Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

The Vibrant Helen Keller

August 20, 2020 American Printing House Episode 13
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
The Vibrant Helen Keller
Chapters
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
The Vibrant Helen Keller
Aug 20, 2020 Episode 13
American Printing House

In 2018 the Texas State Board of Education made a preliminary decision to streamline their required curriculum by cutting Helen Keller from their third-grade social studies standards. To get a reversal of that decision, Gabby Caldwell testified with her mother, Robbie, before the State Board of Education. In this episode of Change Makers you’ll hear from Gabby and Robbie about keeping Helen in the schools, from Helen Selsdon, one of the leading experts on Helen Keller, and also from Mike Hudson, the Director of the Museum at the American Printing Hose for the Blind. We take a look at why Helen matters as much today as ever before.

LINKS
Helen Keller Online Lessons: https://www.aph.org/learning-from-the-life-of-helen-keller/
Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind: sites.aph.org/museum/
Helen Keller Digital Archives: afb.org/HelenKellerArchive

Show Notes Transcript

In 2018 the Texas State Board of Education made a preliminary decision to streamline their required curriculum by cutting Helen Keller from their third-grade social studies standards. To get a reversal of that decision, Gabby Caldwell testified with her mother, Robbie, before the State Board of Education. In this episode of Change Makers you’ll hear from Gabby and Robbie about keeping Helen in the schools, from Helen Selsdon, one of the leading experts on Helen Keller, and also from Mike Hudson, the Director of the Museum at the American Printing Hose for the Blind. We take a look at why Helen matters as much today as ever before.

LINKS
Helen Keller Online Lessons: https://www.aph.org/learning-from-the-life-of-helen-keller/
Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind: sites.aph.org/museum/
Helen Keller Digital Archives: afb.org/HelenKellerArchive

Jack Fox:

Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.

Jonathan Wahl:

Welcome back to Change Makers. My name is Jonathan Wahl. Today, we're going to hear from an incredible Change Maker. Take a listen:

Gabby Caldwell:

It was aweful. No one cancels Helen Keller.

Jonathan Wahl:

It was awful. No one cancels Helen Keller, that was 19-year-old, Gabby Caldwell. She lives in Texas, she's deaf blind, and that was her response when she discovered the Texas State Board of Education was going to remove Helen Keller from their third grade social studies curriculum standards. Instead of letting it happen. She and her mom, Robbie testified before the board. Here's what her mom had to say:

Robbie Caldwell:

That's like removing George Washington, to me. It's like, "what??"

Jonathan Wahl:

Today's topic on Change Makers is Helen Keller. She's a name known 'round the world as a symbol of courage in the face of incredible odds. Helen was a social justice warrior writing a scathing letter to Nazi students before World War II, visiting Japan as American's first Goodwill ambassador. After the atomic bombs were dropped in shaping disability policies that are still bettering lives today. Today, we'll hear from the archivist at the American foundation for the blind - AFB. She's one of the leading experts on Helen Keller. We're going to take you beyond the water pump and talk about the Helen you might not know. We'll also talk to the director of the museum at the American printing house for the blind. APH is now home to the physical Helen Keller archives. And we'll talk about the impact her life will have on visitors. But first I want to get back to Gabby and Robbie .

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This mother daughter duo knew they could have let Helen be removed from history, books or curriculum instead of watching it play out, they jumped in and testified before the Texas State Board of Education, because Gabby is deaf blind and we did this over zoom. She can be a little hard to understand, but her message is so important. When I asked Gabby what she likes about Helen Keller, she said it's that Helen, you sign language like she does. And she was a fighter and very tough. She said, people need to learn about Helen Keller because she used her mind skills, use sign language, and finger spelling, and...

Gabby Caldwell:

She is a deaf blind superhero.

Jonathan Wahl:

Gabby, what did it feel like getting to testify before the board of education?

Gabby Caldwell:

It felt great!

Jonathan Wahl:

What did you say to the board?

Gabby Caldwell:

Helen Keller is my hero and I'm a huge fan of Helen Keller. She knew about sign language, and finger spelling, and used voice and traveling the world, around.

