Hear Helen Keller Speak

Lucas Reilly
Getty Images
Getty Images / Getty Images

Helen Keller was deaf and blind, but that didn’t stop her from opening the ears and eyes of everyone around her. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a BA and wrote 12 books. (She penned her first book—an autobiography—when she was 22.) In college, she even managed to learn some French, German, Latin, and Greek. That kind of ambition propelled her career as a celebrated lecturer and activist.

In this 1930 newsreel footage, teacher Anne Sullivan explains how Keller learned to speak. Keller got a feel for words by placing her hand on a speaker’s face: thumb over the larynx, index finger on the lips, and middle finger against the nose. Sullivan and Keller stuck together for 49 years.

This undated reel explains how Keller, now older, understood sign language—through a gentle flurry of signals in the palm. Halfway through, you can hear her speak about her greatest disappointment.

“It is not blindness or deafness that brings me my darkest hours. It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally. Longingly I feel how much more good I might have done if I had only acquired normal speech. But out of this sorrowful experience, I understand more fully all human strivings, thwarted ambitions, and the infinite capacity of hope.”