Becoming Helen Keller – Full Episode with Additional Accessibility Features (Extended Audio Description, Open Captions, ASL, Descriptive Transcript)

Becoming Helen Keller (Audio Description + ASL)

Becoming Helen Keller (Extended AD + Open Captioning + ASL)

TRANSCRIPT

(AUDIO DESCRIPTION + AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE)

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Support provided by Becoming Helen Keller has been made possible by and the following.

-This program includes historical descriptions of people with disabilities that many now consider offensive.

Viewer discretion is advised.

(Rebecca Alexander) My name is Rebecca Alexander.

I am narrating the Helen Keller documentary, and I am DeafBlind myself.

I have Usher syndrome, which is the leading cause of DeafBlindness in the U.S.

and around the world.

(male #1) Alright.

(Rebecca Alexander) Okay, so here... (male #1) Here's your chair.

Uh, Rick, I'm rolling. Are you okay?

(Rick) Yep.

(male #1) Rebecca, when you are.

(Rebecca Alexander) 3, 2, 1... October 7, 2009. Washington, D.C.

A statue of Helen Keller is about to be unveiled inside the Capitol.

A 600-pound bronze sculpture of a child standing near a water pump.

That moment, made famous in the 1962 film 'The Miracle Worker,' was the day the DeafBlind girl had a breakthrough with her teacher, Annie Sullivan.

(Helen Keller) Wa-- (Bob Riley) W-A-T-E-R.

This moment helped the world understand that all of us, regardless of any disability, have a mind that can be educated, a hand that can be trained.

(as Helen Keller) In large measure, we travel the same highways, read the same books, speak the same language, yet our experiences are different.

In all my experiences and thoughts, I am conscious of a hand.

Whatever moves me -- whatever thrills me -- is as a hand that touches me in the dark, and that touch is my reality.

(narrator voiceover) Keller lived to be 87.

Yet here she was put on a pedestal and frozen in time.

(Bob Riley) This extraordinary person showed us the power of a determined human spirit and reminded all of us that courage and strength can exist in the most unlikely places.

(Mary Klages) The images that we have of Helen Keller are a media creation.

She is a poster child.

She's too good to be true.

♪♪♪ (Georgina Kleege) The story, the overcoming, the saintly figure, I wish we could retire that.

(Susan Schweik) My primary image of Helen Keller growing up was from 'The Miracle Worker.'

And the total complexity of her adult life, her learnedness, her fieriness, her politics, her full adult being, all that is erased, and what we remember is 'wa-wa.'

♪♪♪ (Kim Nielsen) I came across lists from 1924 of what some people called the ten most dangerous women in America.

And Helen Keller was on this list.

And I actually remember laughing out loud, that Helen Keller was listed as one of the ten most dangerous women in America, and I wanted to know why.

(Rebecca Alexander) She was a pioneer, and she was such a trailblazer for so many of these civil rights and social movements in ways that none of us can really even quite comprehend.

But she had this innate curiosity.

(as Mark Twain) The two most interesting characters of the 19th century are Napoleon and Helen Keller.

Napoleon tried to conquer the world by physical force and failed.

Helen Keller tried to conquer the world by power of mind and succeeded.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) I was too young to realize what had happened.

When I awoke and found that all was dark and still, I suppose I thought it was night, and I must've wondered why day was so long in coming.

Gradually, however, I got used to the silence and darkness.

(Douglas Baynton) Helen became blind and deaf at a year and a half.

And so she had already had some exposure to language, to the world of sound and sight.

And that has important implications for your later educational development.

(narrator voiceover) As a young girl, Helen used what Deaf people call 'home signs.'

(Douglas Baynton) Helen Keller had a sign for her mother that looked something like this.

She had a sign for her father that had to do with representing his eyeglasses.

She had signs for concrete actions like eating and drinking, that kind of thing.

(narrator voiceover) The Kellers lived in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Helen's father, Arthur, had served in the Confederate Army and ran a small newspaper.

They were not rich and not sure how to guide their daughter.

(Douglas Baynton) The Kellers are working with very little information.

They could have sent her to a school for the Deaf or a school for the Blind, possibly, but that's not an ideal choice.

(Kim Nielsen) Helen's mother, Kate, was a very well-read woman.

And she at some point when Keller was small, read Charles Dickens' 'American Notes' of 1842.

And in that book, Charles Dickens talked about Laura Bridgman, another DeafBlind woman, who had been educated.

And Keller's mother, Kate, became very hopeful.

She wanted that same thing for her child.

She had resisted the institutionalization of Helen.

(narrator voiceover) Bridgman went to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts, where she learned to communicate with fingerspelling.

The Kellers appealed to the school's director, Michael Anagnos.

(Mary Klages) When Anagnos gets a letter from Captain Arthur Keller saying, 'We have a DeafBlind daughter.

Do you have anybody there that could teach her?'

Anagnos says, 'Yes, I do.

It's Annie Sullivan.'

(Annie Sullivan) When I saw Helen Keller first, she was 6 years and 8 months old.

She had been blind and deaf and mute since her 19th month, as the result of an illness.

She had no way of communicating with those around her, except a few imitative signs that she had made for herself.

A push meant 'go,' and a pull meant 'come,' and so on.

(narrator voiceover) Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller would be together for the next 50 years.

They were rarely ever separated.

(Georgina Kleege) Anne Sullivan, she came from this, uh... extremely deprived background.

It was really kind of a desperate situation.

(narrator voiceover) Sullivan suffered from trachoma -- a bacterial infection that caused vision loss.

She was a ward of the state and an illiterate 14-year-old when she arrived at Perkins.

Six years later, Annie graduated class valedictorian.

And after a series of eye operations, her vision had improved.

(Kim Nielsen) The career opportunities for a Blind woman at this point in time were incredibly small, and then here came this letter, seeking a teacher for a young DeafBlind girl.

(narrator voiceover) Once in Alabama, Sullivan recorded her experience in letters sent back to Boston.

(as Annie Sullivan) Somehow, I had expected to see a pale, delicate child, but there's nothing pale or delicate about Helen.

She is large, strong, and ruddy, and as unrestrained in her movements as a young colt.

(Mary Klages) Annie came to the Kellers' house and said, 'Before I can teach this child anything, I have to make an intervention,' as we would call it now.

The intervention is absolutely physical.

It can't be anything else because Helen doesn't have language yet.

This is the shock in 'The Miracle Worker' when it first appeared on the Broadway stage.

It brought Helen's physicality, it brought her body to the center of the stage.

And she says, 'The miracle has occurred.

She will obey me.'

(as Annie Sullivan) The back of the greatest obstacle in the path of progress is broken.

'No' and 'yes' have become facts, as apparent to her as hot and cold.

(narrator voiceover) Annie taught Helen the manual tactile alphabet.

Letter by letter, she fingerspelled whole sentences into Helen's hands.

(Georgina Kleege) Her accomplishment was that she made the observation that a hearing child learns language because they're always surrounded by language.

Once she, uh, was with Keller, she was fingerspelling to her constantly, dawn to dusk, so that Keller kind of picked up language in a more natural way.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Annie taught Helen how to read using books in raised print and how to write with a lettering system called 'square hand.'

(Georgina Kleege) She latched onto writing at a very early point.

In Anne Sullivan's account of teaching her, particularly in the first months of their being together, she tells a story about Keller, who was fingerspelling to herself and then pretending that she was writing a letter.

And then she took the letter to her mother and she said, 'Take it to the post office and mail it.'

It was like she grasped this idea that she could write and send her words out into the world, and get a response back from people that she'd never met.

And that was a very powerful idea for her as a child.

(narrator voiceover) Back at Perkins, Michael Anagnos was eager to spread the word about the progress Annie was making with her new student.

(Mary Klages) With Helen Keller, he sees an opportunity to say, 'Look at what this woman, who is a graduate of Perkins, has been able to do with this unfortunate DeafBlind girl in making her a human being.'

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) 'Her progress was not a gradual advancement but sort of a triumphal march,' Anagnos wrote in one dispatch sent to Perkins alumni and benefactors.

But Annie Sullivan resisted this narrative and the way it would be used.

(as Annie Sullivan) I appreciate the kind things Mr. Anagnos has said about Helen and me, but his extravagant way of saying them rubs me the wrong way.

The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers, so they enlarge upon it and invent ridiculous embellishments.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) When she is 8, Helen enrolls at the Perkins School.

(as Helen Keller) In the school, I was in my own country.

What joy.

(narrator voiceover) Helen and Annie also worked on another way for Helen to communicate using lipreading and vibrations.

(Annie Sullivan) And I let her see by putting her hand on my face how we talk with our mouths.

She felt the vibrations of the spoken word.

Instantly she spelled, 'I want to talk with my mouth.'

That seemed impossible.

But after experimenting for a time, we found that placing her hand in this position -- the thumb resting on the throat right at the larynx, the first finger on the lips, the second on the nose -- we found that she could feel the vibrations of spoken words.

(narrator voiceover) While this wasn't always accurate, it allowed Helen a direct connection with people, and she used it often in public.

From the time she was a young girl, Helen was eager to speak.

(as Helen Keller) I had known for a long time that people around me used a method of communication different from mine.

One who is entirely dependent on the manual alphabet has always a sense of restraint, of narrowness.

My thoughts would often rise up and beat like birds against the wind, and I persisted in using my lips and voice.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) She received help from a friend, Alexander Graham Bell, now best known as the creator of the telephone, then a leader in Deaf education.

(Douglas Baynton) That's what he saw as his mission in life -- in particular, teaching of speech and oral communication.

He was a public advocate for the suppression of sign language in the schools, and for the teaching of oral skills in schools.

(Rebecca Alexander) Oralism in general, I think, has a very oppressive quality to it, because what oralism is predicated on is the idea that the only way to communicate effectively is being able to speak.

(Douglas Baynton) Speech teaching was a central part of Bell's life, and he married a Deaf woman, Mabel Bell, who was also a public advocate for the oral method.

(narrator voiceover) When Bell learned Helen was speaking, he went to Perkins, and spelled questions into her hands.

♪♪♪ (as A. G. Bell) Do you know what a cloud is?

(as Helen Keller) Rain.

(as A.G. Bell) What is wind?

(as Helen Keller) It is wild air.

(as A.G. Bell) What is thought?

(as Helen Keller) When we make a mistake, we say, 'I thought it was right.'

(as A.G. Bell) Where is your thought?

(as Helen Keller) Mind.

My head is full of mind.

(typewriter clicking) ♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) On a visit home to Alabama when she's 11, Helen writes a story and sends it to Anagnos as a birthday present.

(as Helen Keller) 'King Frost, like all other kings, has great treasures of gold and silver.

But as he is a generous old monarch, he endeavors to make a right use of his riches.'

(Mary Klages) He says this is proof of what an original intellect she has.

There had been some accusations by critics, both for Laura Bridgman and for Helen Keller, that they weren't really learning anything, that they were just being parrots, they were just learning to imitate, that they had been trained to give answers.

An original story from Helen Keller proved, for Anagnos, that she was original, that she had the capacity for independent thought.

(narrator voiceover) Anagnos publishes the story.

A Deaf community newspaper prints it, and soon a reader notices a resemblance to one by Margaret Canby.

When the editors print them side by side, the similarities are obvious.

♪♪♪ (Mary Klages) It's not just an ordinary 11-year-old girl making the mistake of copying something that she'd read somewhere else.

This is Helen Keller.

This is the representative of what it means to be human, to have original thought, to have a soul, to have language -- everything that distinguishes animals from human beings.

(narrator voiceover) The Perkins library didn't have the story.

It did not exist in raised print, and Helen's parents had never heard of it.

Anagnos needed answers.

Was Helen a fraud?

Had Annie falsely represented the child?

He called for an investigation.

Eight Perkins educators and board members, four sighted and four Blind, were directed to find out what had happened.

(as Helen Keller) Miss Sullivan was asked to leave.

Then I was questioned, with what seemed to me a determination to force me to acknowledge that I remembered having 'The Frost Fairies' read to me.

I felt in every question the doubt and suspicion that was in their minds.

When at last I was allowed to leave the room, I was dazed and did not notice my teacher's caresses.

That night I wept as I hope few children have wept.

I felt so cold I imagined I should die before morning, and the thought comforted me.

♪♪♪ (Mary Klages) The verdict of the sighted and Blind teachers was 'not proven.'

Anagnos suspected for the rest of his life that Annie had read Helen the story and was trying to cover it up.

(as Helen Keller) I am sure I never heard it.

It made us feel so bad to think that people thought we had been untrue and wicked.

My heart is full of tears, for I love the beautiful truth with all my heart and mind.

(narrator voiceover) Michael Anagnos would publicly claim to hold Annie and Helen in high esteem.

But privately, he called Helen 'a living lie.'

And Helen was deeply scarred by the experience.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling of terror, and I would spell the sentences over and over to make sure that I had not read them in a book.

(narrator voiceover) Helen never returned to Perkins.

In an effort to rebound from the plagiarism scandal, Annie urged Helen to write about her own experiences.

An essay written when she was 12 caught the attention of the novelist Mark Twain, who would become a friend.

(as Mark Twain) I will ask the reader to notice the easy flow and the graceful phrasing of this girl's narrative, and remember not that she is Blind Deaf, but that she was only 12 when she wrote the paper which I am quoting from.

Girls of 12 and with all their faculties intact and with 11 years' training in speech are not as a rule able to express themselves in this capable fashion.

And when this child is eloquent, how true the ring of it is, and how far above her years.

(narrator voiceover) Keller insisted on continuing her education.

(as Helen Keller) I did not want people to tell me what I should do or not do just because I happened to be different from others.

I was 16 years old, and I had decided to go to college.

It was a relief for Teacher after the many disturbed days she'd had spent brooding on my future, that I had formed the decision myself.

(Mary Klages) She was asked whether she wanted to go to Wellesley or to Vassar, to one of the existing women's colleges.

And she said, 'No, I want to go to Harvard.'

And Annie investigated this and said, 'Okay, well, it has to be Radcliffe,' which was then the Harvard extension for women.

(narrator voiceover) Annie and Helen needed help to pay for school.

A group of wealthy women created a scholarship fund and asked Twain to lead the appeal.

♪♪♪ (as Mark Twain) She underwent the Harvard examination for admissions to Radcliffe College.

She passed without a single condition.

She was allowed the same amount of time that is granted to other applicants, and this was shortened in her case by the fact that the question papers had to be read to her.

It won't do for America to allow this marvelous child to retire from her studies because of poverty.

If she can go on with them, she will make a fame that will endure in history for centuries.

Along her special lines, she is the most extraordinary product of all the ages.

(Kim Nielsen) When Helen entered college, there was a huge debate going on as to whether or not women should go to college.

There was a lot of concern that it would render them sterile, that they would be unable to handle a college education physically.

And with Helen Keller being deaf and blind, that was even more of a controversy.

Would she be able to handle it?

(narrator voiceover) Like all colleges then, Radcliffe was not accessible to all.

The lectures had to be interpreted.

No braille textbooks were easily available.

Helen relied on friends to help convert her books to braille.

Radcliffe dean Agnes Irwin personally paid for two exam proctors -- one to monitor Helen and the other to watch Helen's proctor.

(Peter Hall) It's almost as if they were afraid that people were going to accuse the university of engaging in a publicity stunt by graduating this -- this Helen Keller with her astounding disabilities and her astounding abilities, but that somehow, they weren't playing it on the level.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) In the classroom, I was, of course, practically alone.

The professor was as remote as if he were speaking through a telephone.

The words rushed through my hand like hounds in pursuit of a hare, which they often miss.

But in this respect, I do not think I was much worse off than the girls who took notes.

(narrator voiceover) As difficult as it was to be a student there, Radcliffe is where Helen became a professional writer.

The editor of made a big offer to turn her autobiographical essays into magazine articles.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) Without a very clear idea of what I was doing, I signed an agreement.

At the moment, I thought of nothing but the $3,000.

In my imagination, the story was already written.

(narrator voiceover) Soon Helen was falling behind.

(as Helen Keller) I was in deep water and frightened out of my wits.

A friend told me about Mr. Macy, an English instructor at Harvard.

He was eager, intelligent, gentle.

He understood my difficulties and set about relieving them.

(Kim Nielsen) The two of them hired him to come in and help them manage all of the papers and to edit 'The Story of My Life.'

(narrator voiceover) Macy negotiated a contract to turn Helen's articles into a book.

He added an introduction and Annie's letters about Helen.

This became the first of Keller's many books -- 'The Story of My Life.'

(Georgina Kleege) Her style was kind of a throwback to an earlier period.

Her style was kind of flowery and ornate.

She loved metaphors and imagery.

(narrator voiceover) In June 1904, Helen Keller graduated from Radcliffe College with honors.

She could read and write in Latin, French, and German, and was a published author.

(Kim Nielsen) After Helen graduated from college, she, of course, was thrilled by the success of 'Story of My Life,' and she wanted and planned to make her living as a writer.

The philanthropic support that they had was diminishing after she had graduated from college.

She had some limited success, but nothing she did reached the material success of 'The Story of My Life.'

She had a very hard time selling things.

(narrator voiceover) Helen started on another memoir -- 'The World I Live In.'

(Georgina Kleege) She talks about touch.

She talks about her sense of smell, and then she talks about what she calls her system of analogies.

(as Helen Keller) My hand is to me what your hearing and sight are to you.

My world is built of touch -- the delicate tremble of a butterfly's wings in my hand.

The clear, firm outline of a face and limb... and a thousand resultant combinations, which take shape in my mind, constitute my world.

(Georgina Kleege) She says, 'I have this sensory experience, and I can make analogies to sight and sound.'

It was not a popular book, because it didn't tell that wonderful, heroic, inspirational story.

(narrator voiceover) In their three-and-a-half years working closely together, John and Annie had fallen in love, and they married in the spring of 1905.

Macy moved into their house outside of Boston, and the three of them cultivated friends who were journalists, poets, teachers, and labor activists.

(Kim Nielsen) She became increasingly interested in politics.

And with John Macy, this was her entry into that world.

She wanted to know why some people were poor and some people were not.

She thought that was incredibly unjust, and she began to look at why that was the case.

(as Helen Keller) How did I become a socialist?

By reading.

It's no easy thing to absorb through one's fingers a book of 50,000 words on economics, but it is a pleasure I shall enjoy repeatedly until I have made myself familiar with all the classic socialist authors.

(Peter Hall) Socialism was an enormously appealing movement in the early decades of the 20th century.

It flourished in circles of educated people, especially educated young people.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) It can't be unreasonable to ask of a society a fair chance for all.

It can't be unreasonable to demand the protection of women and children and an honest wage for all.

When shall we learn that we are all related one to the other, that we are all members of one body?

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Helen would go on to write articles for a New York City socialist newspaper.

Its women's pages regularly discussed birth control, wages for women workers, and childcare.

When Keller began working on disability issues, job opportunities for Blind people were extremely limited.

(Brian Miller) Broom making, chair caning, some basic industrial arts and crafts.

Women were involved in mattress repair and sewing, and would develop lace.

They would do embroideries.

Yeah. They would make pillows.

A lot of not particularly advanced industrial enterprises.

(as Helen Keller) It's terrible to be Blind and to be uneducated; but it's worse for the Blind who have finished their education to be idle.

(narrator voiceover) Helen teamed up with a friend, Charlie Campbell.

(Sassy Outwater-Wright) When Helen Keller and Charles Campbell created the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, they were angry, but they needed to get people on their side.

They needed to advance the civil rights of Blind people, and they had to figure out a diplomatic way to do that while at the same time forcefully possessing ownership of their own experience.

(gavel banging) (as Helen Keller) I appeared before the Massachusetts legislature to urge the necessity of employment for the Blind and to ask for a state commission, to which I was appointed.

Although I didn't know it at the time, the curtain rose on my life's work.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Among the commission's earliest achievements was helping to reduce blindness in babies.

One of the big causes was gonorrhea, unknowingly passed on from mother to child.

(Janet Golden) Gonorrhea is affecting all of these babies.

They're being exposed.

They're gonna have sore eyes.

Many of them will go blind.

It becomes a matter of, 'Let's not keep this something shameful and hidden.

Let's find it and treat it.'

(Mary Klages) Because she was both female and Blind, it was safe for Helen to talk about things that other women would not be able to, like venereal disease.

No one would think that it's because she knew that firsthand.

(narrator voiceover) took on this taboo subject and invited Helen and other women to write about it.

(Laura Lovett) is targeted at the home.

It goes into everyone's household.

And this is a culture where women aren't allowed to talk about sex.

Where no one is allowed to talk about sex.

Where, in fact, women are not supposed to speak in public.

(as Helen Keller) The facts are not agreeable reading.

Often they are revolting.

It may be objected that women cannot be trusted with such a painful revelation.

They must be.

I cannot help it.

The time has come for plain speaking.

(narrator voiceover) A few drops of silver nitrate would end up being the prevention.

(as Helen Keller) I think it was the happiest moment of my life when I was told that the day nursery for Blind babies in Boston, once full, is now almost empty.

(narrator voiceover) But despite all she helped to accomplish and the work being done to improve Blind lives, the commission members were not equal.

While reports were often provided in braille for Helen and her Blind colleagues, there were no accommodations for Helen's deafness.

She had to provide the interpreters and was never able to access all of the available information.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) At the meetings, the endless minutiae were impossible to grasp through hand spelling.

I felt incompetent to enter into discussions, only part of which any human being could give me.

My mind became confused, and suggestions I intended making usually failed to materialize.

I decided to resign.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) By now, Keller is nearly 30.

Famous since childhood, she is sought out by journalists and photographers.

From the time she was a small girl, her protruding left eye was always carefully concealed.

Keller decided to change that.

(Sassy Outwater-Wright) She needed to pass for public inspection.

She needed to be someone that looked normal and comfortable to the media-consuming public.

(Mary Klages) So she has her eyes replaced with glass eyes, which make her look like her eyes are always open, bright, shining, and seeing.

(Sassy Outwater-Wright) Removing the eye is a difficult procedure to go through.

I've been through it twice, and, uh, for her to go through that at 30 years of age would have, at that time, been a very difficult experience, and all of this was private.

(narrator voiceover) Keller continued to work on her speech and learned new breathing techniques often used by singers.