Jonathan Wahl:

Gabby . Thank you so much. It's so great talking to you and I don't think you even know how many people you've inspired just by standing up for Helen Keller. So kudos to you. And thank you. Thank you so much for talking with me.

Gabby Caldwell:

Thank you.

Jonathan Wahl:

You're welcome. Robbie , moving over to you. Just tell, tell me more about Gabby who she is and, and what made it so important that you wanted, wanted to stand up and make sure Helen Keller can be her role model?

Robbie Caldwell:

Well, Gabby has been deaf blind since birth. She was born at 23 weeks, weighing a little over 12 ounces. And so I always start there because nothing about her, our walk for the last 19 years has been predictable. You know, there's nothing that I'm not her language acquisition. She learned , uh , words in a book prior to learning the words to voice them, you know? So , um, she's just never been typical. It's been anything but that. And so, but we've always been blessed that she has been kind of a walking on what I've always described as a walking on sunshine kind of girl. So she brings a lot of enthusiasm to everything she does. And so that has been really important because I would say given how complicated it was to educate Gabby, it allowed for like the administrators, the teachers therapists, they always leaned into her because she had that kind of exuberant personality.

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You know, she just brought that energy. And so that was really good. And , um, and so this year Gabby just graduated high school and , um, anyone who knows Gabby knows that she is completely obsessed with clowns, the circus and travel. Uh, she can tell you if you can just spin a globe and point to it, she can pretty much tell you where you are. And she, I mean, she's just obsessed with that. And so we've been really blessed. We've been very, very blessed considering. And so we just kind of have been taking it as it comes. It's been a very unique experience

Jonathan Wahl:

Back to when you first heard Helen Keller would be removed from the third grade social studies curriculum in Texas. What , what went through your head as a mother?

Robbie Caldwell:

You know , I was shocked . I mean, you know , like I just, I really expected it for it to be retracted. I kept thinking that at some point it was kind of a process that we first heard it and you know, you're thinking like, that's like, we're moving George Washington to me, you know, like , it's like how big , like you just can't believe that that would be happening. And so then it wasn't retracted, you know, there was, they were going to go forward with it . And I was, when I'm telling you, I was shocked, I was just shocked. Cause I'm thinking someone that world renowned, like how I just couldn't even, it just didn't make it made absolutely no sense to me.

Jonathan Wahl:

Why is learning about Helen Keller important for all students?

Robbie Caldwell:

Well, for me in particular, you know, like I learned about Helen Keller in school. And so , um, I learned about Anne Sullivan in school. I learned about interveners in school. I learned that if given the right education, people can make progress. Even those who seem like they were not going to make progress. And so for me, that's the blueprint for all disability education that when I thought, you know , like you you're , you have it there in a, in a person's story. And then when you look at the trajectory of Helen Keller's life after receiving that type of education and those types of services, well, I mean, that's huge and it's huge, not just to me, for people who are with disabilities, it's huge for everyone. We all have struggles, even if they're not named as disabilities. And it lets you know, that we can overcome. And that to me, what Helen Keller was always about.

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And so I just think it would, when you think about her intellect and you know, her, how hard she worked, you know, I mean , I know how hard my daughter has worked for acquisition of information. I can only imagine at that time, without all of the things that we have at our disposal. So when you look at how much, how hard she had to work, I mean, it's just such a tremendous example of everything you want to do and you want to see in this world. So I think it's, it's important for everyone to have that kind of robot

Jonathan Wahl:

Going to testify before the board of education is a big step. What made you willing to go there and represent Helen Keller ?

Robbie Caldwell:

You know, it's funny. I pre-interviewed Gabby for this, right. Um , prior to this, cause I had to have her understand the questions and make sure she was in context and things of that nature. But it was interesting with her in that one of the things that she said, we did that this morning and she was, but I asked her the same question. She was like, Oh, I felt great. And I forget that Gabby is such a unique bird in that we've been advocating for her since she was born. And like literally since she was born. Um, and so for her, it's very natural. She wasn't intimidated by the process. She was just like, okay, we're going to go and do this. You know, like she's been, she's been brought into this and we've been advocating all along. And um, you know, it's , it's just really, I , I think that that process even albeit that it was very long and tedious at that particular day , uh, we were last , we had gotten there at eight o'clock in the morning.

