One of my Grandma’s frequent abjurations to me was to avoid falling in with those she described as being both ignorant and apathetic. She said that the watchwords of such people were embodied in their frequently used phrase, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Grandma was intent on making sure that I did not become so worldly wise and cynical that I thought that such sentiments were clever, sophisticated or worthy of emulation.
In that respect she was a great admirer of Helen Keller, (1880-1968), who was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Helen Keller was not born blind and deaf; it was not until she was 19 months old that she contracted an illness which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind.
Despite her limitations, Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter. In 1915 she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. In 1920 she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller traveled to 40 some-odd countries and met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson. She was friends with many famous figures, including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. Keller and Mark Twain were both considered radicals at the beginning of the 20th century, and as a consequence, their political views have been forgotten or glossed over in popular perception.
When asked why she was so strong an activist she opined that: “We may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.”
No wonder Grandma loved her!