Making an Impact

I think the degree of a nation's civilisation may be measured by the degree of enlightenment of its women.

—Helen Keller, 1904


Deaf and blind from the age of 19 months, Helen Keller (1880–1968) grew up to be an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities, woman suffrage, and workers' rights.


Demure images like this cast the young Helen Keller (about 10 years old here) as a proper, wealthy Southern girl. You might not guess that she grew up to write fiery speeches on inequality. She continued her love of dogs and hatred of discrimination into adulthood.

Helen Keller with Belle, around 1890

Helen Keller with Belle, around 1890

Courtesy of Perkins School for the Blind Archives

The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands—the ownership and control of their lives and livelihood—are set at naught, we can have neither men's rights nor women's rights.

—Helen Keller, 1911

Sculpture of Helen Keller, 1907

Sculpture of Helen Keller, 1907

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

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Sculptor Winifred Holt depicted her as still and lady-like. Keller was, in reality, impatient and outspoken.



Keller received this watch in 1892 when she was 12 from a retired diplomat.

This "touch watch" allowed its owner to tell time by feeling the pins around the edge. Keller, who kept a busy schedule, treasured this watch for the rest of her life.

Helen Keller's Watch, 1865

Gift of Phillips Brooks Keller & Mrs. Gordon Erwin

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The way to help the blind or any other defective class is to understand, correct, remove the incapacities and inequalities of our entire civilization.

—Helen Keller, 1912