Helen Keller is famous for overcoming the misfortune of being both deaf and blind to become a leading humanitarian of the 20th century. She is also one of the co-founders of the American Civil Liberties Union, a nonpartisan organization that devotes its work to the preservation of the basic rights that were set forth in the U.S. Constitution.
Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Ala., in June 1880. When she turned 2, she fell extremely ill and was left deaf, blind and mute. In 1887, Keller started working with a teacher named Anne Sullivan who helped her learn how to communicate. Thanks to Sullivan, Keller went to college and eventually graduated in 1904.
The illness that left Keller deaf, blind and mute was referred to by her family doctor as being “brain fever.” The true name of the illness is still a mystery, but some believe that it might have been meningitis or scarlet fever. Her high fever broke after just a few days, but Keller's mother noticed that her daughter never reacted to sounds or images. As she grew, she developed a limited form of communication with Martha Washington, the family cook's daughter. However, it wasn't until Sullivan came along that Keller truly learned sign language.
She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and has received honorary degrees from many colleges and universities for her lifetime of charity work.