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Keller Johnson-Thompson

Ask Keller - February 2005

February 2005

Are you curious about some aspect of Helen Keller's life, and haven't been able to find the answer to your question? Ask Keller Johnson-Thompson, Helen's great-grandniece. This monthly column features real questions from readers like you.

Was Helen Keller ever married?

Marriage was a dream of Helen Keller's. At the age of 36, Helen was a beautiful woman. She was interested in men, but she also felt conflicted about love and marriage. She wondered who would want to be burdened with someone like her. She said, "I can't imagine a man wanting to marry me." However, in the summer of 1916 things changed for Helen. Anne, Helen's teacher, was sick and put on strict bed rest to recover, and Helen's secretary, Polly Thomson, was gone on vacation to Scotland. A man by the name of Peter Fagan was helping Helen in Polly's absence.

Helen was overwhelmed and depressed when Peter approached her. He took her hand tenderly and confessed his feeling towards her. He even told her that he hoped to marry her. Helen later wrote, "His love was a bright sun that shone upon my helplessness and isolation."

Helen was delighted. The two took walks together, enjoyed each other's company, and fell deeply in love. Helen wanted to tell her mother and Annie about Peter, but he convinced her not to. He even applied for a marriage license. Before Helen could tell her mother of this, a newspaper article appeared and mentioned the marriage license application. Helen was taken to her sister Mildred's home in Alabama.

Peter managed to get letters to Helen in braille telling her of his plans for them to elope (run off and get married), and Helen did manage to sneak out of the house with her bags packed, but Peter never showed up. Helen had no way of knowing what happened. She was very disappointed and heartbroken, but she came to believe that it was for the best. She referred to this time of love as her "little island of joy," but Helen Keller would never marry.

What illness did Helen Keller have when she was 19 months old?

In the 1800s, many children died from measles, mumps, and rubella, but today these diseases can be prevented with vaccines. Other deadly diseases, such as meningitis and scarlet fever, are now treated with antibiotics that were not available during Helen Keller's early childhood.

Helen's illness was diagnosed by her doctor as "acute congestion of the stomach and the brain" or "Brain Fever," as it was sometimes called. Doctors today feel that it was most likely a case of scarlet fever or meningitis. Another possibility is a virulent strain of rubella, since Alabama was experiencing an epidemic around the time of Helen Keller's illness.

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