T is for Telling Tales: Helen Keller

Ernestine and Mouse dancing in the trees
Ernestine and Mouse dancing in the trees

Yesterday was Earth Day and there was so much goodwill it made me think we really have come a long way.

There were spoil sports of course. An awful lot of people have trivialized the idea. Baking cookies is nice but not much help in fixing the systemic problems facing the planet. I suppose as a gesture it is mostly harmless. It could even induce a Pavlovian response: Earth Day = Sweet.

A lot of people joined the NASA selfie project. Another nice idea but suppose each person took a selfie in front of even one of the toxins the EPA has allowed into our environment. If we flooded the agency with images of all the people who care they might remember to protect the environment instead of corporations.

Some Earth Day conversations/actions were downright insidious. A lot of people were openly talking about how to link their brands to Earth Day. That is not in the spirit of the day, people. I even saw one site listing all the reasons why concrete is a green product. Words nearly fail. Worst of all, some Christian ‘leaders’ were urging their followers to think that celebrating the planet was sinful. Some of those same guys thought celebrating Jellybean Day was ok, though. In this case words do fail. wtf?

Never mind the saboteurs. They were outnumbered by people from all over the world expressing their joy at living on this remarkable planet.

Speaking of joy, I caught this image of Ernestine and Mouse dancing in the trees. They refuse to let even their floppy soggy Bert arms get them down.

Helen Keller, activist

(Violent content within again.)

In a totally unscientific study I asked three people for their first thought on hearing the name Helen Keller. They all saw the same thing: the little girl at the water pump making the connection that the letters being traced onto her hand represented the stuff coming out of the pump.

I am pretty sure that Keller would be disappointed to learn that this is her legacy. Literacy is a good thing, of course. But I think the stories of her actually using words are better.

For example, when she heard about the Ludlow Massacre (more on that in tomorrow’s post) she could not stay silent.  She had to speak out even though public speaking was always a bit terrifying to her. She was only too aware that her speech sounded odd to others.

It is not blindness or deafness that bring me my darkest hours. It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally.

Speaking out was also financially risky. Keller had relied on wealthy benefactors to make her way through the world. Henry Huttleston Rogers, one of Standard Oil’s top executives, had paid for her schooling, for example.

Helen Keller

And here she was about to speak against the main man of Standard Oil himself, John D. Rockefeller Sr.

She called him a monster of capitalism.

Knowing this I can’t see Helen Keller as a helpless little girl any more. I see an adult in her place.

Helen Keller enjoyed a great deal of fame and used that gift in the arena of public opinion. But in this case it hardly seemed a fair fight. In one corner was a deaf and blind woman armed only with her wit, fame and conscience taking on the richest man in the world literally armed with mercenaries and every resource a person could possibly imagine.

JDRWas Rockefeller a monster? The guy whose name still graces all those foundations and charities?

In his testimony regarding the Ludlow Massacre, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. admitted that even with hindsight he would not have done anything differently.

I guess some people think burning women and children alive as they cower from mercenaries shooting at them with machine guns is a reasonable thing if you are worried about your profits. Every penny counts. Even when you are the richest man in the world.

Some Other Things I Didn’t Know About Helen Keller:

The FBI kept Keller under surveillance for most of her adult life.
She was a founder of the ACLU and a supporter of the NAACP.
She was also active in the feminist, suffragette and pacifist movements.



16 thoughts on “T is for Telling Tales: Helen Keller

  1. it is no surprise that that the activism of Helen became hidden but the exploits of rockefeller were noticed . so much of our herstory swept away -thank you for giving Helen s courage back to us.


  2. Wait what?! Celebrating Jellybeans=good, earth=bad?! Seriously? I don’t even know what to say.

    And Helen Keller has always been a person I looked up to. Her story was so much more than the water pump scene. Great post.


    1. hahaha Not that I’m prejudiced against jelly beans of course. Thanks for the kind words. I never really knew much about her until I was desperately looking around for something to write about.


  3. Wow, I knew Helen Keller was a remarkable woman that did speaking tours. I just didn’t realize she was one of the founders of the ACLU and supported NAACP etc. It is always a good day when I learn something new. Thank you!


  4. Guilty as charged – the little girl at the water pump is where my mind immediately goes when I hear the name Helen Keller. She certainly was a remarkable woman. When you read of her achievements if you never knew she was blind or deaf you’d be impressed regardless.

    As to Rockefeller. He both was and was not a monster. (Disclosure: He significantly funded the excellent university our daughter attended in Chicago.) He was certainly a man of his own times, had plenty of company in his attitudes and approach. Corporations continue to commit atrocities yet they no longer have such a readily identifiable leader to heap blame and scorn upon. Now corporations try to hide the damage they do. Rockefeller’s exploits, we know about.


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