workplace accidents which led to disabilities. Then, the disabled were warded off from chances of education, ostracized by the society, and forgotten. The conglomeration of those two factors led her to quickly become a leading figure in the socialist movement.
From 1910 to 1920, Keller was most proactive as well as radical. In an interview in which she was asked what she was committed to – education or revolution: she replied revolution. She believed that the current capitalist government was no more than a tool for the wealthy who loathed the working class. She believed that without revolution to overturn this society she lived in, there was no chance of fair or proper education.
She not only spoke out for socialism, but also contributed majorly in disability politics. She argued that the unemployment of the blind was not primarily caused by their disability, but by social blindness: the vast majority of the society does not recognize that capitalism actually relies on a significant amount of “idle men”, as described by Helen Keller. Though she employs Marxist concepts which not all people may agree with, her ideas for the disabled were truly revolutionary, and well articulated.
The Helen Keller that preached socialism, spoke out for the Copper Strike, spoke out for the fallacies in the United States Constitutions especially for the disabled was all but ignored by the United States press: censored. She is now immortalized by a statue in front of the United States Capitol with Anne Sullivan kneeling at a water pump, writing in Helen’s hands W-A-T-E-R. The statue will always remind people that perseverance will win. But I hope the statue reminds you of a little more than that, maybe that what we should learn from Helen Keller’s story, the whole story, is that many people, most people, not just renown figures, are multifaceted.