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You come in and you have to sign up prior, let me give you the particulars. You have to sign up prior, online that you're going to come and present. You tell them what you're going to present and they give you the timeframes and they give you the day. And so you have to wait, but you know, I had prepared Gabby and she was prepared to go and speak. And she's , for some reason, she does so much better when she has to voice in those, in those kinds of situations. And she does in her natural. I mean, she, she comes alive in front of a microphone. I have no clue of why, but she is really is where she's very much at home. And so for her, I had more anxiety about it than she did by far. And I never thought that it would have been picked up the way it ended up getting picked up. And so we just thought we're going to advocate we're we're , you know , um, and my husband explained to me why it was even more important. I didn't quite understand why it went beyond Texas at the time. I thought, Oh, it matters for Texas. And he was like, well, Texas is one of the largest purchases of textbooks. And so as Texas goes, so probably half of the country goes and I was like, Oh, I didn't realize the gravity of that. But for me, it was just very simple that we should be doing this. It was just, it was, yeah.

Jonathan Wahl:

I love how you said Gabby's good in front of a mic because I know another woman who is good in front of a mic who was deaf blind, and that was Helen Keller's so very, very fitting. How did it feel when you found out Helen Keller would stay in the educational standards?

Robbie Caldwell:

Oh my God. We were overjoyed. I mean, it made sense because Gabby was there. I think that if I had just shown up to do the same advocating, it wouldn't have made as much sense. And it's similar to that. If you remove Helen Keller from the process, all of our children make no sense to the world, to the doctors who will never have another , uh, who will only see one deaf blind patient or, you know, it just to the instructors, to the teachers, all of those things are deaf, blind children don't make any sense. It doesn't, you know, they can get educated, but if you don't see it and you don't have a representation, it really is hard to pin things to , does that make sense?

Jonathan Wahl:

It does. Yeah. What lessons do you want Gabby to learn from the life of Helen Keller?

Robbie Caldwell:

Oh, wow. Um, wow. That all things are possible. Biggest thing is that all things are possible with hard work and education that you are on your running your own race is what I call it, you know? Um, but Helen Keller was, I don't know if there was, if there was a slogan, it would be, I can just simply I can help me. I can, I can do it. If you help me, show me , um , help me acquire that information. I just, I just think about, for me, it's been really important for us. Gabby has what I always call scattered skills. He has things that are very high things that are completely missing in concepts, but for us, we have really tried to find educators and we've been blessed at the blind school in Austin is to find people who are, who are looking for a work around looking to, to, to really find what works, not what they want to do, which is a very different way of going about it. So for me, I just really want Gabby to take away from her is all of the pot , which Gabby has, which I'm very thankful for. Um, is that a very positive outlook and an I can do spirit.

Jonathan Wahl:

Thankfully we've started to see a transition in for instance, children's books, the importance of representation of opening a book and seeing yourself whether that's the color of your skin or whatever it might be. Let's talk about representation. Why does it matter for Gabby to be able to open up a book and see someone like her in her history book?

Robbie Caldwell:

Because there's no one else I can't stress that enough. I just, that's why beyond. I can always think beyond my understanding of deaf blindness and Gabby. I think about all disabilities. There are so little representation of any one with disabilities and the fact that she achieved and what when they started. I mean, there's so many examples of why representation matters, but you have to know it's possible. You have to plant the seed. You have to plant the seed in every doctor and every therapist in every one who's going to come in contact. Every, everyone, every teacher who's going to come, every administrator, who's going to make laws, everybody. You have to have the, H elen Keller is the s eed that if we do the right things, that that is possible, and it doesn't matter if you hit Helen Keller status, you know, you know, going to Radcliffe and things l ike t hat, it just means that you are not relegated to this place.

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Representation is huge. You have to have the seed planted that the gatekeepers are the not, you know, it's just so huge that representation seeing yourself, knowing that there is someone also in someone else, especially in a low incidence disability, but there are other people out there like you , it's huge. You have to see yourself and you have to see yourself succeeding. And so she's a great example of that. Our textbooks don't hold enough. Individuals do not place enough individuals similar to Helen Keller in our textbooks. I think that we need more of those types of stories , those kinds of characteristics, that we can all carry forward. I mean, she was ahead of her time in every way.

