Helen Keller (author, activist, lecturer and first deaf/blind person to graduate from college) At 19 months of age the previously normal child acquired infection - perhaps meningitis or scarlet fever (I have heard it as measles as well). It was called acute stomach and brain congestion according to the records of the day. Her first signs were 60 "words" her friend Martha Washington (six year old daughter of the family cook) created for her in sign. By age seven she had sixty home signs and experts later said this friendship and early intervention was crucial to her later development. Anne Sullivan taught her the alphabet so she was able to communicate her thoughts and she excelled under her tutilage. She was well traveled, and was outspoken in her opposition to war. She campaigned for women's suffrage, worker's rights and socialism, as well as many other progressive causes.
Helen Keller wrote her autobiography, publishing The Story of My Life (1903) and Midstream: My Later Life (1929) as well as publishing several other books, including The Practice of Optimism (1903, 1915), My Religion (1927), and Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy: A Tribute by the Foster Child of her Mind (1955). She also worked for socialism and for women's rights and raised money for the American Foundation for the Blind.Early days - Helen and AnneHelen with Anne Sullivan
Anne Sullivan (teacher of Helen) Her parents were impoverished cooks who left Ireland during the potato famine. Her mother died when she was nine years old and she went to live with relatives. She began losing her sight at the age of three to infection that left scarring. After several unsuccessful attempts to clear her eyes, surgery finally restored vision to a reasonable degree. She graduated as valedictorian from Perkins School for the Blind and became a teacher. The director encouraged her to teach Helen Keller. She taught her the alphabet in sign as she acted as governess to the blind and deaf child. Thanks to her efforts, Helen could communicate and demonstrate her vast intelligence. Anne remained her companion for years and was blind the year prior to her death at age 70.
Clara Barton (teacher, humanitarian, nurse and organizer of the American Red Cross) She began her nursing career at age 11, caring for her severely injured brother, served faithfully during the Civil War where under President Lincoln's directive she traced the fate of 30,000 soldiers. She worked in a Cuban hospital at the age of 77 and resigned as chairman of the Red Cross at the age of 83.
Florence Nightingale (the "Lady with the Lamp," writer, statistician, and pioneer of modern nursing). She was born into a rich family but felt her calling was to be a nurse. Her most famous work was done in the Crimean War where she was called a "ministering angel" as she gave comfort and care to the injured soldiers. She advocated sanitary conditions in living quarters and hospitals, reducing deaths among soldiers in peacetime. She organized the first school of nursing and midwifery and with Elizabeth Blackwell, opened the Women's Medical College. She served in the Civil War and was instrumental in many other health causes.