Helen Keller, famous for overcoming blindness and deafness to become one of the founders of the ACLU, was not born with these disabilities. Historians believe she suffered from either scarlet fever or meningitis in 1882, which caused her to lose the ability to see, hear and speak.
Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880. In her early years, she developed a basic form of communication; however, due to her frustrations and anger, she routinely fell into fits of wild aggression and tantrums. To combat this behavior and help her cope with her disability, her parents met with Alexander Graham Bell, who recommended they take Helen to the Perkins Institute. At the Institute, the family met Anne Sullivan and hired her to teach Helen.
The first word Keller learned to finger spell with Sullivan's help was "doll"; however, Helen's tantrums continued. Sullivan recommended that she and Helen be isolated to work one-on-one, and the family moved the two of them out to cottage on the grounds. It was at this cottage that Anne and Helen made extraordinary progress, at one point learning 30 words in a day. In 1890, Helen began formal speech classes at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, which was the start of a 25-year struggle to learn to speak coherently so that others would understand her.