Feminism Is: Helen Keller, whose justice work wasn’t confined to “safe” topics

May 22, 2015

“So long as I confine my activities to social service and the blind, they compliment me extravagantly, calling me ‘arch priestess of the sightless,’  ‘wonder woman,’ and a ‘modern miracle.’ But when it comes to a discussion of poverty, and I maintain that it is the result of wrong economics. . .that is a different matter!”

Those were the words of the late Helen Keller.  Most of us know some of her story —how she lost both her sight and her hearing as a toddler, and how, as a frustrated, out-of-control child, she began learning to communicate at age seven through the tireless efforts of Anne Sullivan.  Yet,  few of us may be aware of so many other things about her life.  Peter Dreier, an urban policy analyst and professor of politics, has provided us with an interesting, accessible, and succinct summary of her life in Yes! Magazine.

For example, did you know that Mark Twain was so impressed with Keller’s intelligence and writing as a young person that he introduced her to his close friend, financier and Standard Oil magnate Henry H. Rogers, who paid for her elite education?

Did you know that she spoke about so many social concerns and justice causes that she was considered a political radical by the FBI, which kept her under surveillance?

Did you know that her writings on social justice could be found not only in book form, but in the pages of magazines as varied as the Ladies Home Journal and the publication of the NAACP?   Dreier writes, “She also penned a humorous article for the Atlantic Monthly, ‘Put Your Husband in the Kitchen.’”

Today, as so many young feminists are emphasizing  intersectionality,  it’s  important  to know that Helen Keller was likewise able to “draw connections among different forms of injustice.”  Dreier writes  that “In her investigations into the causes of blindness, she discovered that poor people were more likely than the rich to be blind, and soon connected the mistreatment of the blind to the oppression of workers, women, and other groups, leading her to embrace socialism, feminism, and pacifism.”

Included with Dreier’s article from Yes! Magazine is a brief video of Helen Keller speaking.  Take some time to watch it, along with reading the article,  our Link of the Day, “The Radical Dissent of Helen Keller.”

posted by Letha Dawson Scanzoni

Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Letha Dawson Scanzoni is an independent scholar, writer, and editor. In 1978, she and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, one of the earliest books urging evangelical Christians to rethink their views on homosexuality (updated edition, 1994, HarperOne). More recently, Letha coauthored (with social psychologist David G. Myers) What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperOne, 2005 and 2006). Another of Letha’s most well-known books is All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, coauthored with Nancy A. Hardesty (Word Books, 1974; revised edition, Abingdon, 1986; updated and expanded edition, Eerdmans, 1992).

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