|Date(s):||May 17, 1890|
|Tag(s):||Health/Death, Education, Politics, Migration/Transportation, Women|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
Was the cat out of the bag? Would the Chicago news reach her parents back home in Tuscumbia before she made it home to tell them in person? On May 17, 1890, the Chicago Tribune ran a special on the miraculous case of Helen Keller; a blind, deaf and dumb child from Alabama. Keller's wealthy parents had sent her up north to a special institution for the blind. According to the article, Keller's parents had heard of the great progress made by another student, Laura Bridgman, and hoped for the same results for Helen. Her success however, far exceeded that of Ms. Bridgman and in the first year Helen acquired a vocabulary of 3,000 words. Her teacher, Miss Fuller, gave her instruction as to how to place her tongue and the child would feel of her teacher's throat and lips when she was talking, thus learning the mechanical elements of articulation. The Tribune reported that Helen subsequently spoke quite readily and praised her remarkable accomplishments. After announcing Helen's feat to the entire city of Chicago, the Tribune concluded, The child has kept her wonderful recovery of speech secret, as she wishes to surprise her parents, whom she is to visit in the South soon.
Born a healthy baby in Tuscumbia on June 27, 1880, a fever rendered Keller deaf and blind at the age of eighteen months old. Despite all odds, Helen Keller had achieved an international reputation even before studying under Sarah Fuller in 1890. By 1888, at the tender age of eight, Keller was recognized in the Chicago Tribune for her wonderful power. The article spoke of Helen's education in Tuscumbia with Miss Anne Mausfueld Sullivan. At the age of seven, Helen's parents hired Miss Sullivan to teach the child in Alabama. Subsequently, Helen traveled north to continue her education with another teacher, Sarah Fuller of the Horace Mann School. Helen Keller's story became a widely recognized and heartwarming tale by the turn of the century and her dedication to learning earned her both a spot in the public eye and that of history.
Helen Keller's first educational breakthrough occured at home in Tuscumbia. Why then would her parents then send her away from Alabama to continue her learning? The Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind was established in the 1860s and served as a special needs school close to home. And yet, Keller traveled north to further her education at various private institutions including the prestigious Horace Mann School. Though Keller proved an exceptional case with respect to her achievements in education, she was not alone in her journey north to further her schooling. Many wealthy Alabama natives sent their children north at the end of the nineteenth century in search of higher education. The ill-defined school system and educational deficiencies throughout Alabama led many to look outside the state for higher educational purposes. Furthermore, racial segregation throughout the South created similar education problems as those faced in Alabama. State biographer William Rogers observes, In Alabama, as in the rest of the South, the problems of educational support were compounded by the decision to establish parallel institutions for whites and blacks. Due to racial tensions throughout the South, many southern families turned north for the best educational opportunities. If families had the private funds to find the best education available, many southerners looked north during times of educational and racial turmoil in the South.