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As It Was: Helen Keller “Takes Ashland by Storm” in 1914

Three special rail cars brought people to Ashland when, as the local newspaper described it, “Helen Keller Took Ashland by Storm.”
A world-famous speaker, author and social activist, 33-year-old Keller was accompanied by her childhood teacher and constant companion, Anne Sullivan.  A childhood illness left 19-month-old Keller blind and deaf, but Sullivan broke through Keller’s deaf-and-blind isolation by spelling words in her palm and teaching her to talk.

The Ashland Sunshine Society arranged Keller’s visit on March 25, 1914.

The Tidings reported the armory was packed, but in the newspaper’s words, at first “few (in the audience) were prepared for the mechanical enunciation, the utter absence of expression, the weird and uncanny modulations of tone which characterize Miss Keller’s delivery.”  However, with Sullivan’s assistance, Keller became “at ease, interested, responsive and alert.”

The newspaper said Keller, like other outsiders, had difficulty correctly pronouncing the “g-o-n” of Oregon, but was delighted when Sullivan conveyed the proper pronunciation by placing her finger tips in Keller’s palm.

The Tidings said Keller’s smile was contagious and quoted her as saying, “My only unhappiness is in knowing that others are less fortunate than myself.”

Source: "Helen Keller Takes Ashland by Storm." Ashland (Ore.) Tidings, 25 Mar. 1914, p. 1+. Accessed 10 Dec. 2018.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.