Editor’s Note: This article by Des Moines Register reporter Harlan S. Miller originally appeared on January 2, 1922. Helen Keller was in Des Moines for a week of stage performances at the Orpheum Theater.
Bright, sightless blue eyes – the eyes of special education prodigy Helen Keller stared across the lobby of the Fort Des Moines hotel as if they were fixed on unseen targets.
“To the people of Des Moines, I wish a happy new year; a year of joy and prosperity; the best kind of year your people could wish for themselves,” she said.
The words raced through his throat and out of his mouth with a mechanical sound, a mechanical articulation, a machine voice. But strangely too, they carried the sound of a blessing.
Keller, whom the average well-informed man would easily count as one of the half-dozen most famous women on the planet, is performing at a local theater this week.
Blinded, speechless and deaf by illness when she was just a 19-month-old baby, Keller, in her growing understanding of 20th-century culture, through the guidance of her lifelong teacher, Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan , has been a modern miracle.
In 1887, Sullivan took charge of the education of the inarticulate and super isolated 7-year-old child. Her parents, descendants of old New England and Virginia families, had desperately put her in touch with life. In 1904, 17 years later, Keller graduated from Radcliffe College after a regular four-year course with a bachelor’s degree.
For 40 years Helen Keller’s eyes saw nothing. For 40 years, Helen Keller’s ears have heard no sound.
But a few years ago, the speaking miracle was performed for Keller, who is now 41. Patient training of his tongue, lips and vocal cords by Sullivan and CA White of the New England Conservatory of Music accomplished the feat.
Keller has a broad knowledge of French and English classics, she is a student of philosophy and economics and has written several books. She is a member of many organizations for the education of the blind.
While Sullivan is ill at his Des Moines hotel, his secretary, Miss Polly Thompson, guides Keller through his stage appearance. Keller listens in two ways – by keeping her fingers to the speaker’s lips and by a sign language transmitted to her palm and fingers through the sense of touch.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Helen Keller visited Des Moines for a week of live performances 100 years ago