♪♪♪ (Rebecca Alexander) The level of pain and blood, sweat, and tears of effort, of time and energy that people who are Deaf have gone through in order to be able to speak in some form of intelligible way is never really addressed.

(as Helen Keller) Since my 10th year, I have labored unceasingly to speak so that others can understand me.

I have not succeeded completely in realizing the desire of my childhood to 'talk like other people.'

Yet I have only partially conquered the hostile silence.

It is not a pleasant voice.

(Helen Keller) It is not blindness or deafness that brings me my darkest hours.

(Annie Sullivan) 'It is not blindness or deafness that bring me my darkest hours.'

It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally.

'It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally.'

Longingly I feel how much more good I may have done if I had only acquired normal speech.

'Longingly I feel how much more good I could have done if I had acquired normal speech.'

But out of this sorrowful experience, I understand more clearly... 'But out of this sorrowful experience, I understand more clearly...' ...all human striving... '...all human striving...' ...thwarted ambitions... '...thwarted ambitions...' ...and infinite capacity of hope.

'...and infinite capacity of hope.'

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Throughout the next decades, Keller would lend her name to big causes.

She joined the labor union Industrial Workers of the World and was in the vanguard of the women's movement.

(Georgina Kleege) She was a suffragist.

She supported women's right to vote.

She said somewhere that she saw being female as more of a disability than being DeafBlind, because women didn't have the vote.

(Rebecca Alexander) There's a defiance in Helen Keller that I have always related to that resonates so loudly with me.

The defiance is that she will not be defined.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) This inferiority of woman is man-made.

(Kim Nielsen) She knew she was a prominent figure, and that the media would follow her wherever she went.

So she knew that if she went to support striking workers, those striking workers would receive media attention.

(narrator voiceover) Newspaper editors, who had previously showered her with praise, were quick to criticize her positions.

'Helen Keller preaching on the merits of socialism.'

'Helen Keller sneering at the Constitution.'

'Helen Keller on these aspects is pitiful,' said one editorial.

(Kim Nielsen) Annie and John were frequently blamed for brainwashing Helen, and for giving her political views.

(as Helen Keller) There's a chance for a satirical comment on the phrase 'the exploitation of poor Helen Keller.'

I don't like the hypocritical sympathy of such a paper.

But I'm glad if it knows what the word 'exploitation' means.

(Georgina Kleege) On the one hand, people would say, 'Oh, poor Helen Keller.

She's being manipulated by these people around her.

They're putting words in her mouth.

You know, she doesn't know what she's saying.

It's just terrible.'

And then the other criticism was, 'Well, if someone who's so defective like this DeafBlind person can take these positions, that just proves how wrong-minded they are.'

So in either case, she's dismissed.

She's diminished.

Her political views are not taken seriously.

(narrator voiceover) Keller's beliefs, her politics, and advocacy would, at times, have to be tempered by the need to earn a living.

(Kim Nielsen) Helen and Annie always struggled with money.

They always felt that they needed money to support their household.

(narrator voiceover) A big source of income was speaking engagements.

The topics were suffrage, Blindness, Helen's education, and why she became a socialist.

♪♪♪ (applause) (as Helen Keller) We spoke in halls or big, noisy tents full of country folk.

(narrator voiceover) Together they crisscrossed the country.

All the while, America was building up its weaponry and getting ready to enter World War I.

Keller was fervently opposed.

(as Helen Keller) I used to wake suddenly from a frightful dream of sweat and blood and multitudes shot, killed, crazed, and go to sleep only to dream of it again.

My teacher and I were both worn out.

But I determined to do and say my utmost against militarism.

(narrator voiceover) She gave anti-war speeches, and in this one at Carnegie Hall, took on her critics.

(as Helen Keller) I know what I'm talking about.

My sources of information are as good and reliable as anybody else's.

I have papers and magazines from England, France, Germany, and Austria that I can read myself.

No, I will not disparage the editors.

They are an overworked, misunderstood class.

Let them remember, though, that if I cannot see the fire at the end of their cigarettes, neither can they thread a needle in the dark.

(narrator voiceover) Keller courted even more controversy in her home state of Alabama when she sent a large donation with a letter of support to the NAACP.

(as Helen Keller) I am indeed wholeheartedly with you.

This great republic of ours is a mockery when citizens in any section are denied the rights the Constitution guarantees them... when they are openly evicted, terrorized, and lynched by prejudiced mobs and their persecutors and murderers are allowed to walk abroad unpunished.'

(narrator voiceover) Again, editorial writers condemned her and essentially told her not to come home again.

'Her visit to Selma will not be as welcome as it might have been, advocating and endorsing as she does such unspeakable things as this Negro magazine stands for.

If she is ashamed of her southland, why call their dollars?'

♪♪♪ Helen's Alabama family asked her to back down.

Many years later, NAACP founder W.E.B. Du Bois applauded her conviction.

(as W.E.B. Du Bois) Keller was in her own state, Alabama, being feted and made much of by her fellow citizens.

And yet, courageously and frankly, she spoke out on the inequity and foolishness of the color line.

It cost her something to speak.

♪♪♪ (Susan Schweik) So, the hardest thing to grapple with about Keller's political life for me is what at least appears to be her embrace of eugenics.

(narrator voiceover) In 1915, a doctor refused to perform surgery on a disabled baby and left the child to die.

Helen was drawn into the public debate as an example of the value of life.

But when asked about it, Keller defends the doctor and supports his decision.

(as Helen Keller) It is the possibilities of happiness, intelligence, and power that give life its sanctity, and they are absent in the case of a poor, misshapen, paralyzed, unthinking creature.

♪♪♪ (Susan Schweik) She does it, though, with some complications that are important to think about.

She argues for several things.

She argues for a check on the system, for a kind of ethics board of, uh, doctors and thinkers to mull over what is possible for this child and what kind of suffering the child is in.

So she has a nuanced position in that way.

She also -- and this is really interesting -- makes a call for people who have enough wealth to support a child in that condition to come forward and adopt babies who are coming under this kind of threat.

She is trying to think through this range of issues.

(narrator voiceover) Her thinking evolved.

Decades later, during another medical ethics debate, Keller sent a telegram to the parents of an infant girl with eye tumors.

(as Helen Keller) Blindness is not the greatest evil.

It is only a physical handicap.

That is life.

The annals of progress show undeniably that much of humanity's finest work has been wrought by persons with a severe handicap that she may be spared to help open the eyes of ignorance.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ (applause) ♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) During all the years Helen and Annie spent on the road, there were no accommodations for disabled travelers.

(as Helen Keller) I've never been able to accustom myself to hotel life.

I cannot readily orientate myself in a strange locality.

I am conscious of the same kind of remoteness one senses out at sea, far from all signs of land.

(Brian Miller) We think of a Blind person and how they get around, you think of a white cane, you think of a dog.

And those tools were not part of the landscape for Blind people.

They were not available to Blind people until well into the 20th century.

(narrator voiceover) Annie's eyesight was deteriorating.

She became ill and fell.

(as Helen Keller) There was no one to help us in that dismal hotel, not even an intelligent maid.

I understood then why our friends insisted we should have a competent woman with us.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) They found Polly Thomson, a young woman from Scotland described as someone who 'could balance a bank book, map out a cross-country schedule and keep to it.'

(Kim Nielsen) Polly Thomson fit right in and became a presence who was there for decades.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) While they were on the road, John Macy left.

His marriage to Annie had been unraveling for some time.

(Kim Nielsen) I think the breakup happened for so many reasons.

It happened for money reasons.

It happened for alcohol reasons.

It happened for Annie's fearfulness.

They didn't know how to live with Helen, as well.

(narrator voiceover) A distraught Annie leaned on Helen.

(as Helen Keller) She kept demanding my love in a way that was heartbreaking.

For days, she would shut herself up almost stunned, trying to think of a plan that would bring John back or weeping as only women who are no longer cherished weep.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) But, soon, Hollywood came calling, giving Helen and Annie a great diversion.

Toward the end of World War I, producers pitched a film that could raise awareness of disabled soldiers.

(as Helen Keller) I thought that through the film we might show how the distracted, war-tortured world we were then living in could be saved from strife and social injustice.

That's why the picture was called 'Deliverance.'

(Georgina Kleege) It was a full-on, big Hollywood production, you know.

It concludes with this scene of her on a white horse and all these people following behind her, you know, which is somehow representing of that she's leading the masses into the glorious future.

(as Helen Keller) I was supposed to be a Joan of Arc fighting for the freedom of the workers of the world!

In the California sun, I grew hotter, redder, and more embarrassed every second.

The trumpet tasted nasty!

My quaint fancy of leading the people of the world to victory has never been so ardent since.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) The film's plot, which Helen later called ludicrous, included a bizarre romance for her -- a fantasy boyfriend pulled from the pages of ancient Greek literature.

(Georgina Kleege) It's wild.

It's a wild movie.

In some ways, it's kind of a straight-up biography, with her playing herself, which is always an interesting case, but it has these extraordinary dream sequences where she falls asleep reading 'The Odyssey.'

(Mary Klages) She does imagine being in love with Ulysses, through reading Homer.

So that it's not 'Helen Keller falls in love with a man and has sex,' but, rather, (airily) 'Helen Keller imagines herself as a literary creation.'

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) But, in real life, Helen had already fallen in love with Peter Fagan, a socialist and an old friend of John Macy's.

(as Helen Keller) I was sitting alone in my study.

The young man came in and sat beside me.

For a long time, he held my hand in silence, then he began talking to me tenderly.

I was surprised he cared so much about me.

(narrator voiceover) The romance began when Annie became sick and went away with Polly to recover.

Helen stayed behind with Fagan.

He had been working with them for months, helping with correspondence and Helen's writing.

(Kim Nielsen) Peter Fagan could fingerspell, he knew the manual alphabet, and they could communicate directly.

They required no intermediary.

(as Helen Keller) He said if I would marry him, he would always be near to help me in the difficulties of life.

(Kim Nielsen) She wanted a life with her own household, possibly with children, with a man to love.

She said yes.

The two of them went off, got a marriage license, they did not tell anyone.

News of the marriage license hit the media. Boom!

Everyone wanted attention.

Everyone wanted to know whether this was true.

(narrator voiceover) Annie Sullivan was opposed to a marriage, as were Helen's mother and siblings, perhaps believing married life and childbearing should not be possible for a DeafBlind woman.

(Georgina Kleege) Apparently.

I mean, you know, it's still an issue for disabled people today.

There's an idea that, 'Oh, you wouldn't want to have sex with a disabled person.

You wouldn't want to reproduce with a disabled person.'

You know.

I don't understand it, but it's a prevalent view.

(Rebecca Alexander) How incredibly sad and unfortunate that, despite all of the education and access these people provided her with, Annie Sullivan and her family, that they were not able to understand just how crucial and important that human connection was for her, not just in terms of these meaningful friendships and familial relationships, but in terms of romantic connection and relationships.

(narrator voiceover) Unable to resist Annie and her family, Helen reluctantly ended the relationship.

She shrugged off the episode with self-deprecating humor.

(as Helen Keller) I seem to have acted exactly opposite to my nature.

It can only be explained in the old way that love makes us blind.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) But it was far more serious and meaningful to her than that public quip.

(as Helen Keller) The brief love will remain in my life, a little island of joy surrounded by dark waters.

I am glad that I have had the experience of being loved and desired.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) In later years, responding to a fan who had never met her and sent a marriage proposal, Helen wrote about coming to terms with what she wanted, but could never have.

(Rebecca Alexander) Here is a woman who couldn't hear or see.

You can imagine her ability to feel connected to her body.

I think that is one of the most incredible parts of not being able to hear and see, right?

The other parts of your body, of your senses, are heightened.

(as Helen Keller) Since my youth, I have desired the love of a man.

Why was I tantalized with bodily capabilities I could not fulfill?

I no longer cry for the spoiled treasures of womanhood.

I face consciously the strong sex urge of my nature and turn that life energy into channels of satisfying sympathy and work.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) When 'Deliverance' opened, Helen was not there.

She refused to cross Actors' Equity picket lines.

The silent film did not bring attention to disabled veterans, nor did it make much money.

Annie and Helen were, again, scrambling for resources.

(as Helen Keller) We're the kind of people who come out of an enterprise poorer than they went into it.

(narrator voiceover) B.F. Keith vaudeville made them a big offer -- $2,000 a week.

They went on between animal acts and acrobats.

(cheers and applause) (as Helen Keller) It had always been said that we went into public life only to attract attention and I had letters from friends in Europe about 'the deplorable theatrical exhibition' into which I had allowed myself to be dragged.

Now the truth is, I went of my own free will and persuaded my teacher to go with me.

Vaudeville offered us better pay than either literary work or lecturing!

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Helen and Annie did two 20-minute performances a day.

They also took questions.

(laughter) (as Annie Sullivan) All the world knows and loves Helen Keller, the girl with an unconquerable spirit!

Can you tell when the audience applauds?

(as Helen Keller) Oh, yes.

I hear it with my feet.

(as Annie Sullivan) What is her opinion of President Harding?

(as Helen Keller) I have a fellow feeling for him.

He seems to be as blind as I am.

(as Annie Sullivan) The three greatest men of our time?

(as Helen Keller) Lenin, Edison, and Chaplin.

Some of the questions were very funny.

'Can you tell the time of day without a watch?

Do you think that business is looking up?

Do you believe in ghosts?

Do you think it's a blessing to be poor?'

There were hundreds of them.

♪♪♪ I liked it.

I liked to feel the warm tide of human life pulsing round and round me.

To weep at its sorrows, be annoyed by its foibles, laugh at its absurdities.

(laughter) (applause) (narrator voiceover) But Annie's health was failing.

Their contract was not renewed.

It was time to get off the road, return to their new home in New York, time for Polly to take on a bigger role, and time to start new work.

The American Foundation for the Blind wanted Helen's help.

(Brian Miller) So, the AFB would become, in pretty short order, the preeminent organization speaking on Blindness issues in the country, from the 1920s, you know, well into the 1950s and beyond, you know.

For many, many decades, it was, certainly, by far, the best funded and best known.

And in large part, of course, that was due to the efforts of Helen Keller, who would become the best known spokesperson for the AFB.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Soon, they were back on the road.

(as Helen Keller) For three years we covered the country from coast to coast.

We addressed 250,000 people at 249 meetings in 123 cities, attending innumerable luncheons and receptions and making endless calls.

(narrator voiceover) The AFB was skittish about Helen's politics.

She was told not to speak about her socialism or its issues.

(Georgina Kleege) She was a figurehead.

People knew she was a celebrity.

I think, with the AFB, which was a somewhat, you know, you know, somewhat more conservative organization, they wanted to keep her focused on one issue and one issue only.

'It's about Blindness.

Give money to the Blind people.'

(narrator voiceover) So, with the help of AFB speechwriters, Keller tailored an emotional pitch for community-minded groups, like this one she gave to the Lions Club Convention.

(as Helen Keller) Try to imagine how you would feel if you were suddenly stricken blind.

Picture yourself stumbling and groping at noonday, your work, your independence, gone.

(Georgina Kleege) Some of them are hard to read because it's all about, 'the poor Blind people living in darkness and ignorance, you know, but with your kind support, they will have a glimmer of hope,' and so on.

(narrator voiceover) Early in the 1930s, Keller, on behalf of the AFB, persuaded President Herbert Hoover to host an international assembly of Blind leaders at the White House.

The event coincided with an agreement to standardize braille and use it in American Blind schools.

(Brian Miller) It's a huge accomplishment.

For well over a century, you had multiple competing versions of braille and, you know, you couldn't communicate beyond, sometimes, you know, your roommate at your residential school or, you know, the guy next door, you know, because everybody read a different version of braille.

It really brought the Blind community together, in a way it hadn't been.

(narrator voiceover) In her more than 40 years with the AFB, Keller campaigned for sight-saving classes in public schools, resources for job training, the establishment of commissions for the Blind in nearly 20 states, and access to braille and audio for the Blind.

(male reporter) The Works Progress Administration has established a project for making talking-book machines for the Blind.

(narrator voiceover) But, in 1935, when the AFB pioneered the talking-book, Keller initially balked at lending her support.

Revolutionary as it was, the talking-book would be of no use to Deaf and DeafBlind people.

(as Helen Keller) I thought the Blind could do without talking-books and radios, at a time when millions of people are out of work and in the bread lines.

But I would appear before legislators and ask them for appropriations for talking-books.

This wouldn't be soliciting funds directly from the public.

(male reporter) The person who suggested this project and is responsible for it is Miss Helen Keller.

(narrator voiceover) Helen's involvement was greatly exaggerated.

She drove a hard bargain, finally agreeing to promote talking-books after the AFB promised her more would be done for DeafBlind people.

Once assured, she took the cause straight to the White House.

(as Helen Keller) Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, your kindness to everybody encourages me to come to you with a request.

Would you give a tea at the White House to help me send the talking-book to every corner of dark-land?

I dare not hope of meeting the president, his days are so terribly crowded.

(narrator voiceover) 'Anything Helen Keller is for, I am for,' FDR once said.

They had the shared experience of pushing their disabilities out of the frame while living big public lives.

♪♪♪ Eleanor Roosevelt later wrote, 'My husband knew what it was to face a handicap and conquer it.

I thought how wonderfully both Miss Keller and my husband typified triumph over physical handicap.'

By 1936, Annie Sullivan was near death.

She was 70 years old.

(as Helen Keller) Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I ♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) After nearly half a century, Helen was losing the most important relationship of her life.

Helen was by her beloved teacher's side for her final hours.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) It was an October evening.

She was fully awake, sitting in an armchair with us around her.

She was laughing.

How tenderly she fondled my hand!

♪♪♪ Her dearness was without limit... ♪♪♪ ...and it was almost intolerable.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Annie Sullivan would be the first woman to have her ashes placed in the National Cathedral.

♪♪♪ Helen was consumed with grief.

She needed to mourn in private, so she went to Scotland with Polly.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) Dear, brave Polly now reads to me with her fingers when I can pay any attention.

The anguish which makes me feel cut in two prevents me from writing another word about these life-wrecking changes.

♪♪♪ (Kim Nielsen) This was a time of tremendous healing for her.

It was also a time of tremendous grief.

But it was very important.

She wrote a book which chronicles the year after Annie's death.

It is, in some ways, the least polished of her books, but I find it to be the most truthful, the most heartfelt.

It's very painful to read, sometimes, because of the anguish that she's feeling over Annie's death, but it's also very beautiful and you, as a reader, get a very strong taste of their relationship.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) I saw no other way to accomplish a task of extreme difficulty and delicacy -- reintegrating my life, so shaken and lacerated by Teacher's going.

It is as if all objects dear to my touch and paths familiar to my feet had vanished.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Keller, with Polly at her side, continued her work with the AFB.

As the Nazis rose to power, she stood her ground when her German publisher insisted her books be heavily censored.

Helen refused.

(as Helen Keller) I ask you please to drop all my writings from your list of publications.

(fire crackling, men shouting indistinctly) (narrator voiceover) Her books were among those publicly burned.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) During World War II, Helen and Polly visited military hospitals across the country, talking to wounded soldiers.

(as Helen Keller) To try to brace the newly blinded and the newly deafened, my comrades along the roads of darkness and silence.

The variety of their hands is infinite -- hands hardened by manual labor, slender hands aquiver with thought; powerful, nervous hands; hands pitifully defaced by burns.

♪♪♪ (explosions) (narrator voiceover) After the atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, forcing Japan's surrender, Keller is invited to tour the country during the U.S. occupation.

Helen had visited Blind advocates there years before.

(indistinct conversations) (as Helen Keller) A more gracious compliment could not have been paid me than General MacArthur's granting this opportunity to be reunited with my Japanese Blind and Deaf fellows.

(children vocalizing) His interest will, I am sure, draw to our standard the good-will and the practical aid that restore and heal.

(archival voiceover) Nagasaki was still recovering from the atomic bomb when Helen Keller went there on pilgrimage.

♪♪♪ (Laura Lovett) I think, at some level, there's a kind of practical mission to her being sent in that moment of conciliation, right?

'You can learn to live with the horror of whatever casualty was caused by our dropping of this bomb, just as Keller does.'

(siren wailing) (as Helen Keller) No sooner had we arrived there than the bitter irony of it all gripped us overwhelmingly, and it cost us a supreme effort to speak.

♪♪♪ Jolting over what had once been paved streets, we visited the one grave -- all ashes -- where ninety thousand men, women, and children were instantly killed.

We stumbled over ground cluttered in every direction -- foundation-stones, timbers, bits of machinery and twisted girders.

Polly saw burns on the face of the welfare officer.

A shocking sight.

He let me touch his face, and the rest is silence.

♪♪♪ And it was to these people that I made the appeal.

Their affectionate welcome will remain in my soul, a holy memory -- and a reproach.

(Kim Nielsen) Keller's 1948 trip to Japan convinced the U.S. State Department, without a doubt, that she was one of the most effective ambassadors that they'd ever had and she was then used by the State Department to travel all over the world.

She went to Israel.

She went to South Africa.

She went throughout Central America and South America.

She went through the Northern European countries.

She traveled extensively throughout the Middle East.

And, wherever she went, people certainly understood her as an American, but they also understood her as more than that, that she transcended nationhood, that she represented what people had in common, despite their nationalistic differences.

(Helen Keller) I know every step on the road you are traveling... (Polly Thomson) (Scottish accent) 'I know every step of the road you are taking...' ...and I rejoice at your cheer and determination.

'...and I rejoice at your cheer and determination.'

The obstacles you meet are many.

'Because the obstacles you meet are many.'

And, when you go out to life's struggles and adventures... 'And, when you go out to life's struggles and adventures...' ...you will raise a banner... '...you will raise a banner...' ...for the Deaf who follow you.

'...for the Deaf who follow you.'

(as Hellen Keller) Blindness with a big 'B' has never interested me.

I've always looked on the Blind as part of the whole of society and my desire is to help them regain their human rights.

What I say of the Blind applies equally to all hindered groups -- the Deaf, the impoverished, the mentally disturbed.

(narrator voiceover) Over the next decade, the U.S. government would develop its goodwill ambassador program.

Keller visited more than three dozen countries addressing issues of importance to her -- education and employment for people with disabilities, poverty, and women's rights.

