Happy Birthday Helen Keller: Socialist, Feminist, Rabblerouser

Helen Keller had never been one of my particular heroes. I grow up like everyone else thinking she was a brave little blind girl who Annie Sullivan “tamed” and made into a good example of how to be a brave little blind girl. As usual the Disney version is not the whole story. Helen was a socialist!

The media cover-up started even in her lifetime. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle after finding out she supported Eugene Debs for president wrote as article saying essentially that she was “handicapped” and of course this limited her reasoning abilities. Helen fired back referring to a meeting they had earlier: “At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him…Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.”

Helen was a feminist! “I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.” She was one of the early advocates for easily available contraception.

Helen had an FBI file!  Her contacts with suspected communists were frequently investigated by the FBI.

Helen had read the constitution and knew what it really said!  In 1920 she was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Helen was a pacifist! “Every modern war has had its root in exploitation” Keller said. “The Civil War was fought to decide whether the slaveholders of the South or the capitalists of the North should exploit the West. The Spanish-American War decided that the United States should exploit Cuba and the Philippines. The South African War decided that the British should exploit the diamond mines. The Russo-Japanese War decided that Japan should exploit Korea. The present war is to decide who shall exploit the Balkans, Turkey, Persia, Egypt, India, China, Africa. And we are whetting our sword to scare the victors into sharing the spoils with us. Now, the workers are not interested in the spoils; they will not get any of them anyway.” and “Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought,” she declared. “Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human beings. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.”

So Happy Birthday  to one of the original pop icons!  Paris Hilton you ain’t!  Ah for the days when cultural icon actually meant you had something to offer the culture.

Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968)

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