Today is the 132 birthday of Helen Keller
, one of my childhood heros. She overcame huge obstacles to become a public figure, advocating for people with disabilities and travelling the world to speak. Everyone admires her, right?
What's been left out of the popular perception of Helen Keller is her politics. No one seems to remember that she was a suffragette
, a member of the Socialist Party
, a supporter of birth control and family planning, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union
, and a member of the Wobblies
. Having all of these political opinions doesn't negate the strength of character it took to overcome the challenges she faced, so why does this aspect of her life get ignored? My theory is that it has something to do with people wanting to protect children from controversial ideas.
Thinking about Helen Keller led me to another of my childhood heros, Mary McLeod Bethune.
In 1904 she started a school with 6 students, and over the next 37 years built it up into a 4 year college, now Bethune-Cookman University
. She was a personal friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and an advisor to both of them. She was the first African-American female head of a federal agency (the Division of Negro Affairs, which was a subsection of the National Youth Administration.) She worked to integrate the Methodist Episcopal Church
, one of the precursors to the United Methodist Church
. She's been included in several different "most important women" and "most important African-American" lists, and has had a stamp issued in her honor. So why have I never met another person my age who's even heard of her? I have no theories about that. If anyone does, I'd love to hear them.