She often went to countries after controversial struggles over equality had taken place, such as apartheid in South Africa.

(woman #1) And to you, Miss Keller, we present this scroll for being the outstanding woman in social service work and who is an inspiration, not only to the handicapped, but to all of us, for your courage and indomitable will.

(narrator voiceover) Now living in Connecticut, Helen and Polly had a new group of friends, including the then-famous Broadway star Katharine Cornell and her partner, Nancy Hamilton.

Together, they made a documentary filled with staged scenes of daily life.

(Georgina Kleege) They sort of present her and Polly Thomson as these two sort of spinster ladies who were kind of doing good works, but they don't really explain what the good works are.

It wasn't really about her intellectual life.

I mean, they do have a scene, I think, of her typing a letter, or something, but it's kind of unclear what the content of what she's writing might be about.

(narrator voiceover) With Helen's permission, playwright William Gibson dramatized her childhood in a TV program, on the Broadway stage, and, finally, a feature film starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke -- all hugely popular.

♪♪♪ Helen was coming to the end of a full and accomplished life, but her legacy would be overshadowed.

She would live on as the girl at the water pump.

♪♪♪ (Susan Schweik) So, the end result, by the time the film version and the stage version of 'The Miracle Worker' do their work -- do their miracle work -- is they, in many ways, kill off Helen Keller, culturally, socially, and we get a child at the water pump.

We get Patty Duke.

So, in some ways, I find that the most bizarre thing.

(Georgina Kleege) It has overtones of an American story that we like to tell ourselves, about, 'If you just work hard enough, you can overcome anything,' which, of course, we know is a myth, but it's still very popular.

It has a kind of Christian overlay.

I mean, I think the whole business about the pump, about the water, that it's that word, you know, has a kind of inference of baptism, of being born again.

So I think, all of that combined, it just makes it a really, really compelling story, but I think we need to think about it.

(Brian Miller) It's not something that you really think about in a sophisticated way, apart from what the standard story is, and then, two, it's something that, if you are a person with a disability, as I was, always made you just a little uncomfortable.

Because either, 'A,' Helen Keller was something that was presented as a model or as, you know, as a super person with a disability, you know, and that you had to live up to; or, 'B,' you know, was somebody who, again, was the stuff of a lot of really terrible jokes.

And so, you know, those kind of associations are not something, you know, as a young kid, you know, you're comfortable with.

♪♪♪ (Mary Klages) I think it's very difficult for a 21st-century audience to connect with the image of Helen Keller that the 20th century produced.

And that's partly because she represents ideas about purity and self-sacrifice that are sentimental and that we don't have a culture of sentiment anymore, that sentiment is something we make fun of.

That more people are going to know Helen Keller from the jokes that are made about her than they are from the original images.

(Kim Nielsen) And the fact that we have, in essence, whitewashed her to that extent, we've made her boring, to a great extent, is not fair to Helen Keller and it paints a very limited -- very limited -- picture of people with disabilities today and what their lives can be like, and what their lives are like.

We need to, I think, recognize her as a fully complex, contradictory, interesting, quirky person of firm convictions, very important to her nation's history, but also, not perfect.

And that represents a far more realistic picture for people with disabilities today.

It represents a far more realistic picture of what we, as a country are and what we can do, as people.

(narrator voiceover) Polly died in 1960.

♪♪♪ A series of strokes began to sideline Helen and ultimately forced her retirement from public life.

♪♪♪ In April 1961, Keller gave what would be her last speech.

It was a visionary one, calling for more funds and special education for children with disabilities.

(as Helen Keller) There seems to be a growing conviction that the Federal government should education and funds to promote the schooling of children who are physically, mentally, or emotionally handicapped.

Think of it -- probably 75 percent of all such children are denied the right to any education!

♪♪♪ Of course we know how expensive special education is... ♪♪♪ ...but America should provide this advantage.

♪♪♪ (Peter Hall) She's a person who tried to bring about certain changes without the force of law behind them.

She was really sort of an advance scout.

♪♪♪ (narrator voiceover) Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968.

She took her place next to Annie and Polly at the National Cathedral.

♪♪♪ (as Helen Keller) I cannot understand why anyone should fear death.

Life here is more cruel than death.

I believe that when the eyes within my physical eyes shall open upon the world to come, I shall simply be consciously living in the country of my heart.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪

TRANSCRIPT

(EXTENDED AUDIO DESCRIPTION + OPEN CAPTIONING + AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE)

On screen:
This video opens in New York City where a woman with long, brown hair and tanned, white skin walks down a bustling sidewalk, using a white cane.
Now, in her home, she speaks to us (both vocally, and using sign language.)

Text on screen:
Rebecca Alexander. Author/Disability Rights Advocate.

Rebecca:
MY NAME IS REBECCA ALEXANDER. I AM NARRATING THE HELEN KELLER DOCUMENTARY, AND I AM DEAFBLIND MYSELF.

On screen:
Rebecca walks into a recording studio.

Rebecca:
I HAVE USHER SYNDROME, WHICH IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEAF BLINDNESS IN THE U.S. AND AROUND THE WORLD.

On screen:
A man wearing a face mask ushers Rebecca into a recording studio.

Man:
HERE'S YOUR CHAIR.

On screen:
The man sits in front of a recording console while Rebecca takes a seat in front of a microphone and dons a pair of headphones. Rebecca puts on a pair of black-framed glasses with lilac-colored arms and narrates…

Rebecca:
3, 2, 1…

Note:
Having begun her voice over narration, Rebecca will now be identified as “Narrator.”

Narrator:
OCTOBER 7, 2009, WASHINGTON, D.C.

On screen:
In a large, stately room, a crowd gathers in front of a veiled statue flanked by Congress members. Uniformed military personnel carry five flags, following the flag of the United States of America. The flags remain upright on tall poles over the spectators’ heads as the Honor Guard march toward the elected officials.

Narrator:
A STATUE OF HELEN KELLER IS ABOUT TO BE UNVEILED INSIDE THE CAPITOL.

On screen:
Senators unveil the statue.

Narrator:
A 600-POUND BRONZE SCULPTURE OF A CHILD STANDING NEAR A WATER PUMP.

On screen:
A cast bronze statue depicts Helen Keller as a young girl. A plaque below the sculpture, also in bronze, reads in print as well as braille: "Helen Keller, Alabama." A quote under the name-- "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart." Folds in Helen’s clothing capture her billowy, long-sleeved dress in metal. Her wavy hair hangs past her shoulders. The statue presents Helen’s fixed gaze and parted lips, as if frozen in deep amazement and wonder. The smooth, shiny bronze shows her delicate, young hand grasping the textured handle of the pump.

Narrator:
THAT MOMENT, MADE FAMOUS IN THE 1962 FILM THE MIRACLE WORKER, WAS THE DAY THE DEAFBLIND GIRL HAD A BREAKTHROUGH WITH HER TEACHER, ANNIE SULLIVAN.

On screen:
A scene from "The Miracle Worker, 1962. A blonde girl touches the wet pump spout. Next, in the Capitol Building, Senator Bob Riley, a brown-haired man, speaks from a podium.

Bob Riley:
W-A-T-E-R... THIS MOMENT HELPED THE WORLD UNDERSTAND THAT ALL OF US, REGARDLESS OF ANY DISABILITY, HAVE A MIND THAT CAN BE EDUCATED, A HAND THAT CAN BE TRAINED.

On screen:
Alexandria, a woman with dark hair, communicates using sign language.

Text on screen:
Alexandria Wailes, Artist.

Alexandria (using sign language):
MY NAME IS ALEXANDRIA WAILES. IN THIS DOCUMENTARY, I WILL BE SIGNING HELEN KELLER'S WORDS.

On screen:
Cherry, a woman with shoulder-length brown hair speaks to us.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller’s words spoken by Cherry Jones.
From “The World I Live In”.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
IN LARGE MEASURE WE TRAVEL THE SAME HIGHWAYS, READ THE SAME BOOKS, SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE. YET, OUR EXPERIENCES ARE DIFFERENT. IN ALL OF MY EXPERIENCES AND THOUGHTS, I AM CONSCIOUS OF A HAND. WHATEVER MOVES ME -- WHATEVER THRILLS ME -- IS AS A HAND THAT TOUCHES ME IN THE DARK: AND THAT TOUCH IS MY REALITY.

On screen:
The statue of Helen Keller at the water pump. Helen wears slim boots with small buttons along the sides and stands on her toes. She reaches out, holding one hand under the spout. A leafy vine grows up the tall, narrow pump-- all captured in the rich metal.

Narrator:
KELLER LIVED TO BE 87. YET HERE SHE WAS ... PUT ON A PEDESTAL AND FROZEN IN TIME.

On screen:
A young Helen Keller in an archival photograph and an oil painting of Helen Keller smelling a flower.

Bob Riley:
THIS EXTRAORDINARY PERSON SHOWED US THE POWER OF A DETERMINED HUMAN SPIRIT AND REMINDED ALL OF US THAT COURAGE AND STRENGTH CAN EXIST IN THE MOST UNLIKELY PLACES.

On screen:
Mary Klages, a woman with short hair and blue eyes, speaks to us.

Text on screen:
Mary Klages, Author.

Mary:
THE IMAGES THAT WE HAVE OF HELEN KELLER ARE A MEDIA CREATION. SHE IS A POSTER CHILD. SHE’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.

On screen:
Archival photographs show Helen Keller posing with dark-haired Annie Sullivan. Light shines on Helen’s profile. She keeps her chin raised slightly, projecting a stately, refined pose.
Next, Georgina, a woman with white hair and bangs, speaks to us.

Text on screen:
Georgina Kleege, Author

Georgina:
THE STORY, THE OVERCOMING, THE SAINTLY FIGURE, I WISH WE COULD RETIRE THAT.

On screen:
Susan, a woman with long light hair, speaks to us.

Text on screen:
Susan Schweik, Disability Historian.

Susan:
MY PRIMARY IMAGE OF HELEN KELLER GROWING UP WAS FROM THE MIRACLE WORKER.

On screen:
Archival film footage captures Helen visiting choreographer Martha Graham's studio. Helen beams. She holds her straight arms out as barefooted dancers in leotards gracefully circle around Helen’s body. Helen wears a black dress, clinched at the waist and strappy, black pumps. A feathered cap-like hat completes her look. Then, Helen stands next to Polly Thomson and speaks at a microphone. Later, she laughs with Polly. Both women wear metal brooches on their blazer’s lapels. They playfully connect in conversation. In another photo, Helen stands facing a hilly vista covered with lush trees.

Susan:
AND THE TOTAL COMPLEXITY OF HER ADULT LIFE. HER LEARNEDNESS, HER FIERY-NESS, HER POLITICS, HER FULL ADULT BEING, ALL OF THAT IS ERASED, AND WHAT WE REMEMBER IS WA-WA.

On screen:
In a clip from “The Miracle Worker,” Helen moves the water pump handle up and down.
Next, Alexandria Wailes.

Alexandria (using sign language):
IN HER JOURNEY, THAT IS A MINUSCULE MOMENT. IT REDUCES THE IDEA OF WHAT A DEAFBLIND PERSON IS, WHAT HER LIFE WOULD LOOK LIKE.

On screen:
An archival photo of Helen, as a young woman, in profile. Her right side remains hidden; her lips mildly pressed together in the fixed pose. Her swept-up hair reveals the fair complexion of her exposed neck.
Next, Kim, a woman with long auburn hair, speaks to us.

Text on screen:
Kim Nielsen, Biographer.

Kim:
I CAME ACROSS LISTS FROM 1924 OF WHAT SOME PEOPLE CALLED THE TEN MOST DANGEROUS WOMEN IN AMERICA. AND HELEN KELLER WAS ON THIS LIST. AND I ACTUALLY REMEMBER LAUGHING OUT LOUD, THAT HELEN KELLER WAS LISTED AS ONE OF THE TEN MOST DANGEROUS WOMEN IN AMERICA, AND I WANTED TO KNOW WHY.

On screen:
Vintage film footage and archival photos show Helen interacting with others. She touches faces and shakes hands while visiting different countries. In her travels, Helen meets with fellow blind activists. In Japan, a photograph captures Polly Thomson and Helen Keller wearing floral kimonos and sitting on their knees with upright, prim posture.
Next, Rebecca Alexander in her home.

Rebecca:
SHE WAS A PIONEER, AND SHE WAS SUCH A TRAILBLAZER FOR SO MANY OF THESE CIVIL RIGHTS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IN WAYS THAT NONE OF US CAN REALLY EVEN QUITE COMPREHEND...BUT SHE HAD THIS INNATE CURIOSITY.

On screen:
Archival photographs show a smiling Helen Keller as a young woman and Mark Twain sitting in a lush park with his iconic light suit and cigar.

Voice Over (as Mark Twain):
THE TWO MOST INTERESTING CHARACTERS OF THE 19TH CENTURY ARE NAPOLEON AND HELEN KELLER. NAPOLEON TRIED TO CONQUER THE WORLD BY PHYSICAL FORCE AND FAILED. HELEN KELLER TRIED TO CONQUER THE WORLD BY POWER OF MIND AND SUCCEEDED.

On screen:
Helen rests in a slight profile. Light falls across her middle-aged, creamy skin and cheekbone and reflects off her open eyes. She wears a dark, wide-brimmed hat contrasts with her paler face.

Text on screen:
A title: Becoming Helen Keller.

On screen:
A white house with an open porch and a green front lawn.
An archival photograph of Helen Keller as a child.

Text on screen:
From “The Story of My Life”.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
I WAS TOO YOUNG TO REALIZE WHAT HAD HAPPENED. WHEN I AWOKE AND FOUND THAT ALL WAS DARK AND STILL, I SUPPOSE I THOUGHT IT WAS NIGHT, AND I MUST’VE WONDERED WHY DAY WAS SO LONG IN COMING. GRADUALLY, HOWEVER...I GOT USED TO THE SILENCE AND DARKNESS.

On screen:
A colored drawing depicts a tidy house with front porch with swing and rocking chair. In the bucolic setting, leafy trees grow around the idyllic home. A blurry, early photograph shows young Helen with half-closed eyelids. Another photo captures a bedroom. An empty baby cradle made from wood rests at the foot of a perfectly made, but otherwise empty, bed with four tall posts at the corners. Douglas, a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a goatee, speaks to us.

Text on screen:
Douglas Baynton, Historian.

Douglas:
HELEN BECAME BLIND AND DEAF AT A YEAR AND A HALF. AND SO, SHE HAD ALREADY HAD SOME EXPOSURE TO-TO LANGUAGE, TO THE WORLD OF SOUND AND SIGHT.

On screen:
An archival photo of Helen, as a child, with curls in her hair. A framed photograph of a man posing in a suit stands behind another early picture of Helen. She sits with her head tilted down slightly; the grand portrait mounted high over her shoulder.

Douglas:
AND...AND THAT HAS IMPORTANT IMPLICATIONS FOR YOUR LATER EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

Narrator:
AS A YOUNG GIRL, HELEN USED WHAT DEAF PEOPLE CALL "HOME SIGNS."

Alexandria (using sign language):
HOME SIGNS ARE VERY LIMITED BECAUSE THEY’RE DEVELOPED OUT OF NECESSITY, OUT OF SURVIVAL. THEY ARE BASIC GESTURES FOR FOOD OR SLEEP THAT A FAMILY UNIT WOULD DECIDE THAT THEY UNDERSTOOD. SO, IT WOULD BE THEIR OWN WAY OF COMMUNICATING IN THEIR HOME, AND IT WOULD BE DIFFERENT FROM ANOTHER FAMILY'S HOME. THEY WOULDN'T BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE THAT LEVEL OF COMPLEXITY OF COMMUNICATION.

On screen:
Douglas Baynton.

Douglas:
HELEN KELLER HAD A SIGN FOR HER MOTHER THAT LOOKED SOMETHING LIKE THIS.

On screen:
Douglas brushes his cheek with his knuckles.

Douglas:
SHE HAD A SIGN FOR HER FATHER THAT HAD TO DO WITH REPRESENTING HIS EYEGLASSES.

On screen:
Douglas touches his thumb and pointer finger, next to his eyes.

Douglas:
SHE HAD SIGNS FOR CONCRETE ACTIONS LIKE EATING AND DRINKING, THAT KIND OF THING.

On screen:
An archival photo of young Helen with her baby sister. Next, an archival photo of a row of large brick buildings. The building on the corner has a sign reading Davis Jewelry House.

Narrator:
THE KELLERS LIVED IN TUSCUMBIA, ALABAMA. HELEN’S FATHER ARTHUR HAD SERVED IN THE CONFEDERATE ARMY AND RAN A SMALL NEWSPAPER.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Helen Keller’s father, a man with thinning hair and a goatee. A newspaper clip reads: “The North Alabamian. A.H. Keller Editor and Proprietor.”

Narrator:
THEY WERE NOT RICH AND NOT SURE HOW TO GUIDE THEIR DAUGHTER.

On screen:
An archival photo of Helen Keller, as a child, touching her medium-sized dog. Lacework embellishes the bottom of her bright-white dress. In the photo, Helen’s wavy hair matches the texture and amber-color of her dog’s silky-looking fur. Next, Douglas Baynton.

Douglas:
THE KELLERS ARE WORKING WITH VERY LITTLE INFORMATION. THEY COULD HAVE SENT HER TO A SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF OR SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND POSSIBLY, BUT THAT’S NOT AN IDEAL CHOICE.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Helen Keller’s mother, a woman with short curly dark hair. Her eyes glimmer and her mouth holds almost a near-smile, giving her an open, soft expression. Next, Kim Nielson.

Kim:
HELEN’S MOTHER KATE WAS A VERY WELL-READ WOMAN… AND SHE AT SOME POINT WHEN KELLER WAS SMALL, READ CHARLES DICKENS’ AMERICANS NOTES OF 1842.

On screen:
An archival photograph of a bearded Charles Dickens in a casual pose.

Kim:
AND IN THAT BOOK, CHARLES DICKENS TALKED ABOUT LAURA BRIDGMAN, ANOTHER DEAFBLIND WOMAN WHO HAD BEEN EDUCATED.

On screen:
An illustration of Laura Bridgman reading a braille book. Her professor wears an ascot in the historical drawing. He stands over his young student as her hands move across the words. Laura sits erect, looking attentive as she reads. A photo to the right of the illustration shows Charles Dickens with a long goatee. He poses with his legs open, straddling the back of a chair. Text appears under his image “American Notes, for General Circulation.”

Kim:
AND KELLER’S MOTHER KATE BECAME VERY HOPEFUL. SHE WANTED THAT SAME THING FOR HER CHILD. SHE HAD RESISTED THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF HELEN.

On screen:
Archival photographs of Laura Bridgman with her hair pulled back and wearing a fabric black eye mask. She wears a braid in the back of her straight and finely styled, tied-back hair. Her lips press lightly together in a neutral expression in the picture.

Narrator:
BRIDGMAN WENT TO THE PERKINS SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS WHERE SHE LEARNED TO COMMUNICATE WITH FINGERSPELLING. THE KELLERS APPEALED TO THE SCHOOL’S DIRECTOR MICHAEL ANAGNOS.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Michael Anagnos, a man with short hair and a long beard superimposes over an image of the handwritten letter from Alabama. The cursive lettering reads, in part, 1887—Prof Anagnos, Boston Mass. Next, Mary Klages.

Mary:
WHEN ANAGNOS GETS A LETTER FROM CAPTAIN ARTHUR KELLER SAYING, "WE HAVE A DEAFBLIND DAUGHTER. DO YOU HAVE ANYBODY THERE THAT COULD TEACH HER?" ANAGNOS SAYS, "YES, I DO. IT'S ANNIE SULLIVAN."

On screen:
A vintage film clip of Annie Sullivan with gray hair, sitting next to an adult Helen Keller. A vase of tulips rest behind the women. Helen wears a tasteful, long necklace dangling from her neck. Helen sits facing forward as Annie keeps steady touch next to her and speaks.

Annie Sullivan:
WHEN I SAW MISS HELEN KELLER FIRST, SHE WAS SIX YEARS AND EIGHT MONTHS OLD. SHE HAD BEEN BLIND AND DEAF AND MUTE SINCE HER NINETEENTH MONTH, AS THE RESULT OF AN ILLNESS. SHE HAD NO WAY OF COMMUNICATING WITH THOSE AROUND HER, EXCEPT A FEW IMITATIVE SIGNS THAT SHE HAD MADE FOR HERSELF. A PUSH MEANT GO AND A PULL MEANT COME AND SO ON.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Helen Keller as a young woman and Annie Sullivan as a middle-aged woman, both wearing white Victorian-era style dresses. Helen holds Annie right hand in hers and keeps her head turned towards Annie.

Narrator:
ANNIE SULLIVAN AND HELEN KELLER WOULD BE TOGETHER FOR THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS. THEY WERE RARELY EVER SEPARATED.

Georgina:
ANNE SULLIVAN, SHE CAME FROM THIS UH...EXTREMELY DEPRIVED BACKGROUND. IT WAS REALLY KIND OF A DESPERATE SITUATION.

On screen:
A black-and-white photo shows a water tower standing on the roof of a factory made of bricks. A dirt road winds past the building. A portrait to the right shows Annie Sullivan as a teenager in profile; her hair tidily pulled back in a bun with braids. The arrangement of the images makes it appear as if Annie is gazing across the desolate, rural scene. An archival photograph captures young students sitting in a classroom at Perkins.

Narrator:
SULLIVAN SUFFERED FROM TRACHOMA – A BACTERIAL INFECTION THAT CAUSED VISION LOSS. SHE WAS A WARD OF THE STATE AND AN ILLITERATE 14-YEAR-OLD WHEN SHE ARRIVED AT PERKINS. SIX YEARS LATER, ANNIE GRADUATED CLASS VALEDICTORIAN. AND AFTER A SERIES OF EYE OPERATIONS, HER VISION HAD IMPROVED.

Kim Nielsen:
HE CAREER OPPORTUNITIES FOR A BLIND WOMAN AT THIS POINT IN TIME WERE INCREDIBLY SMALL AND THEN HERE CAME THIS LETTER, SEEKING A TEACHER FOR A YOUNG DEAF-BLIND GIRL.