Jonathan Wahl:

I learn that more every day, as I learn more about her. Thank you, both Robbie and Gabby for being advocates, you know, at APH we often say the future belongs to everyone and we're trying to change the dialogue around people with disabilities. And you all are really the people out there doing the work, you know, going, going to court to defend Helen Keller . So we appreciate you. Thank you so much for your time and being on the show today .

Robbie Caldwell:

Well again, thank you for having us. Do you want to say thank you for having us?

Gabby Caldwell:

Thank you for having us.

Jonathan Wahl:

The student or child, and you want them to learn more about Helen Keller? The museum at the American printing house for the blind has put together a series of lessons that teach you all about Helen Keller using her writings, as well as other resources. If you go to the show notes, I'll share a link there. Next we're talking to Mike Hudson. Mike is the Director of the Museum at the American Printing House for the Blind. Last year, we partnered with AFB to bring the world's largest collection of Helen Keller artifacts and the AFB archives to Louisville, to APH. Mike has been working on exhibits to showcase these important artifacts in the already robust museum, that houses much of the history of the field of blindness. Mike, thanks so much for being on Change Makers today.

Mike Hudson:

I'm glad to be here,

Jonathan Wahl:

Mike, you're a historian at heart. What did you think when you first discovered the physical archive

Mike Hudson:

Of all of Helen Keller's artifacts might be coming to Louisville to be under your care? Yeah, it was a big moment. We , uh, had done a collections plan for the museum a few years ago. And , uh, one of the things that we immediately identified is that we had nothing in the collection that had anything to do with Helen Keller and that there was really not any real purpose for us to spend a lot of time trying to collect it because the American foundation for the blind had that story. It was their story. Um, and so, you know, when , uh, Craig Meador, our president came and said, you know, we're looking at acquiring this collection. You know, of course I got real excited. And , uh, I just started thinking about the possibilities.

Jonathan Wahl:

Why do these artifacts matter to visitors coming to the APH museum?

Mike Hudson:

I think they matter kind of in two ways , uh, for sighted people, they have low expectations of people with disabilities in general. It's just the way that the world works. And so a story like Helen Keller story, and of course Anne Sullivan , who you cannot separate the two from each other, that story of a hope and a perseverance , uh, through , uh, obstacles is an , is a hugely important story for all, all of us. We all need to know that despite the slings and arrows, that life throws at us, if we approach them with energy and , uh, a little bit of help and perseverance that , uh , we can do great things. And Helen did great things with her life. Um, but for people who have disibilities themselves, people who are blind or visually impaired for people who are deaf or hard of hearing Helen story is also an inspirational story to those folks that , um, you know, this is a person like them.

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This is a person who has lived through the same things that they've faced with every day. And , uh , you know, she didn't hit a home run every day, but , um, she, she, she got up and she tried every day and that can be an inspiration , uh , for people who are facing these obstacles. Um, you know, it's, it's, it's , it's neat, I think in a museum to see stories about people like ourselves. And so , uh, you know, people with disabilities are not always highlighted in museums and histories. A lot of times they're forgotten. They're the they're , their stories are all going on, but no one, no one writes about them. So Helen is that, that kind of rare , uh, character , uh, with disabilities who becomes world famous. And I think, I think those stories are important for museums to preserve. And I think no matter who you are, you find some meaning in Helen and Annie stories for your own life.

Jonathan Wahl:

Mike, you boxed up each item in New York, organized them meticulously. What feeling did you get as you opened the boxes and pulled out each of these pieces of history?

Mike Hudson:

That was such an amazing experience and continues to be an amazing experience every day? Um, yeah, the other day I opened up her a box full of her , uh, graduation, academic gowns. She got , uh , five or six different honorary doctorates. And so in this one box and I was looking at the other day, it was her, it was her graduation robe from the university of Delhi in Delhi, India , uh, from 1955, something like that. And then the other one was the first honorary doctorate she got, which was from Temple University. And I was just electric cause , uh, you know, whether it's touching a braille document, a braille letter that Helen typed herself on a braille writer and then touching the braille writer itself , um, it's, it's this just authentic experience. And I think it's why people love coming to museums. I mean, they'd love the stories, right.

