News Release

Helen Keller: Radical, Socialist

AP reports today: “Alabama is updating its historical presence in the U.S. Capitol, swapping out a statue of a rather unknown former congressman for a new bronze likeness of Helen Keller.”

KIM NIELSEN
Nielsen is author or editor of several books on Helen Keller, including The Radical Lives of Helen Keller and, most recently, Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller.

She said today: “Helen Keller was a very important figure, both domestically and internationally. Most people know about her personal story, but don’t know about her commitment to activism, to what democracy should really look like, to internationalism and to ending economic inequality. She was one of the U.S.’s most effective ambassadors after World War II.”

Nielsen is a professor of history and women’s and gender studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Helen Keller in her own words:

“We must set to work in the right direction the three great agencies which inform and educate us: the church, the school and the press. If they remain silent, obdurate, they will bear the odium which recoils upon evildoers.”
– From “I Must Speak: A Plea to American Women,” Ladies Home Journal, from Helen Keller: Revolutionary activist, better known for her blindness than her radical social vision available in part at Google Books.

Keller’s 1912 essay “How I Became a Socialist,” which addresses her being attacked by media outlets including the New York Times, and other writings are available on the web page “Helen Keller Reference Archive” and in her book Out of the Dark: Essays, Lectures, and Addresses on Physical and Social Vision at Google Books.

“Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee … You ask for votes for women. What good can votes do when ten-elevenths of the land of Great Britain belongs to 200,000 and only one-eleventh to the rest of the 40,000,000? Have your men with their millions of votes freed themselves from this injustice?”
– From A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present by Howard Zinn

Keller joined the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the IWW or the Wobblies). She stated in “Why I became an IWW” (1916): “I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.” [The last sentence refers to prostitution and syphilis, the latter a leading cause of blindness.] See: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen.

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167