On screen:
A calligraphic letterhead reads “Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind.” The handwritten letter, written in an elegant, flowing cursive reads, in part, “My dear Annie, Please read the enclosed letters carefully, and let me know at your earliest convenience whether you would be disposed to consider favorably an offer of a position in the family of Mr. Keller.” Vintage film footage of a train speeding along a track. Next, an archival photograph of the Tuscumbin train station.

Narrator:
ONCE IN ALABAMA, SULLIVAN RECORDED HER EXPERIENCE IN LETTERS SENT BACK TO BOSTON.

On screen:
A split screen showing a close-up of a handwritten letter and an archival photograph of Annie Sullivan as a young woman.

Voice Over (as Annie Sullivan):
SOMEHOW, I HAD EXPECTED TO SEE A PALE, DELICATE CHILD, BUT THERE'S NOTHING PALE OR DELICATE ABOUT HELEN. SHE IS LARGE, STRONG, AND RUDDY, AND AS UNRESTRAINED IN HER MOVEMENTS AS A YOUNG COLT.

On screen:
Mary Klages speaks to us.

Mary Klages:
ANNIE CAME TO THE KELLER’S HOUSE AND SAID, “BEFORE I CAN TEACH THIS CHILD ANYTHING, I HAVE TO MAKE AN INTERVENTION” AS WE WOULD CALL IT NOW.

On screen:
A scene from “The Miracle Worker” in which a young-adult Annie attempts to catch pre-teen Helen. Helen wildly thrashes and runs around her dining room. In the struggle, Annie quickly reaches out and securely grabs Helen with both hands and snugly holds her waist. Both wear billowy dresses in the scene. Helen's long hair hangs loose and tousled in the tense scuffle.

Mary Klages:
THE INTERVENTION IS ABSOLUTELY PHYSICAL. IT CAN’T BE ANYTHING ELSE, BECAUSE HELEN DOESN’T HAVE LANGUAGE YET. THIS IS THE SHOCK IN THE MIRACLE WORKER WHEN IT FIRST APPEARED ON THE BROADWAY STAGE. IT BROUGHT HELEN’S PHYSICALITY, IT BROUGHT HER BODY TO THE CENTER OF THE STAGE. AND SHE SAYS, “THE MIRACLE HAS OCCURRED. SHE WILL OBEY ME.”

On screen:
An archival photograph of Helen sitting calmly with her hand on her dog’s head.

Text on screen:
Annie Sullivan Letter, 1887.

Voice Over (as Annie Sullivan):
THE BACK OF THE GREATEST OBSTACLE IN THE PATH OF PROGRESS IS BROKEN. “NO” AND “YES” HAVE BECOME FACTS, AS APPARENT TO HER AS HOT AND COLD.

On screen:
An archival photo of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller. Helen holds a doll. Young Helen sits in a wicker chair in the lawn as Annie rests on the ground beside her in the portrait.

Narrator:
ANNIE TAUGHT HELEN THE MANUAL TACTILE ALPHABET. LETTER BY LETTER, SHE FINGERSPELLED WHOLE SENTENCES INTO HELEN’S HANDS

Georgina Kleege:
HER ACCOMPLISHMENT, UH, WAS THAT SHE MADE THE OBSERVATION THAT A HEARING CHILD LEARNS LANGUAGE, BECAUSE THEY'RE ALWAYS SURROUNDED BY LANGUAGE. ONCE SHE UH, WAS WITH KELLER, SHE WAS FINGERSPELLING TO HER CONSTANTLY, DAWN TO DUSK. SO THAT KELLER KIND OF PICKED UP LANGUAGE IN A MORE NATURAL WAY.

On screen:
Art, a man with short while hair, uses sign language.

Text:
Art Roehrig. Former President, American Association of the DeafBlind.

Art Roehrig:
SOME DEAFBLIND PEOPLE ARE FLUENT SIGNERS. IT DEPENDS ON WHEN THE PERSON BECAME DEAF AND BLIND. FOR EXAMPLE, A PERSON BORN BLIND WHO BECOMES DEAF LATER IN LIFE USUALLY PREFERS TO SPELL OUT WORDS. A PERSON BORN DEAF WHO LATER BECOMES BLIND, USUALLY PREFERS TO SIGN.

On screen:
Fingers move across raised printed letters.

Narrator:
ANNIE TAUGHT HELEN HOW TO READ USING BOOKS IN RAISED PRINT AND HOW TO WRITE WITH A LETTERING SYSTEM CALLED “SQUARE HAND.”

On screen:
A girl writes letters on horizontal strips of paper, encased in a wooden frame with brass hinges. The pencil drafts a B and an A on one of the strips. Next, Georgina speaks to us.

Georgina Kleege:
SHE LATCHED ONTO WRITING AT A VERY EARLY POINT. IN ANNE SULLIVAN'S ACCOUNT OF TEACHING HER, UH, PARTICULARLY IN THE FIRST MONTHS OF THEIR BEING TOGETHER, SHE TELLS A STORY ABOUT KELLER, WHO WAS FINGERSPELLING TO HERSELF AND THEN PRETENDING THAT SHE… SHE WAS WRITING A LETTER.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Helen, as a little girl, reading a braille book.

Georgina Kleege:
AND THEN SHE TOOK THE LETTER TO HER MOTHER AND SHE SAID, "TAKE IT TO THE POST OFFICE AND MAIL IT." IT WAS LIKE SHE GRASPED THIS IDEA THAT SHE COULD WRITE AND SEND HER WORDS OUT INTO THE WORLD - AND GET A RESPONSE BACK FROM PEOPLE THAT SHE'D...HE'D NEVER MET. AND THAT WAS A VERY POWERFUL IDEA FOR HER AS A CHILD.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Michael Anagnos, next to a hand-written letter. Anagnos wears a three-piece suit with bowtie and a pocket watch clipped inside to his vest. His long, wavy beard grows to his chest and his thinning, light-brown hair parts on the left side.

Narrator:
BACK AT PERKINS, MICHAEL ANAGNOS WAS EAGER TO SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT THE PROGRESS ANNIE WAS MAKING WITH HER NEW STUDENT.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Helen, as a young girl, holding a small white fluffy dog. Next, Mary Klages speaks to us.

Mary Klages:
WITH HELEN KELLER, HE SEES AN OPPORTUNITY TO SAY, "LOOK AT WHAT THIS WOMAN, WHO IS A GRADUATE OF PERKINS, HAS BEEN ABLE TO DO WITH THIS UNFORTUNATE DEAFBLIND GIRL, IN MAKING HER A HUMAN BEING.

On screen:
Old newspaper headline: “A Marvelous Child,” “Little Helen Keller – Truth Stranger Than Fiction,” and “It Beats Laura Bridgman.” The article beginning “The wonderful case of little Helen Keller, a blind girl… She has only the faculties of touch and smell—although blind, she possesses remarkable powers of discernment…” Another archival clipping shows a child’s handwriting reading “When I am thirteen years old, I am going to travel in many strange and…”

Narrator:
HER PROGRESS WAS NOT A GRADUAL ADVANCEMENT BUT SORT OF A TRIUMPHAL MARCH,” ANAGNOS WROTE IN ONE DISPATCH SENT TO PERKINS ALUMNI AND BENEFACTORS. BUT ANNIE SULLIVAN RESISTED THIS NARRATIVE AND THE WAY IT WOULD BE USED.

On screen:
An archival photo of Annie and young Helen. Helen holds her little girl arm around Annie’s shoulders and her right-hand rests on Annie’s left hand.

Text:
Annie Sullivan Letter. 1888.

Voice Over (as Annie Sullivan):
I APPRECIATE THE KIND THINGS MR. ANAGNOS HAS SAID ABOUT HELEN AND ME, BUT HIS EXTRAVAGANT WAY OF SAYING THEM RUBS ME THE WRONG WAY. THE TRUTH IS NOT WONDERFUL ENOUGH TO SUIT THE NEWSPAPERS; SO, THEY ENLARGE UPON IT AND INVENT RIDICULOUS EMBELLISHMENTS.

On screen:
An archival photo of Helen with her dog. Helen stands in profile next to the seated collie. She wears a long, high-collared dress with a bow tied around her waist and a bow tying the sides of her long hair back.

Narrator:
WHEN SHE IS EIGHT, HELEN ENROLLS AT THE PERKINS SCHOOL.
Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
IN THE SCHOOL, I WAS IN MY OWN COUNTRY. WHAT JOY.

On screen:
Archival photos show Helen at school with her classmates, studying taxidermy animals.

Narrator:
HELEN AND ANNIE ALSO WORKED ON ANOTHER WAY FOR HELEN TO COMMUNICATE USING LIP READING AND VIBRATIONS.

On screen:
Vintage film footage of Helen with her fingers on Annie's lips. A film clip shows Annie speaking with Helen’s hand positioned on Annie’s face.

Annie Sullivan:
AND I LET HER SEE, BY PUTTING HER HAND ON MY FACE HOW WE TALK WITH OUR MOUTHS. SHE FELT THE VIBRATIONS OF THE SPOKEN WORD. INSTANTLY SHE SPELLED, “I WANT TO TALK WITH MY MOUTH.” THAT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE. BUT AFTER EXPERIMENTING FOR A TIME, WE FOUND THAT PLACING HER HAND IN THIS POSITION -- THE THUMB RESTING ON THE THROAT RIGHT AT THE LARYNX, THE FIRST FINGER ON THE LIPS, THE SECOND ON THE NOSE, WE FOUND THAT SHE COULD FEEL THE VIBRATIONS OF SPOKEN WORDS.

On screen:
As an older woman, Helen feels President Eisenhower’s face. He stands and smiles as she quickly explores his features.

Narrator:
WHILE THIS WASN’T ALWAYS ACCURATE, IT ALLOWED HELEN A DIRECT CONNECTION WITH PEOPLE AND SHE USED IT OFTEN IN PUBLIC. FROM THE TIME SHE WAS A YOUNG GIRL, HELEN WAS EAGER TO SPEAK.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
I HAD KNOWN FOR A LONG TIME THAT PEOPLE AROUND ME USED A METHOD OF COMMUNICATION DIFFERENT FROM MINE…ONE WHO IS ENTIRELY DEPENDENT ON THE MANUAL ALPHABET HAS ALWAYS A SENSE OF RESTRAINT…OF NARROWNESS. MY THOUGHTS WOULD OFTEN RISE UP AND BEAT LIKE BIRDS AGAINST THE WIND, AND I PERSISTED IN USING MY LIPS AND VOICE.

On screen:
A photo of Helen, as a young woman, touching Annie's lips.
An archival photo of Alexander Graham Bell with a group of children.

Narrator:
SHE RECEIVED HELP FROM A FRIEND ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL, NOW BEST KNOWN AS THE CREATOR OF THE TELEPHONE, THEN A LEADER IN DEAF EDUCATION.

Douglas Baynton:
THAT’S WHAT HE SAW AS HIS MISSION IN LIFE—IN PARTICULAR, TEACHING OF SPEECH AND ORAL COMMUNICATION. HE WAS A PUBLIC ADVOCATE, UH, FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF SIGN LANGUAGE IN THE SCHOOLS, AND FOR THE TEACHING OF ORAL SKILLS IN SCHOOLS.

Rebecca Alexander:
ORALISM IN GENERAL, I THINK, HAS A VERY OPPRESSIVE QUALITY TO IT, BECAUSE WHAT ORALISM IS PREDICATED ON IS THE IDEA THAT THE ONLY WAY TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY IS BEING ABLE TO SPEAK.

Douglas Baynton:
SPEECH TEACHING WAS A CENTRAL PART OF BELL’S LIFE, AND HE MARRIED A DEAF WOMAN, MABEL BELL, WHO WAS ALSO A PUBLIC ADVOCATE FOR THE ORAL METHOD.

On screen:
A photo of Mabel Bell, a dark-haired woman, standing in a group.
A photo of white-bearded Alexander Graham Bell.

Narrator:
WHEN BELL LEARNED HELEN WAS SPEAKING, HE WENT TO PERKINS, AND SPELLED QUESTIONS INTO HER HANDS.

On screen:
During Helen and Bell's dramatized exchange, Bell spells words into Helen's hand, using his fingers. In addition to scenes of tactile communication, Bell's questions appear, written in cursive.

Bell (VO):
DO YOU KNOW WHAT A CLOUD IS?

Cherry (As Helen Keller):
RAIN.

Bell (VO):
WHAT IS WIND?

Cherry (As Helen Keller):
IT IS WILD AIR.

Bell (VO):
WHAT IS THOUGHT?

Cherry (As Helen Keller):
WHEN WE MAKE A MISTAKE, WE SAY I THOUGHT IT WAS RIGHT.

Bell (VO):
WHERE IS YOUR THOUGHT?

Cherry (As Helen Keller):
MIND. MY HEAD IS FULL OF MIND.

Alexandria Wailes:
THAT PART OF HELEN KELLER'S STORY, I LEARNED LATER IN MY LIFE. WHEN I DISCOVERED THAT, FROM A MODERN LENS, FROM A CONTEMPORARY LENS, EVEN THOUGH I WAS YOUNG, I WAS A LITTLE DISAPPOINTED. I WAS DISAPPOINTED BECAUSE IT MEANT THAT SIGN LANGUAGE COMMUNICATION WAS SOMETHING TO BE DISCARDED, NOT SOMETHING TO BE INTERESTING. SO AS I WAS GROWING UP AND FINDING MY OWN DEAF IDENTITY, I COULDN'T REALLY RELATE. FOR THAT TIME, AND WHO SHE WAS AROUND, AND HOW SHE WAS RAISED, I THINK THE CHOICE TO ASSIMILATE WITH HER HEARING PEERS AND THOSE IN HER ENVIRONMENT, I GET IT, I GET IT.

Narrator:
ON A VISIT HOME TO ALABAMA WHEN SHE IS 11, HELEN WRITES A STORY AND SENDS IT TO ANAGNOS AS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT.

On screen:
In a photo, Helen types on a braille typewriter. Teenage Helen’s hair hangs in loose curls past her shoulders. A vase with flowers rests next to the machine.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
KING FROST, LIKE ALL OTHER KINGS, HAS GREAT TREASURES OF GOLD AND SILVER. BUT AS HE IS A GENEROUS OLD MONARCH, HE ENDEAVORS TO MAKE A RIGHT USE OF HIS RICHES.

Mary Klages:
HE SAYS THIS IS PROOF OF WHAT AN ORIGINAL INTELLECT SHE HAS. THERE HAD BEEN SOME ACCUSATIONS BY CRITICS, BOTH FOR LAURA BRIDGMAN AND FOR HELEN KELLER, THAT THEY WEREN’T REALLY LEARNING ANYTHING, THAT THEY WERE JUST BEING PARROTS, THEY WERE JUST LEARNING TO IMITATE, THAT THEY HAD BEEN TRAINED TO GIVE ANSWERS. AN ORIGINAL STORY FROM HELEN KELLER PROVED, FOR ANAGNOS, THAT SHE WAS ORIGINAL. THAT SHE HAD THE CAPACITY FOR INDEPENDENT THOUGHT.

Narrator:
ANAGNOS PUBLISHES THE STORY. A DEAF COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER PRINTS IT AND SOON A READER NOTICES A RESEMBLANCE TO ONE BY MARGARET CANBY. WHEN THE EDITORS PRINT THEM SIDE BY SIDE, THE SIMILARITIES ARE OBVIOUS.

On screen:
A newspaper titled, “The Goodson Gazette” prints two stories side-by-side:

"King Frost" by Helen Keller reads: "He builds bridges over every stream, as transparent as glass, but often as strong as iron. He puts the flowers to sleep with one touch of his hand."

"Frost Fairies" by Margaret T. Canby: "He builds bridges over every stream clear as glass in appearance, but often strong as iron. He puts the flowers and plants to sleep, by one touch of his hand."

Mary Klages:
IT'S NOT JUST AN ORDINARY 11-YEAR-OLD GIRL MAKING THE MISTAKE OF COPYING SOMETHING THAT SHE'D READ SOMEWHERE ELSE. THIS IS HELEN KELLER. THIS IS THE REPRESENTATIVE OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN, TO HAVE ORIGINAL THOUGHT, TO HAVE A SOUL, TO HAVE LANGUAGE – EVERYTHING THAT DISTINGUISHES ANIMALS FROM HUMAN BEINGS.

Narrator:
THE PERKINS LIBRARY DIDN’T HAVE THE STORY. IT DID NOT EXIST IN RAISED PRINT AND HELEN’S PARENTS HAD NEVER HEARD OF IT. ANAGNOS NEEDED ANSWERS.

On screen:
A montage of vintage photos of Educators at Perkins. The women wear long dresses and skirts with long sleeved blouses. The men each wear suit and ties.

Narrator:
WAS HELEN A FRAUD? HAD ANNIE FALSELY REPRESENTED THE CHILD? HE CALLED FOR AN INVESTIGATION. EIGHT PERKINS EDUCATORS AND BOARD MEMBERS, FOUR SIGHTED AND FOUR BLIND, WERE DIRECTED TO FIND OUT WHAT HAD HAPPENED.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
MISS SULLIVAN WAS ASKED TO LEAVE. THEN I WAS QUESTIONED, WITH WHAT SEEMED TO ME A DETERMINATION TO FORCE ME TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I REMEMBERED HAVING THE FROST FAIRIES READ TO ME. I FELT IN EVERY QUESTION, THE DOUBT AND SUSPICION THAT WAS IN THEIR MINDS. WHEN AT LAST I WAS ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE ROOM, I WAS DAZED AND DID NOT NOTICE MY TEACHER'S CARESSES. THAT NIGHT I WEPT AS I HOPE FEW CHILDREN HAVE WEPT. I FELT SO COLD I IMAGINED I SHOULD DIE BEFORE MORNING, AND THE THOUGHT COMFORTED ME.

On screen:
A photo in profile of a young Helen with long wavy hair. Next, Mary Klages.

Mary:
THE VERDICT OF THE SIGHTED AND BLIND TEACHERS WAS "NOT PROVEN." ANAGNOS SUSPECTED FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE THAT ANNIE HAD READ HELEN THE STORY AND WAS TRYING TO COVER IT UP.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
I AM SURE I NEVER HEARD IT. IT MADE US FEELSO BAD TO THINK THAT AND WICKED. MY HEART IS FULL OF TEARS, FOR I LOVE THE BEAUTIFUL TRUTH WITH ALL MY HEART AND MIND.

Narrator:
MICHAEL ANAGNOS WOULD PUBLICLY CLAIM TO HOLD ANNIE AND HELEN IN HIGH ESTEEM. BUT PRIVATELY, HE CALLED HELEN, "A LIVING LIE." AND HELEN WAS DEEPLY SCARRED BY THE EXPERIENCE.

On screen:
An illustration depicts a god-like being with long, flowing, white beard and hair. Small, devilish entities with spears hover around, prodding the figure. Now, a photograph shows Helen resting her head gently on Annie’s shoulder.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
FOR A LONG TIME, WHEN I WROTE A LETTER, EVEN TO MY MOTHER, I WAS SEIZED WITH A SUDDEN FEELING OF TERROR, AND I WOULD SPELL THE SENTENCES OVER AND OVER, TO MAKE SURE THAT I HAD NOT READ THEM IN A BOOK.

On screen:
HELEN READING BRAILLE. A PAGE FROM “THE YOUTH’S COMPANION.”

Narrator:
HELEN NEVER RETURNED TO PERKINS. IN AN EFFORT TO REBOUND FROM THE PLAGIARISM SCANDAL, ANNIE URGED HELEN TO WRITE ABOUT HER OWN EXPERIENCES. AN ESSAY WRITTEN WHEN SHE WAS 12, CAUGHT THE ATTENTION OF THE NOVELIST MARK TWAIN WHO WOULD BECOME A FRIEND.

On screen:
A photo of Mark Twain. He sits, clutching a straw hat with wide brim. Wearing his iconic white suit, he grips a cigar between his lips and scrunches his brow.

Twain:
I WILL ASK THE READER TO NOTICE THE EASY FLOW AND THE GRACEFUL PHRASING OF THIS GIRL’S NARRATIVE, AND REMEMBER – NOT THAT SHE IS BLIND DEAF, BUT THAT SHE WAS ONLY TWELVE WHEN SHE WROTE THE PAPER WHICH I AM QUOTING FROM. GIRLS OF TWELVE AND WITH ALL THEIR FACULTIES INTACT, and WITH ELEVEN YEARS TRAINING IN SPEECH ARE NOT AS A RULE ABLE TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES IN THIS CAPABLE FASHION. AND WHEN THIS CHILD IS ELOQUENT, HOW TRUE THE RING OF IT IS, AND HOW FAR ABOVE HER YEARS.

On screen:
A photo of Helen as a girl.

Narrator:
KELLER INSISTED ON CONTINUING HER EDUCATION.

Text on screen:
From "Teacher"

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
I DID NOT WANT PEOPLE TO TELL ME WHAT I SHOULD DO OR NOT DO JUST BECAUSE I HAPPENED TO BE DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS. I WAS SIXTEEN YEARS OLD AND I HAD DECIDED TO GO TO COLLEGE. IT WAS A RELIEF FOR TEACHER AFTER THE MANY DISTURBED DAYS SHE HAD SPENT BROODING ON MY FUTURE, that I HAD FORMED THE DECISION MYSELF.

On screen:
Mary Klages:

Mary:
SHE WAS ASKED WHETHER SHE WANTED TO GO TO WELLESLEY OR TO VASSAR, TO ONE OF THE EXISTING WOMEN'S COLLEGES. AND SHE SAID, “NO, I WANT TO GO TO HARVARD.” AND ANNIE INVESTIGATED THIS AND SAID, “OKAY, WELL IT HAS TO BE RADCLIFFE,” WHICH WAS THEN THE HARVARD EXTENSION FOR WOMEN.

On screen:
An illustration of Radcliffe College with its stately brick buildings and lush green grounds. Next, a photo of a formal dinner party with Mark Twain in attendance. The women wear fashionable gowns with puffy, capped sleeves and loose buns on the top of their heads.

Narrator:
ANNIE AND HELEN NEEDED HELP TO PAY FOR SCHOOL. A GROUP OF WEALTHY WOMEN CREATED A SCHOLARSHIP FUND AND ASKED TWAIN TO LEAD THE APPEAL.