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But they also love being in the presence of things that were there when history was being made. You know, when you're, when you're standing in independence hall next to the Liberty bell, and you , you know, the story of, of the, you know, the bell being rung after, you know, the declaration of independence was written, that's a feeling right. And that's the feeling I've been getting for the last five months is that as I unbox, these things, you know, whether it's a metal that was presented to her when she went to Latin America or a cricket cage, which is one of my favorite artifacts that she got, u h, as a gift when she went to Japan and she went to Japan three different times and was treated just like a princess when she went there, like royalty. And so all of those things are all carefully packed up and, u h, u h, that's exciting, but the most exciting thing is thinking about how are we going to put all these things on exhibit so that everybody else out there can come enjoy them? That's really the challenge that the that's the collaboration between us and the American foundation for the blind , uh, you know, for years they've had these things and they taken wonderful care of them, but how do we put them on exhibit? How do we share them with everybody and how do we , uh, how do we provide access to everybody so that they can, they can learn more of the story of Helen and Annie , uh, and , and just enjoy being, being there with the real things, authentic things.

Jonathan Wahl:

Mike, what are the plans down the road for this exhibit and how will people be able to interact with these archives?

Mike Hudson:

So our big plan is obviously to build new exhibit galleries , um, that will focus on the story of Anne Sullivan, the teacher and Helen Keller, the student, and then Helen, who becomes, you know , this internationally famous , uh, advocate for people who are blind or visually impaired. So those , those exhibits are going to happen , uh, in the longterm . Uh, and over the next three to five years in the short term , uh , we're, we're going to constantly have a rotating schedule of different artifacts , uh, from the collection. You know, initially we kind of put out the highlight artifacts, things like the Oscar that she won in 1955 or her presidential medal of freedom, or this Zulu shield that a bunch of Zulu dancers gave her when she visited South Africa. Uh , but longterm , I have all kinds of great ideas, like a little exhibits about her trip to Japan, little exhibits about her trip to Latin America. Uh , there's a , there's probably 20 different portraits of Helen Keller. So I think that would make a great exhibit, just different art of how she was , uh , how she was seen by artists, both painters and sculptors. Um, there's a million little ideas, you know , uh, some of the things that she writes in private to , uh, her friends and to her family and to , uh , other social activists, I think those are make a great exhibit two . So yeah, we're going to do a series though . Always be something from the collection , uh , on display until we get to the more ambitious idea down the road,

Jonathan Wahl:

In your words, why does Helen matter as much today really has ever before?

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Well, I think we all still need heroes and Jonathan , I hope that's not an old fashioned idea. Um, I think we need people to look up to , um, people do aspire people to make us want to be better than we really are. And Helen, you know, it's so amazing. Jonathan, as we, as historians deal with historical figures, you know, we , we often find that people have feet of clay, right? That the people are just people, men and women of the past are maybe no better or worse than we are. Um , and even if they're famous for having done something incredible, it's somewhere back in their background. There's also examples of places where maybe they didn't live up to the high standard that we want them to. But Helen does, Helen is an amazing woman. She's a real person. I know that a lot of times we try to st make her into a Saint. She was not. Uh , but, but she, she always has this fresh, positive outlook on what is possible. And even when she is chatting her political enemies or trying to drag somebody into the 20th century , uh, she does it in such a way that , uh, makes people want to follow her. Uh, you know, the FBI had a file on, on Helen. Did you know that they were investigating her , uh, during the period of, you know, McCarthyism and , uh, all of the cold war fear about communism, but no one ever made a move against Helen Keller. She was just too big to , to touch that way. And , uh , I think we need people like that in our lives. And I think we're excited here at APH to be able to tell that story

Jonathan Wahl:

Well, thanks so much, Mike, it's always a pleasure. And I think we're all eagerly awaiting to get, get to just sit back and be a part of that story, unraveling at APH. So we're excited about what the future holds for this exhibit and appreciate all your dedication.

