Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin
Peter here, inventor of the HPC Time Machine. Our machine can bring you back in time, but so does April's coin. This quarter brings us back to April of 1887 and Tuscumbia, Alabama. The honeysuckle was in bloom at the pump house where a young deaf and blind girl experienced what some called a miracle.
Helen Keller was almost seven but had never learned to talk because a disease had robbed her of her sight and hearing when she was less than two years old.
Through the work of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, 6-year-old Helen first understood the meaning of words through "finger-spelling." Anne used finger positions to stand for letters, which Helen could feel with her own hands. Anne let the water from the pump pour over Helen's hand and formed the letters for "water" into her other hand.
Helen used to think finger-spelling was some kind of game, but somehow this time, Helen understood that the letters stood for the water and, said Helen, "the mystery of language was revealed to me." That wonderful April 5 was near her teacher's birthday, April 14.
After that, Helen learned fast. She soon learned to read by touching raised letters. Then she learned to read braille, a special code made of raised dots. The Alabama quarter is the only one of our circulating coins that uses braille writing, though braille was also used on two commemorative coins in 1996.
Helen later became the first deaf and blind person to enroll in a college (Radcliffe), wrote her life story on a typewriter, and gave lectures with Anne Sullivan as her interpreter. She also worked hard to change the bad living conditions of many blind people. President Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and she was also elected to the Women's Hall of Fame.
Helen will always be a wonderful part of Alabama's history. Though Alabamans are proud of their manufacturing, livestock, and agriculture industries, they have good reason to be proud of Helen Keller as well!