Text on screen:
Mark Twain letter, 1896

Twain:
SHE UNDERWENT THE HARVARD EXAMINATION FOR ADMISSIONS TO RADCLIFFE COLLEGE. SHE PASSED WITHOUT A SINGLE CONDITION. SHE WAS ALLOWED THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME THAT IS GRANTED TO OTHER APPLICANTS, AND THIS WAS SHORTENED IN HER CASE BY THE FACT THAT THE QUESTION PAPERS HAD TO BE READ TO HER. IT WON’T DO FOR AMERICA TO ALLOW THIS MARVELOUS CHILD TO RETIRE FROM HER STUDIES BECAUSE OF POVERTY. IF SHE CAN GO ON WITH THEM, SHE WILL MAKE A FAME THAT WILL ENDURE IN HISTORY FOR CENTURIES.

On screen:
Archival photos of Helen Keller and Mark Twain. In one portrait, Helen touches a statue of a woman’s body carved in stone. Folds in the draped fabric cling to the female shape. In Mark Twain’s portrait, he leans back in a chair, holding a loaded pipe to his chest. A scraggly moustache hangs over his upper lip and his scruffy eyebrows frame his middle-aged face.

Twain:
ALONG HER SPECIAL LINES, SHE IS THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY PRODUCT OF ALL THE AGES.

On screen:
Vintage photos of young college women on campus.
A photo of Helen with a downward gaze and soft smile. Creased, repetitive pleats create texture across her lightly colored, refined blouse. Next, Kim Nielsen.

Kim:
WHEN HELEN ENTERED COLLEGE, THERE WAS A HUGE DEBATE GOING ON AS TO WHETHER OR NOT WOMEN SHOULD GO TO COLLEGE. THERE WAS A LOT OF CONCERN THAT IT WOULD RENDER THEM STERILE, THAT THEY WOULD BE UNABLE TO HANDLE A COLLEGE EDUCATION PHYSICALLY. AND WITH HELEN KELLER BEING DEAF AND BLIND, THAT WAS EVEN MORE OF A CONTROVERSY. WOULD SHE BE ABLE TO HANDLE IT?

On screen:Archival photographs show women in a reading room, leaning over books and journals. In a classroom, dozens of female students write at desks, sitting at the front of the room as their male peers sit in rows behind them.

Narrator:
LIKE ALL COLLEGES THEN, RADCLIFFE WAS NOT ACCESSIBLE TO ALL. THE LECTURES HAD TO BE INTERPRETED. NO BRAILLE TEXTBOOKS WERE EASILY AVAILABLE. HELEN RELIED ON FRIENDS TO CONVERT HER BOOKS TO BRAILLE.

On screen:
A portrait of a woman in an academic robe, Radcliffe Dean Agnes Irwin.

Narrator:
RADCLIFFE DEAN AGNES IRWIN PERSONALLY PAID FOR TWO EXAM PROCTORS. ONE TO MONITOR HELEN AND THE OTHER TO WATCH HELEN’S PROCTOR.

On screen:
Historian Peter Hall (a man with light hair and a moustache) speaks to us.

Peter:
IT'S ALMOST AS IF THEY WERE AFRAID THAT PEOPLE WERE GOING TO ACCUSE THE UNIVERSITY OF ENGAGING IN A PUBLICITY STUNT BY GRADUATING THIS, THIS HELEN KELLER WITH HER ASTOUNDING DISABILITIES AND HER ASTOUNDING ABILITIES, BUT THAT SOMEHOW, THEY WEREN'T PLAYING IT ON THE LEVEL.

On screen:
Archival photos of Helen. In one portrait, she cuddles a boxer-type dog on her lap. A small smile rests on her face as the stubby-nosed dog relaxes on Helen. A photo of woman studying in a reading room around the turn of the 20th century. Next, Art Roehrig signs to us:

Art:
NO, HELEN KELLER WORKED VERY HARD. USING MYSELF AS AN EXAMPLE, IN MY MA AND PHD PROGRAMS, I ALSO WORKED VERY HARD. I READ EVERYTHING IN BRAILLE. I ATTENDED CLASS WITH INTERPRETERS WHO SIGNED TACTILELY WITH ME. I ABSORBED EVERYTHING. MY CLASSMATES TOOK NOTES THAT WERE CONVERTED TO BRAILLE, WHICH I READ. I MADE IT!

On screen:
In an archival photo, women study in a library.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
IN THE CLASSROOM, I WAS OF COURSE PRACTICALLY ALONE. THE PROFESSOR WAS AS REMOTE AS IF HE WERE SPEAKING THROUGH A TELEPHONE. THE WORDS RUSHED THROUGH MY HAND LIKE HOUNDS IN PURSUIT OF A HARE WHICH THEY OFTEN MISS. BUT IN THIS RESPECT, I DO NOT THINK I WAS MUCH WORSE OFF THAN THE GIRLS WHO TOOK NOTES.

Narrator:
AS DIFFICULT AS IT WAS TO BE A STUDENT THERE, RADCLIFFE IS WHERE HELEN BECAME A PROFESSIONAL WRITER.

On screen:
A 1902 edition of The Ladies’ Home Journal.

Narrator:
AS DIFFICULT AS IT WAS TO BE A STUDENT THERE, RADCLIFFE IS WHERE HELEN BECAME A PROFESSIONAL WRITER. THE EDITOR OF THE LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL MADE A BIG OFFER TO TURN HER AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAYS INTO MAGAZINE ARTICLES.

Text on screen:
From "Midstream" by Helen Keller.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
WITHOUT A VERY CLEAR IDEA OF WHAT I WAS DOING, I SIGNED AN AGREEMENT. AT THE MOMENT, I THOUGHT OF NOTHING BUT THE THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS. IN MY IMAGINATION, THE STORY WAS ALREADY WRITTEN.

On screen:
Archival photos of Helen Keller’s home. A stone wall rests in front of the stately, large home. Two terraces extend from the left and right sides of the second story. In a photograph, Helen sits in the sunshine, perching on the solid stone wall. She holds a book in braille across her lap.

Narrator:
SOON HELEN WAS FALLING BEHIND.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
I WAS IN DEEP WATER AND FRIGHTENED OUT OF MY WITS. A FRIEND TOLD ME ABOUT MR. MACY, AN ENGLISH INSTRUCTOR AT HARVARD. HE WAS EAGER, INTELLIGENT, GENTLE. HE UNDERSTOOD MY DIFFICULTIES AND SET ABOUT RELIEVING THEM.

On screen:
An archival photo of John Macy, a clean-shaven man with short dark hair and thin wire-frame glasses. An archival photo of John, Annie, and Helen. Next, Kim Nielsen.

Kim:
THE TWO OF THEM HIRED HIM TO COME IN AND HELP THEM MANAGE ALL OF THE PAPERS AND TO EDIT THE STORY OF MY LIFE.

Narrator:
MACY NEGOTIATED A CONTRACT TO TURN HELEN'S ARTICLES INTO A BOOK. HE ADDED AN INTRODUCTION AND ANNIE'S LETTERS ABOUT HELEN. THIS BECAME THE FIRST OF KELLER’S MANY BOOKS: THE STORY OF MY LIFE.

On screen:
Pages from The Ladies’ Home Journal. A red hardcover book titled The Story of My Life. Helen Keller. Next, Georgina Kleege.

Georgina:
HER STYLE WAS KIND OF A THROWBACK TO AN EARLIER PERIOD. HER STYLE WAS KIND OF FLOWERY AND ORNATE. SHE LOVED METAPHORS AND IMAGERY.

Narrator:
IN JUNE 1904, HELEN KELLER GRADUATED FROM RADCLIFFE COLLEGE WITH HONORS. SHE COULD READ AND WRITE IN LATIN, FRENCH AND GERMAN AND WAS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR.

On screen:
Old photographs of Radcliffe College graduates, including a colorized photo of Helen in her cap and gown. Next, Kim Nielsen.

Kim:
AFTER HELEN GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE, SHE OF COURSE WAS THRILLED BY THE SUCCESS OF STORY OF MY LIFE, AND SHE WANTED AND PLANNED TO MAKE HER LIVING AS A WRITER. THE PHILANTHROPIC SUPPORT THAT THEY HAD WAS DIMINISHING AFTER SHE HAD GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE. SHE HAD SOME LIMITED SUCCESS, BUT NOTHING SHE DID REACHED THE MATERIAL SUCCESS OF THE STORY OF MY LIFE. SHE HAD A VERY HARD TIME SELLING THINGS.

On screen:
A black-and-white portrait shows Helen as a young woman. She stands alone with one foot up on a step to a side porch. The long, thick material of her skirt hangs almost to the ground. She wears a dark-colored tie dangling over her white, long-sleeved blouse. A squared-off, stylish, wide-brimmed hat rests delicately on top of her swept-up hair. A title, reading “The World I Live In.” Next, Georgina Kleege.

Georgina:
SHE TALKS ABOUT TOUCH, SHE TALKS ABOUT HER SENSE OF SMELL, AND THEN SHE TALKS ABOUT WHAT SHE CALLS HER SYSTEM OF ANALOGIES.

On screen:
Alexandria Wailes signs.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
MY HAND IS TO ME WHAT YOUR HEARING AND SIGHT ARE TO YOU. MY WORLD IS BUILT OF TOUCH: THE DELICATE TREMBLE OF A BUTTERFLY’S WINGS IN MY HAND. THE CLEAR, FIRM OUTLINE OF A FACE AND LIMB AND OF A THOUSAND RESULTANT COMBINATIONS, WHICH TAKE SHAPE IN MY MIND, CONSTITUTE MY WORLD.

On screen:
Archival photos of Helen Keller. In one, Helen, Annie, and John Macy stand together outside in the fresh air. John sweetly holds Helen’s hand and the two smile with Annie positioned between them. Annie and Helen gaze away, while John stares directly into the camera lens. Next, Georgina Kleege.

Georgina:
SHE SAYS, "I HAVE THIS SENSORY EXPERIENCE, AND I CAN MAKE ANALOGIES TO SIGHT AND SOUND." IT WAS NOT A POPULAR BOOK, BECAUSE IT DIDN'T TELL UH, THAT WONDERFUL, HEROIC, INSPIRATIONAL STORY.

On screen:
A copy of “The World I Live In.”
A photo in profile of Helen.

Narrator:
IN THEIR THREE AND A HALF YEARS WORKING CLOSELY TOGETHER, JOHN AND ANNIE HAD FALLEN IN LOVE. AND THEY MARRIED IN THE SPRING OF 1905. MACY MOVED INTO THEIR HOUSE OUTSIDE OF BOSTON AND THE THREE OF THEM CULTIVATED FRIENDS WHO WERE JOURNALISTS, POETS, TEACHERS AND LABOR ACTIVISTS.

On screen:
A montage of archival photos showing Annie and John socializing at small gatherings and large parties. Next, Kim Neilsen.

Kim:
SHE BECAME INCREASINGLY INTERESTED IN POLITICS. AND WITH JOHN MACY, THIS WAS HER ENTRY INTO THAT WORLD. SHE WANTED TO KNOW WHY SOME PEOPLE WERE POOR AND SOME PEOPLE WERE NOT. SHE THOUGHT THAT WAS INCREDIBLY UNJUST...AND SHE BEGAN TO LOOK AT WHY THAT WAS THE CASE.

Text on screen:
From Out of the Dark by Hellen Keller.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
HOW DID I BECOME A SOCIALIST? BY READING. IT'S NO EASY THING TO ABSORB THROUGH ONE'S FINGERS A BOOK OF 50,000 WORDS ON ECONOMICS, BUT IT IS A PLEASURE I SHALL ENJOY REPEATEDLY UNTIL I HAVE MADE MYSELF FAMILIAR WITH ALL THE CLASSIC SOCIALIST AUTHORS.

On screen:
Books and articles about socialism. One pamphlet, marked as 10 cents, is titled “Unionism and Socialism” while another, at 5 cents, is titled “Socialism, The Hope of the World” by Eugene Wood. In a portrait, Helen pets a dog while reading braille. A full bow of cloth rests under her chin. Fastened cuffs cinches the excess of fabric of her billowy blouse. Her fingers steadily touch the short-haired dog’s shoulders. Another political pamphlet reads “Labor Problems and Labor Legislation.” A copy of sheet music titled “The Rebel Girl,” written by Joe Hill, features women marching with a bright red flag on the cover.
Next, Peter Hall.

Peter:
SOCIALISM WAS AN ENORMOUSLY APPEALING uh, MOVEMENT IN THE EARLY DECADES OF THE 20TH CENTURY. IT FLOURISHED IN CIRCLES OF EDUCATED PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY EDUCATED YOUNG PEOPLE.

On screen:
A photo of women sitting in a circle on a grassy lawn.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
IT CAN’T BE UNREASONABLE TO ASK OF A SOCIETY A FAIR CHANCE FOR ALL. IT CAN’T BE UNREASONABLE TO DEMAND THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN AND AN HONEST WAGE FOR ALL. WHEN SHALL WE LEARN THAT WE ARE ALL RELATED ONE TO THE OTHER, THAT WE ARE ALL MEMBERS OF ONE BODY?

On screen:
A photo of Helen touching a leafy fern. A 1908 edition of The Call newspaper. Article headlines read: “Labor Men Displeased,” “I'm Real Socialist, says Helen Keller,” and “What Is Feminism?”

Narrator:
HELEN WOULD GO ON TO WRITE ARTICLES FOR THE CALL, A NEW YORK CITY SOCIALIST NEWSPAPER. ITS WOMEN’S PAGES REGULARLY DISCUSSED BIRTH CONTROL, WAGES FOR WOMEN WORKERS, AND CHILD CARE. WHEN KELLER BEGAN WORKING ON DISABILITY ISSUES, JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR BLIND PEOPLE WERE EXTREMELY LIMITED.

On screen:
In a historical photo, a man with an eye-patch begs for coins from a well-dressed man wearing a rounded bowler hat. Educator and Disability Rights Advocate, Brian Miller, (short salt-and-pepper hair) speaks.

Brian:
BROOM MAKING, CHAIR CANING, UM...UH, SOME BASIC INDUSTRIAL ARTS AND CRAFTS.

On screen:
Archival photos of blind workers. Women sits at large, table-sized looms in a factory.

Brian:
WOMEN WERE INVOLVED IN MATTRESS REPAIR AND SEWING AND THE...THEY WOULD DEVELOP LACE. THEY WOULD DO EMBROIDERIES. THEY WOULD MAKE PILLOWS. A LOT OF UH...NOT PARTICULARLY ADVANCED INDUSTRIAL ENTERPRISES.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller speech, 1903.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
IT'S TERRIBLE TO BE BLIND AND TO BE UNEDUCATED; BUT IT'S WORSE FOR THE BLIND WHO HAVE FINISHED THEIR EDUCATION, TO BE IDLE.

Narrator:
HELEN TEAMED UP WITH A FRIEND, CHARLIE CAMPBELL.

On screen:
An archival photograph of Campbell, a man with dark hair and a mustache.
Next, Disability Advocate, Sassy Outwater-Wright (a woman with long auburn hair.)

Sassy:
WHEN HELEN KELLER AND CHARLES CAMPBELL CREATED THE MASSACHUSETTS ASSOCIATION FOR THE BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED, THEY WERE ANGRY, BUT THEY NEEDED TO GET PEOPLE ON THEIR SIDE. THEY NEEDED TO ADVANCE THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF BLIND PEOPLE...AND THEY HAD TO FIGURE OUT A DIPLOMATIC WAY TO DO THAT WHILE AT THE SAME TIME FORCEFULLY POSSESSING OWNERSHIP OF THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE.

On screen:
Another old photograph shows a large sign stating “The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind- Ask Support” with four columns below reading- “1. In a campaign for the prevention of blindness. 2. In training every blind person for his own highest happiness and usefulness. 3. In educating the public to aa better understanding of the capabilities of the blind. 4. In increasing the market for both home and shop products.” Next, a photograph displays a domed municipal building.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
I APPEARED BEFORE THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE TO URGE THE NECESSITY OF EMPLOYMENT FOR THE BLIND AND TO ASK FOR A STATE COMMISSION, TO WHICH I WAS APPOINTED. ALTHOUGH I DIDN'T KNOW IT AT THE TIME, THE CURTAIN ROSE ON MY LIFE'S WORK.

Narrator:
AMONG THE COMMISSION'S EARLIEST ACHIEVEMENTS, WAS HELPING TO REDUCE BLINDNESS IN BABIES. ONE OF THE BIG CAUSES WAS GONORRHEA, UNKNOWINGLY PASSED ON FROM MOTHER TO CHILD.

On screen:
An old poster shows a sketch of a woman holding an infant. The poster's text reads: "Baby's Sore Eyes" is a dangerous disease. If the eyelids are red and swollen, if eyes discharge - send for the doctor at once."
Next: Historian Janet Golden (a woman with red shoulder-length hair) speaks.

Janet:
GONORRHEA IS AFFECTING ALL OF THESE BABIES. THEY'RE BEING EXPOSED. THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE SORE EYES. MANY OF THEM WILL GO BLIND. IT BECOMES A MATTER OF LET'S NOT KEEP THIS SOMETHING SHAMEFUL AND HIDDEN. LET'S FIND IT AND TREAT IT.

On screen:
Archival photos show a doctor treating a baby and a mother holding an infant. Next, Mary Klages.

Mary:
BECAUSE SHE WAS BOTH FEMALE AND BLIND, IT WAS SAFE FOR HELEN TO TALK ABOUT THINGS THAT OTHER WOMEN WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO, LIKE VENEREAL DISEASE. NO ONE WOULD THINK THAT IT'S BECAUSE SHE KNEW THAT FIRSTHAND.

Narrator:
THE LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL TOOK ON THIS TABOO SUBJECT AND INVITED HELEN AND OTHER WOMEN TO WRITE ABOUT IT.

On screen:
Headlines from "The Ladies Home Journal" read:
- How they Told Their Children;
- Why Girl's Go Wrong;
- The Young Mother's Home Club.
Next, Historian Laura Lovett (a woman with brown shoulder-length hair and glasses) speaks.

Laura:
LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL IS TARGETED AT THE HOME. IT GOES INTO EVERYONE'S HOUSEHOLDS. AND THIS IS A CULTURE WHERE WOMEN AREN'T ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT SEX. WHERE NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT SEX. WHERE, IN FACT, WOMEN ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO SPEAK IN PUBLIC.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
THE FACTS ARE NOT AGREEABLE READING, OFTEN THEY ARE REVOLTING. IT MAY BE OBJECTED THAT WOMEN CANNOT BE TRUSTED WITH SUCH A PAINFUL REVELATION. THEY MUST BE. I CANNOT HELP IT. THE TIME HAS COME FOR PLAIN SPEAKING.

Text on screen:
Unnecessary Blindness – One-Fourth of Our Sightless Victims of Ignorance.

On screen:
Photos of nurses and babies in a hospital nursery.

Narrator:
A FEW DROPS OF SILVER NITRATE WOULD END UP BEING THE PREVENTION.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s Words):
I THINK IT WAS THE HAPPIEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE WHEN I WAS TOLD THAT THE DAY NURSERY FOR BLIND BABIES IN BOSTON, ONCE FULL, IS NOW ALMOST EMPTY.

On screen:
Archival photos show a nurse administering eyedrops to an infant.
A photo of empty nursery beds. A clipping reads “Crusade Against ‘Babies Sore Eyes’ Nears Its Goal’” with an illustration showing less and less students entering a school for the blind starting in 1908, then 1915, and then down by a whole 7% by 1932.

Narrator:
BUT DESPITE ALL SHE HELPED TO ACCOMPLISH AND ALL THE WORK BEING DONE TO IMPROVE BLIND LIVES, THE COMMISSION MEMBERS WERE NOT EQUAL. WHILE REPORTS WERE OFTEN PROVIDED IN BRAILLE FOR HELEN AND HER BLIND COLLEAGUES, THERE WERE NO ACCOMMODATIONS FOR HELEN’S DEAFNESS. SHE HAD TO PROVIDE THE INTERPRETERS AND WAS NEVER ABLE TO ACCESS ALL OF THE AVAILABLE INFORMATION.

On screen:
Helen, with a large braille book, at a meeting of six men.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller letter, 1933.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
AT THE MEETINGS, THE ENDLESS MINUTIAE WERE IMPOSSIBLE TO GRASP THROUGH HAND SPELLING. I FELT INCOMPETENT TO ENTER INTO DISCUSSIONS ONLY PART OF WHICH ANY HUMAN BEING COULD GIVE ME. MY MIND BECAME CONFUSED AND SUGGESTIONS I INTENDED MAKING USUALLY FAILED TO MATERIALIZE. I DECIDED TO RESIGN.

On screen:
A photo of Helen leaning back on a garden bench. Sunlight falls across her face. Brooches pin belted fabric around the waist of her long, refined gown.

Narration:
BY NOW, KELLER, IS NEARLY 30. FAMOUS SINCE CHILDHOOD, SHE IS SOUGHT OUT BY JOURNALISTS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS. FROM THE TIME SHE WAS A SMALL GIRL, HER PROTRUDING LEFT EYE WAS ALWAYS CAREFULLY CONCEALED. KELLER DECIDED TO CHANGE THAT.

Sassy Outwater-Wright:
SHE NEEDED TO PASS FOR PUBLIC INSPECTION. SHE NEEDED TO BE SOMEONE THAT LOOKED NORMAL AND COMFORTABLE TO THE MEDIA CONSUMING PUBLIC.

Mary:
SHE HAS HER EYES REPLACED WITH GLASS EYES, WHICH MAKE HER LOOK LIKE HER EYES ARE ALWAYS OPEN, BRIGHT, SHINING, AND SEEING.

On screen:
A wooden box with compartments holds dozens of glass eyes. Each one has life-like subtle blue colored irises and black pupils. Next, Sassy
Outwater-Wright.

Sassy:
REMOVING THE EYE IS A DIFFICULT PROCEDURE TO GO THROUGH. I’VE BEEN THROUGH IT TWICE, AND, UH, FOR HER TO GO THROUGH THAT AT 30 YEARS OF AGE, WOULD HAVE, AT THAT TIME, BEEN A VERY DIFFICULT EXPERIENCE, AND ALL OF THIS WAS, WAS PRIVATE.

