Was the Authenticity of Helen Keller's Story Ever Challenged?

I imagine it was–it’s such an amazing story at least some people must have questioned whether Keller herself was producing the linguistic products attributed to her. (Books and speeches as well as everyday speech.)

Was the authenticity of her story challenged? How was it confirmed?

She actually gave her own speeches. And she conversed with people. How do you think it was done? If you heard the speech, how would you confirm it? She undoubtedly suffered the afflictions she was sad to have. There were plenty of witnesses to her actions (including Mark Twain, when she was young). She also wasn’t the only deak and blind person who accomplished much – just the most famous. as I’ve noted in another thread, she had at least two predecessors who were as accomplished.

Hrm, how do you think I think it was done?

I thought she always spoke through an interpreter. I didn’t realize she could speak with her mouth.

Listen to her for yourself! This may also give you a much better idea of how she learned, as she and Ms. Sullivan demonstrate the method. (Gods, I LOVE the internet!)

There’s an unpublished recording of her speaking to the Library of Congress(re: recording books for the blind), but apparently she was so difficult to understand that her speech *was *interpreted for the audience.

I find it absolutely astounding that she was able to learn to speak at all, given how early her deafness began. It’s unusual for anyone deaf at that age, much less someone who can’t see. She must have been a highly intelligent kinesthetic learner, to say the least!

From a thread on Helen Keller last July. I wrote:

Per this New Yorker article, the answer is yes, at least in a sense:

The full article is long, but well worth reading.

It’s interesting that the early successes with deaf+blind people appear to have been all women. I wonder what advantages being a woman might have had?

I’m not sure, but early childhood infections were the causes of these two women’s sensory deficits, and female infants and children are generally stronger - constitutionally speaking - than boys. It’s possible that these infections would simply have killed their victims, had they been boys.

Or, post-infection, boys may not have been nurtured the same way “fragile females” were. Without the very close - emotionally and physically - relationship with her teacher, it’s unlikely Helen would have learned. I mean, she’s got to have her whole hand smashed all over Miss Sullivan’s face and throat to feel her speak. Perhaps a boy who was deaf and blind would have been left to his own devices more - encouraged to whittle wood instead of connect with people.

Girls also have quicker language acquisition, on average, than boys. Remember that neither of these girls was deaf at birth. Laura was 3 when she lost her hearing and sight - she was probably speaking in sentences before that point and essentially re-learned what was already somewhere in her neurons. Helen became deaf at 19 months - she spoke some words before that, and had her language processing centers pretty well developed to receptive speech. She forgot how to speak, but she did know, at one time. A boy at 19 months might have had less language already in place, making it even harder for him to learn it.

It’s also possible that it’s not a real medical difference, but a public relations one. In the late 1800’s, it was still pretty remarkable for ANY woman to be college educated. The fact that Helen was also blind and deaf just made for extra special headlines. The newspapers may not have been so interested in the story of men in similar situations, if there were any. Add the play and movie in the picture, and it’s not surprising that Helen Keller is the name we all know and associate immediately with deafblindness. That doesn’t mean there aren’t others we don’t name our elementary schools* after. Certainly there *have *been deafblind men of prominence -Bob Smithdas is one; he lost his sight and hearing to cerebrospinal meningitis at age 4. He also temporarily lost his language, and recovered it using techniques like Miss Sullivan used with Helen.

And finally, we’re talking about a sample of four women mentioned in the thread so far. That might be simply statistically insignificant, and there may be actually no difference at all in prognosis for boys or girls. Wikipediahas a list of prominent deafblind people, and it does include men and women, but frankly I’m too lazy to look them all up and find out at what age they became deafblind and if they lost/regained spoken language or not.

*I actually attended Helen Keller Elementary school. It was kind of awesome, because when we went on field trips, many places assumed we were all blind or deaf, which meant we got the best seats at the theater, extra attention at the museums and whatnot. :smiley:

My wife studied at Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis in her training as a teacher for the deaf. Back in the 1920s Keller had worked with school in developing its oral language program. They had recordings of Keller and the school’s director demonstrating the instruction techniques.

So yes, Keller was quite capable.


Sullivan and Keller, speaking

Some, for example, sure play a mean pinball.

Only the kids though…


Thanks WhyNot, that was interesting. (And better writing than the Wiki pages.)

We read about Ms. Keller in school, and I will confess that I wondered at the time why she merited all the attention.

Helen Keller wrote three autobiographies, covering different portions of her life.
She was also a lib’rul activist, as James Loewen points out in his book Lies Across America, something I’d been unaware of previously. Aside from her outgoing personality and ability to interface so well with the world so long hidden from her, she was known during her lifetime for her politics, something that’s drifted out of the public memory.

A lib’rul! Good Heavens! Is it too late for Alabama to try to strike her image from their quarter! :wink:

She wasn’t a liberal. She was a socialist; a member of the party and committed to socialism.

Before I die, I’d like to be the cynosure of idolaters. If I knew what that meant.

Didn’t you see The Miracle Worker? Specifically, the part at the well, where Sullivan teaches Helen to say “water”?

That’s the only part of the movie I remember. I was subjected to it on the third grade or something. It was, if I recall correctly, one of the half dozen movies my elementary school had on 8mm. Boring as holy heck.

Boobs, one would think. :slight_smile:

I thought the “water” was her realizing that the letters that Anne Sullivan was spelling into her hand meant water…been so long since I saw it.