Mike Hudson:

You bet. Let's do it.

Helen Selsdon:

Our final guest on the show today is Helen Selsdon. She's AFB's A rchivist. And one of the leading experts on Helen Keller, she's been studying Helen for more than 18 years. She was also part of the team that digitize the Helen Keller archives, which can now be seen online through AFB. I'll have a link to that in the show notes. Helen was kind enough to talk with me on a hot day without air conditioning. So you may hear a fan from time to time, but I know you'll be fascinated like me, as we learn more about what Helen Keller stood for Helen. Thanks for being on the show. My pleasure. I'm delighted to be here.

Jonathan Wahl:

You have been researching Helen for 18 years, like kept you digging. What kept you digging and learning more about her?

Helen Selsdon:

Well, I was brought into AFB as an archival consultant. Originally, Helen Keller's archive was in disarray and I was traditionally a consultant for multiple archival collections. So they brought me in and we ended up organizing so much material. I ended up organizing so much material and I just stayed the work continued. There was just so much to do. Um , I knew nothing about Helen when I began , um, except that we have the same first name and that was about it. Um, but the more I dug, the more fascinated I became, I was not aware that her life was as broad and as rich as it is. And as it was, you know, she lived from 1880 to 1968. She was involved in many movements apart from the blind , this movement. And , um, there's just a wealth of material in the archive. And I was just fascinated by the whole thing. So basically it was a huge challenge. And I love the fact that it was such a challenge.

Jonathan Wahl:

Many people only know Helen Keller at the surface level. Paint a picture for me of the spunky, vibrant Helen, that most people just don't know.

Helen Selsdon:

Right. You got to go back to her childhood. Really Helen , um, was six years of age when Anne Sullivan may see a teacher came down from the Perkins school for the blind , um, Helen's parents, Kate and Arthur Keller were looking for help with their daughter. And they found this kid to be very unruly. And he took this very bright spunky, little six year old and helped her to learn to communicate. She taught her tactile finger spelling, and she taught her how to read braille. And that was it. You see from the very get go that Helen had this incredible energy and lost life. And he writes in one of her letters that Helen was like a sponge as a child. And I think she remained like that from the rest of her life. She kept going fascinated by everything. She would read as much as she could get hold of, and as much as we've browsed for half , um, she , um, I say the adult, she loved music and theater and not to say also martinis as well. She was a fun loving lady. Um, she performed on vaudeville. Many people don't know that, that she did that to earn a living. She was very good at it. Um , she had tons of charisma. I did meet a few people who knew her, met her when she was very, you know, all back in the day. And they said she had this aura about, she had this sort of energy for you. Couldn't fail, but notice

Jonathan Wahl:

Helen didn't steer away from speaking the truth. You know, she was so bold. I don't, I don't think people realize just how bold she was. What are some of the things people would be surprised to know about Helen?

Helen Selsdon:

Wow, there are quite a few things here. Um, I think importantly in the 19 teens a nd the teens, she spoke out against social injustice. She was fervent supporter of, u m, equal pay for equal work for women. I t w as a major supporter of poor indigent people and working women. One of the things that Helen campaigned against was a taboo subject, a sexually transmitted disease where pregnant women would, u m , t ransfer the disease to th e b abies. When the babies were being born be fore t he babies were born blind, there was a simple remedy to this silver nitrate drops in the baby's eyes and the newborn baby's eyes, the stigma around venereal disease and women being frightened to speak up and embarrassed to speak up resulted in th e m any babies were not treated who could have been so Helen wrote in n ewspapers, in magazines. So she petitioned doctors, there's archival material showing she wrote to legislature, legislators demanding that please get over this taboo subject. Let's make it clear that this is a very easy, u m , m edical problem that can be fixed. I mean, that was very unusual, bu t d ocuments in the ar chive s pan from 1907 to 1953 on this subject, sh e p r obably s a ved t h e e y esight o f m any babies as a result because her thoughts and opinions were published in the newspapers because the doctors, interestingly, could not so easily write about this disease and pu blish t his, th is i n formation i n the newspapers. Whereas Helen, in her extraordinary sort of capacity as this famous deaf blind woman had the platform with which to do that. So that's one of the things many people don't know about. Um , s he was an early member of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the NAACP,

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The Helen Keller archive contains speeches she gave and articles she wrote in her fight for women's ability to vote and gain equal economic and democratic power to men. Um, the Centennial of the night of the ratification of the 19th amendment granting women, the right to vote just took place on August 18. Um, Helen was instrumental and very much was a suffragist and took part.. She gave speeches, demanding the right of women to speak , uh , wanting to gain the vote. This is all contained in the Helen Keller archive. So it's really her activism that people are less aware of. And her progressive agenda.