Narrator:
KELLER CONTINUED TO WORK ON HER SPEECH AND LEARNED NEW BREATHING TECHNIQUES OFTEN USED BY SINGERS.

On screen:
Helen stands at a piano as a man sits facing the keys. Rebecca Alexander speaks.

Rebecca:
THE LEVEL OF PAIN, AND BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS OF EFFORT, OF TIME AND ENERGY THAT PEOPLE WHO ARE DEAF HAVE GONE THROUGH IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK IN SOME FORM OF INTELLIGIBLE WAY IS NEVER REALLY ADDRESSED.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
SINCE MY TENTH YEAR, I HAVE LABORED UNCEASINGLY TO SPEAK SO THAT OTHERS CAN UNDERSTAND ME. I HAVE NOT SUCCEEDED COMPLETELY IN REALIZING THE DESIRE OF MY CHILDHOOD TO “TALK LIKE OTHER PEOPLE.” YET I HAVE ONLY PARTIALLY CONQUERED THE HOSTILE SILENCE. IT IS NOT A PLEASANT VOICE…

On screen:
Archival footage of an older Helen Keller speaking (and being interpreted by Polly).

Helen Keller:
IT IS NOT BLINDNESS OR DEAFNESS THAT BRING ME MY DARKEST HOURS. IT IS THE ACUTE DISAPPOINTMENT IN NOT BEING ABLE TO SPEAK NORMALLY. LONGINGLY I FEEL HOW MUCH MORE GOOD I MAY HAVE DONE, IF I HAD ONLY ACQUIRED NORMAL SPEECH. BUT OUT OF THIS SORROWFUL EXPERIENCE I UNDERSTAND MORE CLEARLY ALL HUMAN STRIVING, THWARTED AMBITIONS, AND INFINITE CAPACITY OF HOPE.

On screen:
An archival photo of women working at factory tables. Spools of thread rest neatly in the rows of work stations.

Narrator:
THROUGHOUT THE NEXT DECADES, KELLER WOULD LEND HER NAME TO BIG CAUSES. SHE JOINED THE LABOR UNION: INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD AND WAS IN THE VANGUARD OF THE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT.

On screen:
Images from the early 20th century include a photograph shows dozens of women, seated close together, working in a manufacturing plant; a labor movement poster reading: I.W.W. - One Big Union Of All The Workers. The Greatest Thing On Earth; and newspaper headlines reading "Helen Keller Joins I.W.W. --Socialist Too Slow, So She Is a Syndicalist and Favors Revolution” and “Helen Keller in ‘Suff’ Parade."
Next Georgina Kleege.

Georgina:
SHE WAS A SUFFRAGIST. SHE SUPPORTED WOMEN'S RIGHT TO VOTE. UH. SHE SAID SOMEWHERE THAT SHE SAW BEING FEMALE AS MORE OF A DISABILITY THAN BEING DEAFBLIND, BECAUSE WOMEN DIDN'T HAVE THE VOTE.

Rebecca:
THERE'S A DEFIANCE IN HELEN KELLER THAT I HAVE ALWAYS RELATED TO, THAT RESONATES SO LOUDLY WITH ME. THE DEFIANCE IS THAT SHE WILL NOT BE DEFINED.

On screen:
Archival film footage and photos shows women and young girls marching through a large city in a suffrage parade. Some carry American flags and banners. In a historical photograph, a political organization’s white flag reads “New York City—Victory—1915.”

Text on screen:
Helen Keller speech, 1916.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
THIS INFERIORITY OF WOMAN IS MAN-MADE.

On screen:
Photos of Helen Keller at rallies. Next, Kim Nielsen.

Kim:
SHE KNEW SHE WAS A PROMINENT FIGURE, AND THAT THE MEDIA WOULD FOLLOW HER WHEREVER SHE WENT. SO, SHE KNEW THAT IF SHE WENT TO SUPPORT STRIKING WORKERS, THOSE STRIKING WORKERS WOULD RECEIVE MEDIA ATTENTION.

Narrator:
NEWSPAPER EDITORS, WHO HAD PREVIOUSLY SHOWERED HER WITH PRAISE, WERE QUICK TO CRITICIZE HER POSITIONS.

On screen:
Clippings of editorial excerpts from newspapers.

Narrator:
“HELEN KELLER PREACHING ON THE MERITS OF SOCIALISM.” “HELEN KELLER SNEERING AT THE CONSTITUTION.” “HELEN KELLER ON THESE ASPECTS IS PITIFUL”, SAID ONE EDITORIAL.

Kim:
ANNIE AND JOHN WERE FREQUENTLY BLAMED FOR BRAINWASHING HELEN, AND FOR GIVING HER POLITICAL VIEWS.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
THERE’S A CHANCE FOR a SATIRICAL COMMENT ON THE PHRASE “THE EXPLOITATION OF POOR HELEN KELLER.”
I DON’T LIKE THE HYPOCRITICAL SYMPATHY OF SUCH A PAPER. BUT I AM GLAD IF IT KNOWS WHAT THE WORD “EXPLOITATION” MEANS.

On screen:
A photo of Keller in profile. Tiny beads in white decorate the bosom of her light-colored dress. With a lowered gaze, she appears deep in thought in the portraiture. Next, Georgina Kleege.

Georgina:
ON THE ONE HAND PEOPLE WOULD SAY, "OH, POOR HELEN KELLER. SHE'S BEING MANIPULATED BY THESE PEOPLE AROUND HER. THEY'RE PUTTING WORDS IN HER MOUTH. YOU KNOW, SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT SHE'S SAYING. IT'S JUST TERRIBLE. AND THEN THE OTHER CRITICISM WAS, "WELL, IF SOMEONE WHO'S SO DEFECTIVE LIKE THIS DEAFBLIND PERSON CAN TAKE THESE POSITIONS, THAT JUST PROVES HOW WRONG-MINDED THEY ARE." SO IN EITHER CASE, SHE'S DISMISSED. SHE'S DIMINISHED. HER POLITICAL VIEWS ARE NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY

Narrator:
KELLER’S BELIEFS, HER POLITICS AND ADVOCACY WOULD AT TIMES HAVE TO BE TEMPERED BY THE NEED TO EARN A LIVING.

Kim:
HELEN AND ANNIE ALWAYS STRUGGLED WITH MONEY. THEY ALWAYS FELT THAT THEY NEEDED MONEY TO SUPPORT THEIR HOUSEHOLD.

Narrator:
A BIG SOURCE OF INCOME WAS SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS. THE TOPICS WERE SUFFRAGE, BLINDNESS, HELEN’S EDUCATION AND WHY SHE BECAME A SOCIALIST.

On screen:
Fragments from a headline: “…Talks to 9,000. Deaf, Dumb, Blind Girl Performs Miracle”
Photo of a largely attended tent gathering.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
WE SPOKE IN HALLS OR BIG, NOISY TENTS FULL OF COUNTRY FOLK…

Narrator:
TOGETHER THEY CRISSCROSSED THE COUNTRY.

On screen:
A man turns the crank of a large artillery weapon.

Narrator:
ALL THE WHILE, AMERICA WAS BUILDING UP ITS WEAPONRY AND GETTING READY TO ENTER WORLD WAR I. KELLER WAS FERVENTLY OPPOSED.

On screen:
Crowds of men board a ship.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I USED TO WAKE SUDDENLY FROM A FRIGHTFUL DREAM OF SWEAT AND BLOOD AND MULTITUDES SHOT, KILLED, CRAZED, AND GO TO SLEEP ONLY TO DREAM OF IT AGAIN. MY TEACHER AND I WERE BOTH WORN OUT. BUT I DETERMINED TO DO AND SAY MY UTMOST AGAINST MILITARISM.

Narrator:
SHE GAVE ANTI-WAR SPEECHES, AND IN THIS ONE AT CARNEGIE HALL, SHE TOOK ON HER CRITICS…

Text on screen:
Helen Keller Speech, 1916

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. MY SOURCES OF INFORMATION ARE AS GOOD AND RELIABLE AS ANYBODY ELSE'S. I HAVE PAPERS AND MAGAZINES FROM ENGLAND, FRANCE, GERMANY AND AUSTRIA THAT I CAN READ MYSELF. NO, I WILL NOT DISPARAGE THE EDITORS. THEY ARE AN OVERWORKED, MISUNDERSTOOD CLASS.

On screen:
Old photos from a newsroom.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
LET THEM REMEMBER, THOUGH, THAT IF I CANNOT SEE THE FIRE AT THE END OF THEIR CIGARETTES, NEITHER CAN THEY THREAD A NEEDLE IN THE DARK.

On screen:
A photo of Helen and Annie wearing brimmed hats. Helen holds the side of her hat with her gloved hand.

Narrator:
KELLER COURTED EVEN MORE CONTROVERSY IN HER HOME STATE OF ALABAMA WHEN SHE SENT A LARGE DONATION WITH A LETTER OF SUPPORT TO THE NAACP.

On screen:
African Americans adorn the cover of “The Crisis” magazine from July of 1916, next to a typed letter to Mr. Oswald Garrison Villard, Vice-President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It begins “Dear Mr. Villard, It has been my intention to write to you every day since I received your letter—an appeal which smote me to the depths of my soul.” Next, a photograph shows a diverse group of citizens standing, together, in front of a stone building.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller Letter, 1916.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I AM INDEED, WHOLEHEARTEDLY WITH YOU. THIS GREAT REPUBLIC OF OURS IS A MOCKERY WHEN CITIZENS IN ANY SECTION ARE DENIED THE RIGHTS THE CONSTITUTION GUARANTEES THEM. WHEN THEY ARE OPENLY EVICTED, TERRORIZED AND LYNCHED BY PREJUDICE MOBS AND THEIR PERSECUTORS AND MURDERERS ARE ALLOWED TO WALK ABROAD UNPUNISHED.

On screen:
An excerpt from a newspaper article.

Narrator:
AGAIN, EDITORIAL WRITERS CONDEMNED HER. AND ESSENTIALLY TOLD HER NOT TO COME HOME AGAIN. “HER VISIT TO SELMA WILL NOT BE AS WELCOME AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN, ADVOCATING AND ENDORSING AS SHE DOES SUCH UNSPEAKABLE THINGS AS THIS NEGRO MAGAZINE STANDS FOR...IF SHE IS ASHAMED OF HER SOUTHLAND, WHY CALL THEIR DOLLARS?” HELEN’S ALABAMA FAMILY ASKED HER TO BACK DOWN. MANY YEARS LATER, NAACP FOUNDER W.E.B. DU BOIS, APPLAUDED HER CONVICTION.

On screen:
An archival photo of W.E.B Du Bois, a black man with deep set eyes, a mustache and goatee.

Text on screen:
W.E.B Du Bois letter, 1927.

Voice over of a Du Bois quote:
KELLER WAS IN HER OWN STATE, ALABAMA, BEING FETED AND MADE MUCH OF BY HER FELLOW CITIZENS. AND YET, COURAGEOUSLY AND FRANKLY, SHE SPOKE OUT ON THE INEQUITY AND FOOLISHNESS OF THE COLOR LINE. IT COST HER SOMETHING TO SPEAK.

On screen:
A headline: “Helen Keller, Blind, Deaf and Dumb Genius, Writes on Defective Baby Case.”
Next, Disability Historian, Susan Schweik (a woman with long light hair) speaks.

Susan:
SO, THE HARDEST THING TO GRAPPLE WITH ABOUT KELLER’S POLITICAL LIFE FOR ME IS WHAT AT LEAST APPEARS TO BE HER EMBRACE OF EUGENICS.

Narrator:
IN 1915, A DOCTOR REFUSED TO PERFORM SURGERY ON A DISABLED BABY AND LEFT THE CHILD TO DIE. HELEN WAS DRAWN INTO THE PUBLIC DEBATE, AS AN EXAMPLE OF THE VALUE OF LIFE.

On screen:
A headline: “Defectives Are Among Greatest Men in World.”

Narrator:
BUT WHEN ASKED ABOUT IT, KELLER DEFENDS THE DOCTOR AND SUPPORTS HIS DECISION.

Text on screen:
From The New Republic.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
IT IS THE POSSIBILITIES OF HAPPINESS, INTELLIGENCE AND POWER THAT GIVE LIFE ITS SANCTITY, AND THEY ARE ABSENT IN THE CASE OF A POOR, MISSHAPEN, PARALYZED, UNTHINKING CREATURE.

On screen:
Susan Schweik speaks.

Susan:
SHE DOES IT, THOUGH, WITH SOME COMPLICATIONS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO THINK ABOUT.

On screen:
A photo of a baby appearing to cry.

Susan:
SHE ARGUES FOR SEVERAL THINGS. SHE ARGUES FOR A CHECK ON THE SYSTEM, FOR A KIND OF ETHICS BOARD OF UH, DOCTORS AND THINKERS TO MULL OVER WHAT IS POSSIBLE FOR THIS CHILD AND WHAT KIND OF UH...SUFFERING THE CHILD IS IN. SHE HAS A NUANCED POSITION IN THAT WAY. SHE ALSO, AND THIS IS REALLY INTERESTING, MAKES A CALL FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE ENOUGH WEALTH TO SUPPORT A CHILD IN THAT CONDITION TO COME FORWARD AND ADOPT BABIES WHO ARE COMING UNDER THIS KIND OF THREAT. SHE IS UH...TRYING TO THINK THROUGH THIS RANGE OF ISSUES.

Narrator:
HER THINKING EVOLVED. DECADES LATER, DURING ANOTHER MEDICAL ETHICS DEBATE, KELLER SENT A TELEGRAM TO THE PARENTS OF AN INFANT GIRL WITH EYE TUMORS.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller telegram, 1938.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
BLINDNESS IS NOT THE GREATEST EVIL. IT IS ONLY A PHYSICAL HANDICAP. THAT IS LIFE. THE ANNALS OF PROGRESS SHOW UNDENIABLY THAT MUCH OF HUMANITY’S FINEST WORK HAS BEEN WROUGHT BY PERSONS WITH A SEVERE HANDICAP. THAT SHE MAY BE SPARED TO HELP OPEN THE EYES OF IGNORANCE.

On screen:
Old newspaper headlines read: “Darkness or Stillness?”
and “Darkness or Death? Operation today imperative to save baby, Doctor Warns - Helen Keller pleads for infant's life.”

Narrator:
DURING ALL THE YEARS HELEN AND ANNIE SPENT ON THE ROAD, THERE WERE NO ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DISABLED TRAVELERS.

On screen:
A photo of Keller appearing to stare upward while wearing a closed-lipped smile. Footage of a train, followed by a poster that reads in part: “In Kinemacolor, Miss Helen Keller.” Next, photos of crowded venues and a close-up of Helen holding a large bouquet.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I’VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO ACCUSTOM MYSELF TO HOTEL LIFE...I CANNOT READILY ORIENTATE MYSELF IN A STRANGE LOCALITY. I AM CONSCIOUS OF THE SAME KIND OF REMOTENESS ONE SENSES OUT AT SEA, FAR FROM ALL SIGNS OF LAND.

On screen:
Brian Miller speaks.

Brian:
WE THINK OF A BLIND PERSON AND HOW THEY GET AROUND, YOU THINK OF A WHITE CANE, YOU THINK OF A DOG. UM...AND THOSE TOOLS WERE, YOU KNOW, NOT PART OF THE LANDSCAPE FOR...FOR BLIND PEOPLE. THEY WERE NOT AVAILABLE TO BLIND PEOPLE UNTIL WELL INTO THE 20TH CENTURY.

On screen:
Historical images show blind men with wooden walking canes at mere leg-height. One visually impaired man wears a box attached to a strap around his neck. The word “Blind” is written on the open lid of the box. He wears dark shades over his eyes. Another archival photo of Helen and Annie. An archival photo of an empty hotel room.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
THERE WAS NO ONE TO HELP US IN THAT DISMAL HOTEL, NOT EVEN AN INTELLIGENT MAID. I UNDERSTOOD THEN WHY OUR FRIENDS INSISTED WE SHOULD HAVE A COMPETENT WOMAN WITH US.

On screen:
Helen and Polly stand together, both wearing fur scarves.

Narrator:
THEY FOUND POLLY THOMPSON. A YOUNG WOMAN FROM SCOTLAND DESCRIBED AS SOMEONE WHO “COULD BALANCE A BANK BOOK, MAP OUT A CROSS-COUNTRY SCHEDULE AND KEEP TO IT.”

On screen:
Older Polly and Helen smile outside a passenger plane. Another image captures Polly with a black dog on her lap, holding Helen’s fingers. Annie stands with them, gripping a walking cane in her right hand. Polly and Annie beam but Annie’s hat brim masks her eyes and her lips remain pressed together.

Kim:
POLLY THOMSON FIT RIGHT IN AND BECAME A PRESENCE WHO WAS THERE FOR DECADES.

Narrator:
WHILE THEY WERE ON THE ROAD, JOHN MACY LEFT. HIS MARRIAGE TO ANNIE HAD BEEN UNRAVELING FOR SOME TIME…

On screen:
Archival photos of Helen, Polly, and Annie.

Kim:
I THINK THE BREAKUP HAPPENED FOR SO MANY REASONS. IT HAPPENED FOR SO MANY REASONS. IT HAPPENED FOR MONEY REASONS. IT HAPPENED FOR ALCOHOL REASONS. IT HAPPENED FOR ANNIE'S FEARFULNESS. THEY DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO LIVE WITH HELEN, AS WELL.

On screen:
An archival photo of Annie.

Narrator:
A DISTRAUGHT ANNIE LEANED ON HELEN.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
SHE KEPT DEMANDING MY LOVE IN A WAY THAT WAS HEARTBREAKING. FOR DAYS SHE WOULD SHUT HERSELF UP ALMOST STUNNED, TRYING TO THINK OF A PLAN THAT WOULD BRING JOHN BACK…OR WEEPING AS ONLY WOMEN WHO ARE NO LONGER CHERISHED WEEP.

On screen:
In a photo, Helen and Annie stand closely together. The sun shines brightly on the women and their long dresses. Annie wears a wide-brim hat with ornate feathers on top.

Narrator:
BUT SOON, HOLLYWOOD CAME CALLING, GIVING HELEN AND ANNIE A GREAT DIVERSION. TOWARD THE END OF WORLD WAR ONE, PRODUCERS PITCHED A FILM THAT COULD RAISE AWARENESS OF DISABLED SOLDIERS.

On screen:
Next, photos show injured soldiers, some in wheelchairs. A bandage wraps around one man’s head.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I THOUGHT THAT THROUGH THE FILM WE MIGHT SHOW HOW THE DISTRACTED, WAR-TORTURED WORLD WE WERE THEN LIVING IN COULD BE SAVED FROM STRIFE AND SOCIAL INJUSTICE. THAT'S WHY THE PICTURE WAS CALLED DELIVERANCE.

Text on screen:
DELIVERANCE, 1919.

On screen:
Footage from the 1919 silent movie, Deliverance.
Next, Georgina Kleege.

Georgina:
IT WAS A FULL-ON, BIG HOLLYWOOD PRODUCTION AND YOU KNOW, IT CONCLUDES WITH THIS SCENE OF HER ON A WHITE HORSE AND ALL THESE PEOPLE FOLLOWING BEHIND HER, YOU KNOW, WHICH IS SOMEHOW REPRESENTING THAT SHE'S LEADING THE MASSES INTO THE GLORIOUS FUTURE.

On screen:
In the movie, Deliverance, Helen Keller, (blowing a trumpet) rides a white horse, leading a crowd of people through a wooded landscape. She wears a uniform fitted at the waist and a long cape drapes behind her. Helen's ardent followers wave American flags and banners. Cherry Jones stands in front of a screen showing "Deliverance" and continues speaking from the writings of Helen Keller.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A JOAN OF ARC FIGHTING FOR THE FREEDOM OF THE WORKERS OF THE WORLD. IN THE CALIFORNIA SUN, I GREW HOTTER, REDDER, AND MORE EMBARRASSED EVERY SECOND. THE TRUMPET TASTED NASTY. MY QUAINT FANCY OF LEADING THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD TO VICTORY HAS NEVER BEEN SO ARDENT SINCE.

On screen:
Footage of Helen dancing with a man as a woman plays a piano in a grand room. The man and Helen hold one arm out straight and the man glides with Helen as he keeps his other arm around her waist. They circle around the wooden floor; Helen in heels. Next, footage of Helen playing a harp.

Narrator:
THE FILM’S PLOT – WHICH HELEN LATER CALLED LUDICROUS, INCLUDED A BIZARRE ROMANCE FOR HER. A FANTASY BOYFRIEND PULLED FROM THE PAGES OF ANCIENT GREEK LITERATURE.

On screen:
Characters in ancient Greek costume. Next Georgina Kleege speaks.

Georgina:
IT'S WILD. IT'S A WILD MOVIE, THAT IN SOME WAYS IT'S KIND OF A STRAIGHT-UP BIOGRAPHY WITH HER PLAYING HERSELF, WHICH IS ALWAYS AN INTERESTING CASE. UH. BUT IT HAS THESE EXTRAORDINARY DREAM SEQUENCES WHERE SHE FALLS ASLEEP READING THE ODYSSEY.

On screen:
In the vintage film, Helen pilots a plane, sitting in its open-air, single cockpit. Helen reads a braille book and then dreams she is a woman in ancient Greece. Next, Mary Klages.

Mary:
SHE DOES IMAGINE BEING IN LOVE WITH ULYSSES THROUGH READING HOMER. SO THAT IT'S NOT HELEN KELLER FALLS IN LOVE WITH A MAN AND HAS SEX, BUT RATHER HELEN KELLER IMAGINES HERSELF AS A LITERARY CREATION.

On screen:
Against an ocean backdrop, Helen’s character bids farewell to her lover.

Narrator:
BUT IN REAL LIFE, HELEN HAD ALREADY FALLEN IN LOVE WITH PETER FAGAN, A SOCIALIST AND AN OLD FRIEND OF JOHN MACY’S.

