Helen Keller was an activist and author who campaigned for people with disabilities as well as for women’s rights and human rights. Words were very important to Helen Keller, particularly because she spent the first seven years of her life without them. In all, she wrote 14 books and hundreds of essays and speeches on a range of topics, all of which provided beautiful and enduring quotes about the power of learning and the human spirit.
Helen Keller (1880-1968) was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama and lost her hearing and sight when she was nineteen months old after a severe illness. Until the age of seven, she lived in a world without words. This all changed when Anne Sullivan, who was visually impaired herself, came to work with Helen. She would use her fingers to spell words in the palm of Helen’s hand, but Helen did not understand that each word corresponded to a different thing. One day, Anne helped Helen connect words to things by pumping water into her hand and spelling out “w-a-t-e-r.” Helen would later describe this day as her “soul’s birthday” and immediately began demanding the words for all the other objects in her world. This relationship between Helen and Anne evolved into a 50-year friendship and Anne became Helen’s full-time companion.
Helen Keller went on to attend the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where Anne taught, and later the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York. She learned to read and write in braille in addition to finger spelling. Helen and Anne traveled and gave lectures and worked with the American Foundation for the Blind. She became an advocate for people with disabilities and an original member of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as a supporter of the NAACP. Additionally, she was a human rights activist, political activist, suffragette and pacifist who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1965.
Many of Helen Keller’s greatest quotes come from her autobiography The Story of My Life, in which she describes the role that literacy played in her life and how it opened up new worlds to her.
“In a word, literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness.”
“Knowledge is love and light and vision.”
“Great poetry, whether written in Greek or in English, needs no other interpreter than a responsive heart.”
“... our enjoyment of the great works of literature depends more upon the depth of our sympathy than upon our understanding.”
“I do not mean to object to a thorough knowledge of the famous works we read. I object only to the interminable comments and bewildering criticisms that teach but one thing: there are as many opinions as there are men.”
“It is so pleasant to learn about new things. Every day I find how little I know, but I do not feel discouraged since God has given me an eternity in which to learn more.”
“Trying to write is very much like trying to put a Chinese puzzle together. We have a pattern in mind which we wish to work out in words; but the words will not fit the spaces, or, if they do, they will not match the design.”
"More than at any other time, when I hold a beloved book in my hand my limitations fall from me, my spirit is free." – Midstream
Helen Keller was a champion for equality for all and all of her works reflect this in one way or another.
“Tolerance is the first principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think.” - Optimism
“The idea of brotherhood redawns upon the world with a broader significance than the narrow association of members in a sect or creed.” - Optimism
“Strike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.” - “Strike Against War”
“I believe that life, not wealth, is the aim of existence — life including all its attributes of love, happiness, and joyful labour." - Midstream
“It all comes to this: the simplest way to be happy is to do good.” - “The Simplest Way to Be Happy”
“Self-culture has been loudly and boastfully proclaimed as sufficient for all our ideals of perfection. But if we listen to the best men and women everywhere ... they will say that science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.” - Light in My Darkness
During her life, Helen Keller served as an inspiration to many and that power to empower endures to this day through memorable, motivational quotes like these.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” - We Bereaved
“Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another's pain, life is not in vain.” - We Bereaved
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” - quoted in Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy
“Tyranny cannot defeat the power of ideas.” - quoted in Fighting the Fires of Hate: America and the Nazi Book Burnings
“... character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.“ - Helen Keller’s Journal, 1936-1937
“If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, — if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing.” - Optimism
“Once I knew the depth where no hope was, and darkness lay on the face of all things. Then love came and set my soul free. Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven.” - Optimism
“Is it not true, then, that my life with all its limitations touches at many points the life of the World Beautiful? Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” - The Story of My Life
“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” - The Story of My Life
“Do not think of today's failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow.” - The Story of My Life
History is full of figures who leave behind wise words we can all learn from.