What Was Bell’s Relationship to Helen Keller?

In 1887, a newspaper editor in Alabama, Arthur Keller, was told he should put his deaf and blind daughter Helen, a “wild little creature” of six, into an asylum, as so often happened with deaf children in that era. Instead, Keller took his daughter to Washington to seek Bell’s help.

Helen Keller with Alexander Graham Bell. Source: Bell family archives

Helen later recalled that, “You held out a warm hand to me in the dark… I did not dream that that interview would be the door through which I should pass from darkness into light.”

Bell helped introduce the Kellers to Helen’s teacher, Annie Sullivan, and continued to correspond with and mentor the young woman the rest of his life. “You followed step by step my teacher’s efforts,” wrote Helen. “When others doubted, it was you who heartened us.” Among other travels, Bell took Helen to Niagara Falls and put her hand on a window pane so she could feel the power of the water.

Later, Helen was especially grateful that Bell had been adamant that she be educated with hearing children, rather than solely in a school for the deaf. This training helped her gain admittance to Radcliff, where she graduated in 1904 at the age of 24.
Bell disagreed with others who saw limitations for Helen’s future. He told her that “with her gifts of mind and imagination there should be a great future open to her in literature.” She took his advice and went on to publish 12 books and several articles, and tour the world giving lectures.

In 1903 Helen dedicated her autobiography, The Story of My Life, to Bell, “who has taught the deaf to speak.” It became a national bestseller and is still in print.

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