On screen:
An archival photo of Peter Fagan, a dark-haired man wearing a suit. He leans against an old-growth tree and peers into space.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I WAS SITTING ALONE IN MY STUDY. THE YOUNG MAN CAME IN AND SAT BESIDE ME AND FOR A LONG TIME, HE HELD MY HAND IN SILENCE. THEN HE BEGAN TALKING TO ME TENDERLY. I WAS SURPRISED HE CARED SO MUCH ABOUT ME.

On screen:
Archival photos of Annie, Polly, Helen, and Peter Fagan.

Narrator:
THE ROMANCE BEGAN WHEN ANNIE BECAME SICK AND WENT AWAY WITH POLLY TO RECOVER. HELEN STAYED BEHIND WITH FAGAN. HE HAD BEEN WORKING WITH THEM FOR MONTHS, HELPING WITH CORRESPONDENCE AND HELEN’S WRITING.

On screen:
Kim Nielsen speaks.

Kim:
PETER FAGAN COULD FINGERSPELL, HE KNEW THE MANUAL ALPHABET, AND THEY COULD COMMUNICATE DIRECTLY. THEY REQUIRED NO INTERMEDIARY.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
HE SAID IF I WOULD MARRY HIM, HE WOULD ALWAYS BE NEAR TO HELP ME IN THE DIFFICULTIES OF LIFE.

Kim:
SHE WANTED A LIFE WITH HER OWN HOUSEHOLD, POSSIBLY WITH CHILDREN, WITH A MAN TO LOVE. SHE SAID YES. THE TWO OF THEM WENT OFF, GOT A MARRIAGE LICENSE, THEY DID NOT TELL ANYONE. NEWS OF THE MARRIAGE LICENSE HIT THE MEDIA, BOOM, EVERYONE WANTED ATTENTION. EVERYONE WANTED TO KNOW WHETHER THIS WAS TRUE.

Narrator:
ANNIE SULLIVAN WAS OPPOSED TO A MARRIAGE, AS WERE HELEN’S MOTHER AND SIBLINGS, PERHAPS BELIEVING MARRIED LIFE AND CHILDBEARING SHOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE FOR A DEAFBLIND WOMAN.

On screen:
An image shows Annie Sullivan standing over seated Helen Keller. Annie stares down at Helen. Both women wear their long hair pulled back, but wispy strands hang loose, highlighted by the sun. Georgina Kleege speaks.

Georgina:
APPARENTLY. I MEAN, YOU KNOW, IT'S STILL AN ISSUE FOR DISABLED PEOPLE TODAY. THERE'S AN IDEA THAT, "OH, YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH A DISABLED PERSON. YOU WOULDN'T WANT TO REPRODUCE WITH A DISABLED PERSON." UH, YOU KNOW. I DON'T UNDERSTAND IT, BUT IT'S A PREVALENT VIEW.

On screen:
Rebecca Alexander speaks.

Rebecca:
HOW INCREDIBLY SAD AND UNFORTUNATE THAT DESPITE ALL OF THE EDUCATION AND ACCESS THESE PEOPLE PROVIDED HER WITH, ANNIE SULLIVAN AND HER FAMILY, THAT THEY WERE NOT ABLE TO UNDERSTAND JUST HOW CRUCIAL AND IMPORTANT THAT HUMAN CONNECTION WAS FOR HER. NOT JUST IN TERMS OF THESE MEANINGFUL FRIENDSHIPS AND FAMILIAL RELATIONSHIPS, BUT IN TERMS OF ROMANTIC CONNECTION AND RELATIONSHIPS.

Narrator:
UNABLE TO RESIST ANNIE AND HER FAMILY, HELEN RELUCTANTLY ENDED THE RELATIONSHIP. SHE SHRUGGED OFF THE EPISODE WITH SELF-DEPRECATING HUMOR.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
I SEEM TO HAVE ACTED EXACTLY OPPOSITE TO MY NATURE. IT CAN ONLY BE EXPLAINED IN THE OLD WAY -- THAT LOVE MAKES US BLIND.

Narrator:
BUT IT WAS FAR MORE SERIOUS AND MEANINGFUL TO HER THAN THAT PUBLIC QUIP.

On screen:
In an archival photo, Helen stands alone. She gently leans her head and left side on an old, mature tree. Helen's hand lightly touches the rough texture.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
THE BRIEF LOVE WILL REMAIN IN MY LIFE, A LITTLE ISLAND OF JOY SURROUNDED BY DARK WATERS. I AM GLAD THAT I HAVE HAD THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING LOVED AND DESIRED.

On screen:
Archival photos of Helen. In one image, Helen sits in a rowboat. She reaches out, holding her open palm near a swan swimming alongside the wooden vessel.

Narrator:
IN LATER YEARS, RESPONDING TO A FAN WHO HAD NEVER MET HER AND SENT A MARRIAGE PROPOSAL, HELEN WROTE ABOUT COMING TO TERMS WITH WHAT SHE WANTED BUT COULD NEVER HAVE.

On screen:
Rebecca Alexander speaks.

Rebecca:
HERE'S A WOMAN WHO COULDN'T HEAR OR SEE, YOU CAN IMAGINE HER ABILITY TO FEEL CONNECTED TO HER BODY. I THINK THAT IS ONE OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE PARTS OF NOT BEING ABLE TO HEAR AND SEE, RIGHT? THE OTHER PARTS OF YOUR BODY, OF YOUR SENSES ARE HEIGHTENED.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller Letter, 1922.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
SINCE MY YOUTH, I HAVE DESIRED THE LOVE OF A MAN. WHY WAS I TANTALIZED WITH BODILY CAPABILITIES I COULD NOT FULFILL? I NO LONGER CRY FOR THE SPOILED TREASURES OF WOMANHOOD. I FACE CONSCIOUSLY THE STRONG SEX URGE OF MY NATURE AND TURN THAT LIFE ENERGY INTO CHANNELS OF SATISFYING SYMPATHY AND WORK.

On screen:
Photographs document Helen through the middle years of her life. In one image, she touches a sculpture, feeling along figures carved in stone. In another, Helen sits and types in her study. A newspaper from 1919 shows a photo with Annie and Helen, along with a smiling, female activist with a picket sign. The headline reads "Helen Keller Cheers Actors' Strike Pickets.”

Narrator:
WHEN DELIVERANCE OPENED, HELEN WAS NOT THERE. SHE REFUSED TO CROSS ACTORS’ EQUITY PICKET LINES. THE SILENT FILM DID NOT BRING ATTENTION TO DISABLED VETERANS NOR DID IT MAKE MUCH MONEY. ANNIE AND HELEN WERE AGAIN SCRAMBLING FOR RESOURCES.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
WE ARE THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO COME OUT OF AN ENTERPRISE POORER THAN THEY WENT INTO IT.

On screen:
Colorful vaudeville posters. One advertisement states “A bill of extraordinary features! The most remarkable woman in the world! Helen Keller in person—blind, deaf, and formerly mute. In the sweetest story ever told, assisted by Anne Sullivan Macy, her life-long and devoted teacher.”

Narrator:
B.F. KEITH VAUDEVILLE MADE THEM A BIG OFFER - TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS A WEEK. THEY WENT ON BETWEEN ANIMAL ACTS AND ACROBATS.

On screen:
Archival photo of vaudeville performers with elephant.
Archival photo of a smiling female contortionist.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
It had always been said that we went into public life only to attract attention, and I had letters from friends in Europe about “the deplorable theatrical exhibition” into which I had allowed myself to be dragged. Now the truth is, I went of my own free will and persuaded my teacher to go with me. Vaudeville offered us better pay than either literary work or lecturing.

On screen:
Helen, Annie, and Polly pose in fine dresses. Sparkling gems adorn Helen’s sleeveless dress.

Narrator:
HELEN AND ANNIE DID TWO 20 MINUTE PERFORMANCES A DAY. THEY ALSO TOOK QUESTIONS.

On screen:
Dark-haired Ms. Smith portrays Annie on a Vaudeville stage, posing questions to Helen. Cherry Jones replies, using Helen's actual responses from the Vaudeville show. This sequence includes intermittent close-ups of a hand using tactile communication, fingerspelling into another hand.

Ms. Smith (as Annie):
ALL THE WORLD KNOWS AND LOVES HELEN KELLER, THE GIRL WITH AN UNCONQUERABLE SPIRIT! CAN YOU TELL WHEN THE AUDIENCE APPLAUDS?

Cherry (as Helen):
OH YES, I HEAR IT WITH MY FEET.

Ms. Smith (as Annie):
WHAT IS HER OPINION OF PRESIDENT HARDING?

Cherry (as Helen):
I HAVE A FELLOW-FEELING FOR HIM; HE SEEMS TO BE AS BLIND AS I AM.

Ms. Smith (as Annie):
THE THREE GREATEST MEN OF OUR TIME?

Cherry (as Helen):
LENIN, EDISON, AND CHAPLIN.

On screen:
Close up of Cherry, speaking Helen’s words to us.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
SOME OF THE QUESTIONS WERE VERY FUNNY. CAN YOU TELL THE TIME OF DAY WITHOUT A WATCH? DO YOU THINK THE BUSINESS IS LOOKING UP? DO YOU BELIEVE IN GHOSTS? DO YOU THINK IT'S A BLESSING TO BE POOR? THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF THEM. I LIKED IT. I LIKED TO FEEL THE WARM TIDE OF HUMAN LIFE PULSING ROUND AND ROUND ME.

On screen:
Archival footage of vaudeville shows include: an applauding audience in a large theater; comic jugglers; and belly dancers. Film captures a woman performing an exaggerated, comedic dance-- holding her right palm in front of her body and her left palm behind her. Both are bent at the wrists and she takes sharp, angular steps.

Cherry (Speaking Helen Keller’s words):
TO WEEP AT ITS SORROWS, BE ANNOYED BY ITS FOIBLES, LAUGH AT ITS ABSURDITIES.

Narrator:
BUT ANNIE’S HEALTH WAS FAILING, THEIR CONTRACT WAS NOT RENEWED. IT WAS TIME TO GET OFF THE ROAD, RETURN TO THEIR NEW HOME IN NEW YORK, TIME FOR POLLY TO TAKE ON A BIGGER ROLE AND TIME TO START NEW WORK.
THE AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR THE BLIND WANTED HELEN’S HELP.

On screen:
A photograph captures Helen and Polly sitting beside each other at a dinner banquet. Helen and Polly fingerspell into each other's hands. Next, Brian Miller.

Brian:
SO, THE AFB WOULD BECOME, IN PRETTY SHORT ORDER, UH, THE PRE-EMINENT ORGANIZATION SPEAKING ON BLINDNESS ISSUES IN THE COUNTRY, FROM THE 1920S, YOU KNOW, WELL INTO THE 1950S AND BEYOND. YOU KNOW, FOR MANY, MANY DECADES IT WAS THE...CERTAINLY BY FAR THE BEST FUNDED AND BEST-KNOWN. AND IN LARGE PART, OF COURSE, THAT WAS DUE TO THE EFFORTS OF HELEN KELLER, WHO WOULD LATER BECOME THE BEST-KNOWN SPOKESPERSON FOR THE AFB.

On screen:
A man taps braille onto metal, creating a tactile map. Archival film footage of a locomotive.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
FOR THREE YEARS WE COVERED THE COUNTRY FROM COAST TO COAST. WE ADDRESSED 250,000 PEOPLE AT 249 MEETINGS IN 123 CITIES, ATTENDING INNUMERABLE LUNCHEONS AND RECEPTIONS AND MAKING ENDLESS CALLS.

On screen:
Photos of Helen at formal events. In one image, Helen wears a sash and hat displaying the progressive political campaign “The Fighting Bobs.”

Narrator:
THE AFB WAS SKITTISH ABOUT HELEN’S POLITICS. SHE WAS TOLD NOT SPEAK ABOUT HER SOCIALISM OR ITS ISSUES.

On screen:
Crowds of well-dressed people gather around banquet tables. Flower arrangements decorate the middle of each setting. Georgina Kleege speaks.

Georgina:
SHE WAS A FIGUREHEAD. PEOPLE KNEW SHE WAS A CELEBRITY. I THINK WITH THE AFB, WHICH WAS A SOMEWHAT YOU KNOW, YOU KNOW, SOMEWHAT MORE CONSERVATIVE ORGANIZATION, THEY WANTED TO UH...KEEP HER FOCUSED ON ONE ISSUE AND ONE ISSUE ONLY. "IT'S ABOUT BLINDNESS. GIVE MONEY TO THE BLIND PEOPLE."

Narrator:
SO, WITH THE HELP OF AFB SPEECHWRITERS, KELLER TAILORED AN EMOTIONAL PITCH FOR COMMUNITY-MINDED GROUPS, LIKE THIS ONE SHE GAVE TO THE LIONS CLUB CONVENTION.

On screen:
Archival photo of a dinner hall filled with dozens of people.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
TRY TO IMAGINE HOW YOU WOULD FEEL IF YOU WERE SUDDENLY STRICKEN BLIND. PICTURE YOURSELF STUMBLING AND GROPING AT NOONDAY, YOUR WORK, YOUR INDEPENDENCE GONE...

Georgina:
SOME OF THEM ARE HARD TO READ, BECAUSE IT'S ALL ABOUT, "OH, THE POOR BLIND PEOPLE. LIVING IN DARKNESS AND IGNORANCE"...AND YOU KNOW, "BUT WITH YOUR KINDNESS, THEY WILL HAVE A GLIMMER OF HOPE” AND SO ON.

Narrator:
EARLY IN THE 1930’S, KELLER, ON BEHALF OF THE AFB, PERSUADED PRESIDENT HERBERT HOOVER TO HOST AN INTERNATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF BLIND LEADERS AT THE WHITE HOUSE.

On screen:
President Hoover and Helen Keller stand together on the White House lawn, flanked by dozens of International Blindness Leaders.

Narrator:
THE EVENT COINCIDED WITH AN AGREEMENT TO STANDARDIZE BRAILLE AND TO USE IT IN AMERICAN BLIND SCHOOLS.

On screen:
Fingers scan across braille, with interpoint visible from the opposite side of the page. Next, Brian Miller.

Brian:
IT’S A HUGE ACCOMPLISHMENT. FOR WELL OVER A CENTURY, YOU HAD MULTIPLE COMPETING VERSIONS OF BRAILLE, AND UH...YOU COULDN’T– YOU COULDN’T COMMUNICATE BEYOND SOMETIMES, YOU KNOW, YOUR...YOUR ROOMMATE AT YOUR RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL, OR THE GUY NEXT DOOR, BECAUSE THEY– EVERYBODY READ A DIFFERENT VERSION OF BRAILLE. IT REALLY BROUGHT THE BLIND COMMUNITY TOGETHER IN A WAY THAT IT HADN'T BEEN.

On screen:
Archival footage shows the "Universal Braille Press; Books for the Blind" building. Next, Helen visits a classroom and joins a round table with seated children. Helen's supple fingers move across the head of the girl to her left. The student wears glasses and sits calmly as Helen connects with her through touch.

Narrator:
IN HER MORE THAN 40 YEARS WITH THE AFB, KELLER CAMPAIGNED FOR SIGHT SAVING CLASSES IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, RESOURCES FOR JOB TRAINING, THE ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMISSIONS FOR THE BLIND IN NEARLY 20 STATES, AND ACCESS TO BRAILLE AND AUDIO.

On screen:
Footage shows Helen typing on a braille typewriter with Polly sitting and smiling beside her. Others watch. Promotional newsreel about talking book machines.

Newsreel Narrator:
THE WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION HAS ESTABLISHED A PROJECT FOR MAKING TALKING BOOK MACHINES FOR THE BLIND...

On screen:
A man holds a large long-playing record, the first “talking book.” A group of people sit and attentively listen to the recording.

Narrator:
BUT IN 1935, WHEN THE AFB PIONEERED THE TALKING BOOK, KELLER INITIALLY BALKED AT LENDING HER SUPPORT… REVOLUTIONARY AS IT WAS, THE TALKING BOOK WOULD BE OF NO USE TO DEAF AND DEAFBLIND PEOPLE.

Text on Screen:
Helen Keller Letter, 1935.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
I THOUGHT THE BLIND COULD DO WITHOUT TALKING BOOKS AND RADIOS AT A TIME WHEN MILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE OUT OF WORK AND IN THE BREAD LINES. BUT I WOULD APPEAR BEFORE LEGISLATURES AND ASK THEM FOR APPROPRIATIONS FOR TALKING BOOKS. THIS WOULDN'T BE SOLICITING FUNDS DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLIC.

On screen:
Promotional newsreel about talking book machines.

Newsreel Narrator:
THE PERSON WHO SUGGESTED THIS PROJECT AND IS RESPONSIBLE FOR IT IS MISS HELEN KELLER.

Narrator:
HELEN’S INVOLVEMENT WAS GREATLY EXAGGERATED. SHE DROVE A HARD BARGAIN FINALLY AGREEING TO PROMOTE TALKING BOOKS AFTER THE AFB PROMISED HER MORE WOULD BE DONE FOR DEAFBLIND PEOPLE. ONCE ASSURED, SHE TOOK THE CAUSE STRAIGHT TO THE WHITE HOUSE.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller Letter, 1935.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
DEAR MRS. ROOSEVELT, YOUR KINDNESS TO EVERYBODY ENCOURAGES ME TO COME TO YOU WITH A REQUEST. WOULD YOU GIVE A TEA AT THE WHITE HOUSE TO HELP ME SEND THE TALKING BOOK TO EVERY CORNER OF DARK-LAND? I DARE NOT HOPE OF MEETING THE PRESIDENT, HIS DAYS ARE SO TERRIBLY CROWDED.

On screen:
A photograph captures a meeting between Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen. Both women smile as they face each other. Another image shows Franklin Roosevelt giving a radio speech from his desk.

Narrator:
“ANYTHING HELEN KELLER IS FOR, I AM FOR,” FDR ONCE SAID. THEY HAD THE SHARED EXPERIENCE OF PUSHING THEIR DISABILITIES OUT OF THE FRAME WHILE LIVING BIG PUBLIC LIVES.

On screen:
Archival photographs show: Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt holding hands and Franklin Roosevelt in his wheelchair. The President balances a dog with shaggy black fur on his lap.

Narrator:
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT LATER WROTE, “MY HUSBAND KNEW WHAT IT WAS TO FACE A HANDICAP AND CONQUER IT… I THOUGHT HOW WONDERFULLY BOTH MISS KELLER AND MY HUSBAND TYPIFIED TRIUMPH OVER PHYSICAL HANDICAP.”

On screen:
Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt, together.

Narrator:
BY 1936, ANNIE SULLIVAN WAS NEAR DEATH. SHE WAS 70 YEARS OLD.

On screen:
A photo of young Annie and Helen facing one another. Annie pulls her head slightly back to peer closely at Helen’s face.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
BEFORE MY TEACHER CAME TO ME, I DID NOT KNOW THAT I AM.

On screen:
A photo of adult Helen resting her cheek on Annie’s head. The student and teacher touch each other’s hands.

Narrator:
AFTER NEARLY HALF A CENTURY, HELEN WAS LOSING THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP OF HER LIFE.

On screen:
Framed photos line the top of a bookshelf. The room appears lifeless, with only objects neatly arranged in the tidy space.

Narrator:
HELEN WAS BY HER BELOVED TEACHER’S SIDE FOR HER FINAL HOURS.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
IT WAS AN OCTOBER EVENING. SHE WAS FULLY AWAKE, SITTING IN AN ARMCHAIR WITH US AROUND HER. SHE WAS LAUGHING. HOW TENDERLY SHE FONDLED MY HAND. HER DEARNESS WAS WITHOUT LIMIT, AND IT WAS ALMOST INTOLERABLE.

On screen:
A montage of photos featuring Annie and Helen over the years: As a young woman, Annie smiles slightly while turning to face long-haired Helen. A curly-haired Helen rests her head on Annie’s shoulder; Adult Helen sits on Annie’s lap; Outdoors, Helen leans her cheek on Annie’s head. Helen and Polly look to elderly Annie while sitting beside her. An image captures a crowded service inside a gothic cathedral.

Narrator:
ANNIE SULLIVAN WOULD BE THE FIRST WOMAN TO HAVE HER ASHES PLACED IN THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL.

On screen:
An archival photo of the National Cathedral’s interior. Intricate carvings of religious figures adorn the stone pulpit. Pillars with lace-like, arched tops tower over the congregation. In a portraiture, Annie sits in profile. Her upswept hair rests loosely in a bun. Her buttoned, high-collared dress keeps her prim posture on display. Black lace across the chest matches the formal blackness of her garment. Next, wearing a printed dress, an older Helen sits outdoors with a dog on her lap.

Narrator:
HELEN WAS CONSUMED WITH GRIEF. SHE NEEDED TO MOURN IN PRIVATE, SO SHE WENT TO SCOTLAND WITH POLLY.

On screen:
At a farm, Helen holds a lamb, her face frozen in a mournful frown.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
DEAR, BRAVE POLLY, NOW READS TO ME WITH HER FINGERS WHEN I CAN PAY ANY ATTENTION. THE ANGUISH WHICH MAKES ME FEEL CUT IN TWO PREVENTS ME FROM WRITING ANOTHER WORD ABOUT THESE LIFE-WRECKING CHANGES.

On screen:
In a photo, Helen and Polly sit along the side of an early automobile. Then, a book titled “Helen Keller’s Journal, 1936-1937.” Kim Nielsen speaks.

Kim:
THIS WAS A TIME OF TREMENDOUS HEALING FOR HER. IT WAS ALSO A TIME OF TREMENDOUS GRIEF, BUT IT WAS VERY IMPORTANT. SHE WROTE A BOOK WHICH CHRONICLES THE YEAR AFTER ANNIE’S DEATH. IT IS IN SOME WAYS THE LEAST POLISHED OF HER BOOKS, BUT I FIND IT TO BE THE MOST TRUTHFUL, THE MOST HEARTFELT. IT’S VERY PAINFUL TO READ SOMETIMES, BECAUSE OF THE ANGUISH THAT SHE’S FEELING OVER ANNIE’S DEATH, BUT IT’S ALSO VERY BEAUTIFUL, AND YOU, AS A READER, GET A VERY STRONG TASTE OF THEIR RELATIONSHIP.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
I SAW NO OTHER WAY TO ACCOMPLISH A TASK OF EXTREME DIFFICULTY AND DELICACY, REINTEGRATING MY LIFE, SO SHAKEN AND LACERATED BY TEACHER'S GOING. IT IS AS IF ALL OBJECTS DEAR TO MY TOUCH AND PATHS FAMILIAR TO MY FEET HAD VANISHED.

