Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

WHEN HELEN KELLER CAME TO ALBION

Morning Star, June 5, 1994, pg. 5.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the summer adult education movement "camp meeting" style known as Chautauqua was flourishing across America. It is estimated that as much as one-third of the U.S. population participated in some aspect in the Chautauqua movement in its heyday.

Locally, Chautauqua was held on the lower campus of Albion College, (now the site of the Kresge Gymnasium) beginning in 1914. It brought in world-famous speakers and musicians to town each season. In 1916, Chautauqua was held here August 23,30, and the feature speaker was the famous blind, deaf, and dumb woman, Helen Keller (1880-1968). Keller had lost her sight and hearing at the age of 19 months as the result of a tragic brain fever.

Unable to communicate with anyone, she often threw violent tantrums or laughed hysterically. Her parents took her to Alexander Graham Bell for help, who subsequently introduced Helen to her teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan (later Mrs. John A. Macy). Sullivan taught Helen Keller the names of objects by pressing the manual alphabet into her palms, and later Helen learned to speak by placing her fingers on Sullivanís larynx to "hear" the vibrations. Helen subsequently graduated cum laude in 1904 from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass.

Helen Keller lectured throughout the country, and wrote several books. Her life was captured in the play, "The Miracle Worker" by William Gibson, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960. It was subsequently made into a motion picture in 1962.

Helen Keller came to Albion twice during the 1910s [and also once in the late 1930s]. She first spoke here in the winter of 1913, when she related to the local audience the story of her life, with a supplementary address by Anne Sullivan Macy. She returned again on August 26, 1916 to a packed tent.

Accompanied by her teacher Anne, and her secretary Peter Fagan, Helen Keller spoke in Albion on the topic of "Preparedness," as World War I raged across the ocean. Taking the position of "Peace and Brotherhood," Keller urged that the United States stay out of the war, stating "This is my country and I love it. I will not see a few excited shouters stampede it into war. War is the particular business of a few men. Some of the ablest press agents of the world are hired to promote preparedness. Peace is everybodyís business, and no one attends to it. If we are at peace; we owe it to one man, President Wilson."

Kellerís speech was definitely more interesting than the other one given later in the day by one Dr. George Lamont Cole, and Albion College graduate who spoke that evening on the topic of "The Cliff Dwellers of New Mexico and Arizona."

The event was well covered in the local newspapers. Three months later on November 20, 1916, a local paper carried the headlines "Helen Keller to Marry Secretary," referring to Peter Fagan, age 29, a former Boston newspaperman. Apparently they applied for a marriage license in Boston, and were to wed soon, according to the story. A setback for Keller was mentioned in the article, which we quote: "At present Miss Keller is suffering from a nervous breakdown, brought on by her lectures and writings. All her engagements have been cancelled, and she is going south to rest." Apparently Chautauqua and the isolationist "peace movement" during World War I took its toll on Miss Keller.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Helen Keller, and an advertisement for her appearance in Albion.


Helen Keller


Advertisement for Helen Keller

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