Jonathan Wahl:

Let's talk about context. Some of the things Helen stood for may not be widely accepted today, but Helen lived in a, in a much different world. How do we make sense of some of the things

Helen Selsdon:

Right in 1909, Helen joined the socialist party. Um, she had very left wing politics. She joined the socialist party in her fight for economic equality for men and women. This was very much part of her belief in the right of women , um, getting equal pay for equal work as a man. Um, she spoke out a lot against a class , um , inequality. There are many speeches in the, in the digital archive and the archive about this. She throughout her life, her big thing was one has the right to be in control of one's own life. One's own destiny, your disability, your gender. This should not disbar you in any way, shape or form from living a full and happy life. And I think this motivated her in so many, this is where it was a thread throughout her work, even into the blindness field. You know, obviously you one has to be able to earn a living as someone who's blind and visually impaired. She fought against prejudice towards blind and deaf people that prohibited them that made it far harder for them to enter the workplace. And actually this sort of goes on today. We fight the same battles today. So her fights were very much, very much the same as they are today. In many instances, Helen is sometimes criticized for her , um, support of Margaret Sanger and birth control. Um, she greatly admired Margaret Sanger and , um, Sanger obviously was the founder of Planned Parenthood. Um, I think she admired her as well because Sanger was willing to confront difficult issues that faced women. And she was willing to confront them head on Helen was a leader. And in many ways, sort of ahead of her time , she was willing to have these hard conversations and to think deeply about uncomfortable, potentially uncomfortable topics. She listened to , um, a wide range of opinions and to diverse voices,

Jonathan Wahl:

In your words, Helen, why does Helen Keller matter as much today as ever before?

Helen Selsdon:

Well, we live in incredibly troubled times and I think she has lived, she lived through very troubled times and she showed that there is a path through this, that there is a way forward, resilience, determination. She wasn't just this incredible sort of figurehead . You know, she wasn't just some iconic symbol. She was a woman of real flesh and blood who worked extraordinarily hard to improve the world. And it takes, as we know, it takes a stunning amount of effort to improve things and to change things for the better she lived through the first world war, the second world war, the Korean war in the second world war, she visited 19 better hospitals. Um, we live during the time of a pandemic. She lived through the 1918 epidemic. She saw many , um , people throughout her lifetime become blind and deaf through disease and she saw , um, the, what happens , um, young men going to war, losing their vision, the need for rehabilitation services.

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She can show us that we have to work super hard, that there is a chance to improve the world we live in. It's not necessarily all gloom and doom and that individuals can make a difference. Seriously, individuals can make a difference and above all collectively we can move things to a better place. I want to just sort of read this quote that I think is so Helen " I long to a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." That is Helen through and through. that's AFB. That's APH. We, we, we, it doesn't stop. It doesn't end. We keep pushing forward. Yeah . It's not easy. It's a , it's a left foot right. Foot thing. It's not glamorous or sexy, but we keep doing it just as Helen did.

Jonathan Wahl:

Helen , thank you so much for being on the podcast. It's always a pleasure of learning more about Helen Keller from you. And I'm excited as APH and AFB continue to work on the Helen Keller archives and ensuring that people for generations get to learn about Helen Keller.

Helen Selsdon:

Wonderful. Thank you for having me. Thank you. Absolutely.

Jonathan Wahl:

I hope you've enjoyed your time. Learning more about Helen Keller. There's still much more to learn. So I do hope you'll check out our show notes for links to continue your learning.

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That's it for today's episode of Change Makers, be sure to look for ways you can be a Change Maker this week.