On screen:
A photo shows Helen and Polly both wearing dark hats adorned with lace. Helen touches a sunlit window as Polly touches Helen’s other hand.

Narrator:
KELLER, WITH POLLY AT HER SIDE, CONTINUED HER WORK WITH THE AFB. AS THE NAZIS ROSE TO POWER, SHE STOOD HER GROUND WHEN HER GERMAN PUBLISHER INSISTED HER BOOKS BE HEAVILY CENSORED. HELEN REFUSED.

On screen:
German translations of Helen's books.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
I ASK YOU PLEASE TO DROP ALL MY WRITINGS FROM YOUR LIST OF PUBLICATIONS.

Narrator:
HER BOOKS WERE AMONG THOSE PUBLICLY BURNED.

On screen:
Archival footage of a Nazi book burning. The uniformed men wear a swastika banded around their left arm. Next, Art Roehrig signs.

Art:
I WAS TOURING THE HOLOCAUST MUSEUM. THERE WAS ONE DISPLAY THAT TALKED ABOUT HITLER ORDERING HIS SOLDIERS TO MURDER CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES. HEARTBREAKING. IN THE DISPLAY I SPOTTED A LETTER WRITTEN BY HELEN KELLER. AND THE LETTER HAD ONE PHRASE THAT REALLY STRUCK ME: IT SAID, "TYRANNY CANNOT DEFEAT THE POWER…” YES, “THE POWER OF AN IDEA."

On screen:
In a photo, young soldiers smile up at Helen and Polly.

Narrator:
DURING WORLD WAR II, HELEN AND POLLY VISITED MILITARY HOSPITALS ACROSS THE COUNTRY TALKING TO WOUNDED SOLDIERS.

On screen:
Footage of Helen at a hospital, interacting with wounded veterans who appear thrilled by her visit.

Text on screen:
From The New York Times Magazine.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
TO TRY TO BRACE THE NEWLY BLINDED AND THE NEWLY DEAFENED, MY COMRADES ALONG THE ROADS OF DARKNESS AND SILENCE.

On screen:
A photo of Helen smiling down at a bed-stricken patient while holding his hand.

Text on screen:
From Current Religious Thought.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
THE VARIETY OF THEIR HANDS IS INFINITE. HANDS HARDENED BY MANUAL LABOR, SLENDER HANDS AQUIVER WITH THOUGHT. POWERFUL, NERVOUS HANDS. HANDS PITIFULLY DEFACED BY BURNS.

On screen:
Photos of Helen holding a bandaged man’s hand, then smiling while placing her fingers on a man’s face. The soldier wears dark sunglasses
and grips a walking cane in one hand. A faint smile can be seen just under Helen’s touch.

Narration:
AFTER THE ATOMIC BOMBS WERE DROPPED ON NAGASAKI AND HIROSHIMA, FORCING JAPAN’S SURRENDER, KELLER IS INVITED TO TOUR THE COUNTRY DURING THE U.S. OCCUPATION.

On screen:
Helen Keller rides in a military vehicle. Then, Helen and Polly stand with a crowd of people. Later, a Japanese teacher points to a drawing of the muscles of the mouth as children follow along, moving air across a strip of paper as they speak.

Narrator:
HELEN HAD VISITED BLIND ADVOCATES THERE YEARS BEFORE.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller speech, 1948.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
A MORE GRACIOUS COMPLIMENT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN PAID ME THAN GENERAL MACARTHUR’S GRANTING THIS OPPORTUNITY TO BE REUNITED WITH MY JAPANESE BLIND AND DEAF FELLOWS. HIS INTEREST WILL, I AM SURE, DRAW TO OUR STANDARD THE GOOD-WILL AND THE PRACTICAL AID THAT RESTORE AND HEAL.

On screen:
Footage of Helen Keller being greeted in Japan. Polly carries a bouquet of flowers as the women make their way through the large crowd.

Archival V.O.:
AND NAGASAKI WAS STILL RECOVERING FROM THE ATOMIC BOMB WHEN HELEN KELLER WENT THERE ON PILGRIMAGE.

On screen:
Helen lays the bouquet of flowers at a memorial.
Next, Historian, Laura Lovett.

Laura:
I THINK AT SOME LEVEL THERE’S A KIND OF PRACTICAL MISSION TO HER BEING SENT IN THAT MOMENT, OF CONCILIATION RIGHT? YOU CAN LEARN TO LIVE WITH THE HORROR OF WHATEVER CASUALTY WAS CAUSED BY OUR DROPPING OF THIS BOMB, JUST AS KELLER DOES.

On screen:
Helen speaks into a microphone while touching Polly’s face and a piece of glazed pottery.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller Letter, 1948.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
NO SOONER HAD WE ARRIVED THERE THAN THE BITTER IRONY OF IT ALL GRIPPED US OVERWHELMINGLY, AND IT COST US A SUPREME EFFORT TO SPEAK. JOLTING OVER WHAT HAD ONCE BEEN PAVED STREETS, WE VISITED THE ONE GRAVE, ALL ASHES, WHERE NINETY THOUSAND MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN WERE INSTANTLY KILLED.

On screen:
Archival footage of destruction and ruins. Rubble surrounds a nearly-leveled-buildings. Mountains rise in the distance. Bare trees with broken limbs grow from the dusty ground.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
WE STUMBLED OVER GROUND CLUTTERED IN EVERY DIRECTION. FOUNDATION STONES, TIMBERS, BITS OF MACHINERY AND TWISTED GIRDERS. POLLY SAW BURNS ON THE FACE OF THE WELFARE OFFICER. A SHOCKING SIGHT. HE LET ME TOUCH HIS FACE, AND THE REST IS SILENCE.

On screen:
Archival photo of a gutted building near a river.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
AND IT WAS TO THESE PEOPLE THAT I MADE THE APPEAL. THEIR AFFECTIONATE WELCOME WILL REMAIN IN MY SOUL, A HOLY MEMORY, AND A REPROACH.

On screen:
In archival footage, Helen stands with Polly. Helen’s expression remains stern and serious. They face a sign that reads "Atomic Bomb Center" with text in Japanese below. Later, Helen explores items sold by street vendors and gardens on the trip. Kim Nielsen speaks.

Kim:
KELLER’S 1948 TRIP TO JAPAN CONVINCED THE US STATE DEPARTMENT WITHOUT A DOUBT THAT SHE WAS ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE AMBASSADORS THAT THEY’D EVER HAD.

On screen:
Archival films and photos of Helen traveling internationally with Polly.
- Helen stands outside an airplane;
- People follow Helen in different countries;
- crowds of children wave to her;
- a smiling Helen Keller wears a kimono.

Kim:
AND SHE WAS THEN USED BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT TO TRAVEL ALL OVER THE WORLD. SHE WENT TO ISRAEL; SHE WENT TO SOUTH AFRICA; SHE WENT THROUGHOUT CENTRAL AMERICA AND SOUTH AMERICA; SHE WENT THROUGH THE NORTHERN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES; SHE TRAVELED EXTENSIVELY THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE EAST. AND WHEREVER SHE WENT, PEOPLE CERTAINLY UNDERSTOOD HER AS AN AMERICAN, BUT THEY ALSO UNDERSTOOD HER AS MORE THAN THAT: THAT SHE TRANSCENDED NATIONHOOD; THAT SHE REPRESENTED WHAT PEOPLE HAD IN COMMON DESPITE THEIR NATIONALISTIC DIFFERENCES.

On screen:
Archival footage of Helen and Polly on the goodwill tour. People with blindness march down a road together, arm-in-arm, all carrying white walking canes.
Next, Helen and Polly speaking to a classroom of children with hearing devices.

Helen Keller:
I KNOW EVERY STEP OF THE ROAD YOU ARE TAKING, AND I REJOICE AT YOUR CHEER AND DETERMINATION BECAUSE THE OBSTACLES YOU MEET ARE MANY. AND WHEN YOU GO OUT TO LIFE’S STRUGGLES AND ADVENTURES. YOU WILL RAISE A BANNER FOR THE DAYS TO FOLLOW YOU.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
BLINDNESS WITH A BIG B HAS NEVER INTERESTED ME. I'VE ALWAYS LOOKED ON THE BLIND AS PART OF THE WHOLE OF SOCIETY AND MY DESIRE IS TO HELP THEM REGAIN THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS. WHAT I SAY OF THE BLIND APPLIES EQUALLY TO ALL HINDERED GROUPS: THE DEAF, THE IMPOVERISHED, THE MENTALLY DISTURBED.

On screen:
Footage of Helen and Polly meeting with dignitaries, school children, nuns, and hospital patients.

Narrator:
OVER THE NEXT DECADE THE U.S. GOVERNMENT WOULD DEVELOP ITS GOODWILL AMBASSADOR PROGRAM. KELLER VISITED MORE THAN THREE DOZEN COUNTRIES ADDRESSING ISSUES OF IMPORTANCE TO HER: EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, POVERTY, AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS. SHE OFTEN WENT TO COUNTRIES AFTER CONTROVERSIAL STRUGGLES OVER EQUALITY HAD TAKEN PLACE — SUCH AS APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA.

On screen:
Helen touches a plaque in her honor. Her fingers trail along the raised lettering in print. Archival footage shows Helen accepting an award.

Archival V.O.:
AND TO YOU MISS KELLER, WE PRESENT THIS SCROLL FOR BEING AN OUTSTANDING WOMAN IN SOCIAL SERVICE WORK AND WHO IS AN INSPIRATION NOT ONLY TO THE HANDICAPPED, BUT TO ALL OF US FOR YOUR COURAGE AND INDOMITABLE WILL.

On screen:
Helen and Polly gardening.

Narrator:
NOW LIVING IN CONNECTICUT, HELEN AND POLLY HAD A NEW GROUP OF FRIENDS, INCLUDING THE THEN-FAMOUS BROADWAY STAR KATHARINE CORNELL AND HER PARTNER, NANCY HAMILTON. TOGETHER THEY MADE A DOCUMENTARY FILLED WITH STAGED SCENES OF DAILY LIFE.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller In Her Story: The Unconquered, 1954.

On screen:
In scenes from the movie: Helen works in a garden, Helen tries on a hat,
Helen uses a typewriter, and Helen walks to a bookcase.

Georgina:
THEY SORT OF PRESENT HER, AND POLLY THOMSON, AS THESE TWO SORT OF SPINSTER LADIES WHO WERE KIND OF DOING GOOD WORKS, BUT THEY DON'T REALLY EXPLAIN WHAT THE GOOD WORKS ARE. IT WASN'T REALLY ABOUT HER INTELLECTUAL LIFE. I MEAN, THEY DO HAVE A SCENE I THINK OF HER TYPING A LETTER OR SOMETHING, BUT IT'S KIND OF UNCLEAR WHAT THE CONTENT OF WHAT SHE'S WRITING MIGHT BE ABOUT.

Narrator:
WITH HELEN’S PERMISSION, PLAYWRIGHT WILLIAM GIBSON DRAMATIZED HER CHILDHOOD IN A TV PROGRAM, ON THE BROADWAY STAGE AND FINALLY, A FEATURE FILM STARRING ANNE BANCROFT AND PATTY DUKE...ALL HUGELY POPULAR.

On screen:
A scene from the movie "The Miracle Worker" in which Annie signs under young Helen’s hand. Annie is played by Anne Bancroft and Helen is played by Patty Duke.

Narrator:
HELEN WAS COMING TO THE END OF A FULL AND ACCOMPLISHED LIFE, BUT HER LEGACY WOULD BE OVERSHADOWED. SHE WOULD LIVE ON AS THE GIRL AT THE WATER PUMP.

On screen:
Susan Schweik speaks.

Susan:
SO, THE END RESULT, BY THE TIME THE FILM VERSION AND THE STAGE VERSION OF THE MIRACLE WORKER DO THEIR WORK DO THEIR MIRACLE WORK IS…THEY, IN MANY WAYS, KILL OFF HELEN KELLER CULTURALLY, SOCIALLY. AND WE GET UM...A CHILD AT THE WATER PUMP. WE GET PATTY DUKE. SO, IN SOME WAYS, I FIND THAT THE MOST BIZARRE THING.

On screen:
Georgina Kleege speaks.

Georgina:
IT HAS OVERTONES OF AN AMERICAN STORY THAT WE LIKE TO TELL OURSELVES ABOUT, "IF YOU JUST WORK HARD ENOUGH, YOU CAN OVERCOME ANYTHING." WHICH OF COURSE WE KNOW IS A MYTH, BUT IT'S STILL VERY POPULAR. UH.
IT HAS A KIND OF CHRISTIAN OVERLAY. I MEAN, I THINK THE WHOLE BUSINESS ABOUT THE PUMP, ABOUT THE WATER, THAT IT'S THAT WORD, YOU KNOW, HAS A KIND OF INFERENCE OF BAPTISM, OF BEING BORN AGAIN. SO I THINK ALL OF THAT COMBINED, IT JUST MAKES IT A REALLY, REALLY COMPELLING STORY. BUT I THINK WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT IT.

On screen;
Inside the U.S. Capitol building, visitors gaze at the bronze statue of Helen rendered as a little girl alone at the water pump. They read the plaque mounted on the pedestal in which the young figure stands. Next, Brian Miller speaks.

Brian:
THAT IT’S NOT SOMETHING THAT-THAT YOU REALLY THINK ABOUT IN A SOPHISTICATED WAY, APART FROM WHAT THE STANDARD STORY IS, AND THEN TWO, IT'S SOMETHING THAT IF YOU ARE A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY, UH...AS I WAS, ALWAYS MADE YOU JUST A LITTLE UNCOMFORTABLE.

On screen:
Footage shows Helen Keller feeling the moving bodies of two Martha Graham dancers.
A photo shows Helen Keller riding a horse. She sits erect, with a dignified, rigidly upright, posture.

Brian:
BECAUSE EITHER (A) HELEN KELLER WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS PRESENTED AS A MODEL OR AS A SUPER PERSON WITH A DISABILITY, YOU KNOW, AND THAT YOU HAD TO LIVE UP TO, OR (B) WAS A– SOMEBODY WHO, AGAIN, WAS-WAS THE STUFF OF A LOT OF REALLY TERRIBLE JOKES. AND SO THOSE KIND OF ASSOCIATIONS ARE NOT SOMETHING, YOU KNOW, AS A YOUNG KID YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH.

On screen:
A photo of younger, long-haired Helen in profile.
Next, Mary Klages speaks.

Mary:
I THINK IT’S VERY DIFFICULT FOR A 21ST CENTURY AUDIENCE TO CONNECT WITH THE IMAGE OF HELEN KELLER THAT THE 20TH CENTURY PRODUCED. AND THAT’S PARTLY BECAUSE SHE REPRESENTS IDEAS ABOUT PURITY AND SELF-SACRIFICE THAT ARE VERY SENTIMENTAL, AND THAT WE DON’T HAVE A CULTURE OF SENTIMENT ANYMORE; THAT SENTIMENT IS SOMETHING WE MAKE FUN OF; THAT MORE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO KNOW HELEN KELLER FROM THE JOKES THAT ARE MADE ABOUT HER THAN THEY ARE FROM THE ORIGINAL IMAGES.

On screen:
Helen smiles while touching leaves growing in a garden. Helen walks outside her home, trailing alongside a horizontal post from a fence in the yard. Next, Kim Nielsen speaks.

Kim:
AND THE FACT THAT WE HAVE, IN ESSENCE, WHITEWASHED HER TO THAT EXTENT. WE’VE MADE HER BORING TO A GREAT EXTENT, IS-IS NOT FAIR TO HELEN KELLER, AND IT PAINTS A VERY LIMITED, VERY LIMITED PICTURE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES TODAY, AND WHAT THEIR LIVES CAN BE LIKE, AND WHAT THEIR LIVES ARE LIKE. WE NEED TO, I THINK, RECOGNIZE HER AS A FULLY COMPLEX, CONTRADICTORY, INTERESTING, QUIRKY PERSON OF VERY FIRM CONVICTIONS, VERY IMPORTANT TO HER NATION’S HISTORY, BUT ALSO NOT PERFECT. AND THAT REPRESENTS A FAR MORE REALISTIC PICTURE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES TODAY. IT REPRESENTS A FAR MORE REALISTIC PICTURE OF WHAT WE AS A COUNTRY ARE, AND WHAT WE CAN DO AS PEOPLE.

Narrator:
POLLY DIED IN 1960. A SERIES OF STROKES BEGAN TO SIDELINE HELEN AND ULTIMATELY FORCED HER RETIREMENT FROM PUBLIC LIFE.

On screen:
A colored photo of an elderly Keller. Helen relaxes at a sandy beach, the sun shining over her thinning, white hair.

Narrator:
IN APRIL 1961, KELLER GAVE WHAT WOULD BE HER LAST SPEECH – IT WAS A VISIONARY ONE CALLING FOR MORE FUNDS AND SPECIAL EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES.

On screen:
Vintage film clips show schoolchildren with disabilities: doing puzzles;
and running in a schoolyard.
Contemporary video clips show schoolchildren with disabilities: playing basketball, making arts and crafts, and using desktop computers.

Text on screen:
Helen Keller Speech, 1961.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
THERE SEEMS TO BE A GROWING CONVICTION THAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD AT LEAST PROVIDE EDUCATION AND FUNDS TO PROMOTE THE SCHOOLING OF CHILDREN WHO ARE PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY, OR EMOTIONALLY HANDICAPPED. THINK OF IT. PROBABLY 75 PERCENT OF ALL SUCH CHILDREN ARE DENIED THE RIGHT TO ANY EDUCATION. OF COURSE, WE KNOW HOW EXPENSIVE SPECIAL EDUCATION IS, BUT AMERICA SHOULD PROVIDE THIS ADVANTAGE.

On screen:
In present day, a young man plays an acoustic guitar for a group of children in a classroom. Next, archival footage captures Helen playing with kids in their classroom. She spins children clinging to an oblong bag dangling from the ceiling. Peter Hall speaks.

Peter:
SHE’S A PERSON WHO TRIED TO BRING ABOUT CERTAIN CHANGES WITHOUT UH...THE FORCE OF LAW BEHIND THEM. SHE WAS REALLY SORT OF AN ADVANCE SCOUT…

On screen:
At a ceremony, Helen receives a pin. Next, in a field, younger Helen sits on a stone wall.

Narrator:
HELEN KELLER DIED ON JUNE 1ST, 1968. SHE TOOK HER PLACE NEXT TO ANNIE AND POLLY AT THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL.

On screen:
A color photo of white-haired Helen wearing pearls.

Text on screen:
From The Open Door.

Cherry (Speaking Hellen Keller’s words):
I CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHY ANYONE SHOULD FEAR DEATH. LIFE HERE IS MORE CRUEL THAN DEATH. I BELIEVE THAT WHEN THE EYES WITHIN MY PHYSICAL EYES SHALL OPEN UP ON THE WORLD TO COME, I SHALL SIMPLY BE CONSCIOUSLY LIVING IN THE COUNTRY OF MY HEART.

On screen:
A photo of elderly Helen touching the delicate petals of flowers she holds in her hand. Smiling, her head tilts slightly upward, toward the distant sky.

American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller examines one of the 20th century’s human rights pioneers in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The new documentary rediscovers the complex life and legacy of author and activist Helen Keller (1880-1968), who was deaf and blind since childhood, exploring how she used her celebrity and wit to advocate for social justice, particularly for women, workers, people with disabilities and people living in poverty. Closing the series’ 35th season, American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller premieres nationwide Tuesday, October 19 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), http://pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS Video app.

American Masters tells Keller’s story through rarely seen photographs, archival film clips and interviews with historians, scholars and disability rights advocates. Narrated by author, psychotherapist and disability rights advocate Rebecca Alexander, the film features on-camera performances from Tony- and Emmy Award-winning actor Cherry Jones reading Keller’s writings. Actor and dancer Alexandria Wailes provides American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation of Keller’s words with all other ASL interpretation by writer and rapper Warren “WAWA” Snipe. The program also features audio description by National Captioning Institute and closed captioning by VITAC.

Keller first came into public view at a young age, soon after her teacher Anne Sullivan taught her to communicate. As she progressed through her education, graduating from Radcliffe College, Keller steadily gained international attention. Though she lived until age 87, became an accomplished writer and activist, Keller continues to be immortalized as a child, such as in the U.S. Capitol with the statue of her at a water pump. She recounted this moment from her youth in her first autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” later made famous by the book’s stage and screen adaptation, “The Miracle Worker.” American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller delves beyond the mythologized disability icon to present a critical look at her rich, decades-long career and some of its controversies, including her support of socialism and her changing positions on eugenics. The film reveals little-known details of Keller’s personal life and examines her public persona and advocacy, including the progressive reforms she helped achieve. Speaking out for civil rights at great personal cost, Keller supported women’s suffrage, the NAACP, access to health care and assistive technology as a human right, and workers’ rights as a member of the Socialist Party of America and the labor union Industrial Workers of the World.

American Masters is committed to access for the documentary. The series website will have an accessible landing page for the film, including tools for changing color contrast and text size. An additional version of the film with extended audio description will also be available to stream. Marketing efforts for Becoming Helen Keller also integrate ASL, audio description and captions.

To expand the film’s impact, The WNET Group’s Community Engagement department worked with Alabama Public Television, Iowa PBS, WCNY (Syracuse, New York), WFYI (Indianapolis, Indiana), WGCU Public Media (Southwest Florida), WQED (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), WQLN Public Media (Lake Eerie region, Pennsylvania) and WXXI (Greater Rochester area, New York) to produce new accessible content for broadcast and digital platforms. Each station worked with local advisors and subject matter experts to create this companion content. Universal Design for Learning (UDL)-aligned educational resources for grades 6-12, created by The WNET Group’s Kids’ Media and Education department in partnership with disability experts, will be available via PBS LearningMedia.

SHARE