Helen Keller’s Forgotten Radicalism

TIME

There is no shortage of feel-good inspirational quotes attributed to Helen Keller. “Never bend your head, hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye,” one of them goes. “Keep your face in the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow,” instructs another. Or, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.”

Perhaps less catchy and sentimental, and certainly less well known, are the numerous observations on inequality, poverty and class that Keller made during her lifetime as a socialist activist. “Yours for the revolution!” she declared, in a 1919 letter to Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) founder Eugene Debs. “May it come swiftly,” she continued, “like a shaft sundering the dark!”

The popular narrative of Helen Keller—born 135 years ago this weekend, on June 27, 1880—is a classic American story about triumphing in the face of adversity, which emphasizes individual determination over political action. But Keller’s true…

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