Helen Adams Keller was born in 1880 in a small town in Alabama. Her father was a Captain in the Civil War, and her mother was a homemaker. Helen was born a normal child with full sight and hearing. Mysteriously, at the age of 19 months, she came down with a serious illness, which at that time the doctors called "brain fever". Modern day physicians think it was either meningitis or scarlet fever. For many days she clung to live and was not expected to live, but she surprised everyone and survived. However it was not without horrible consequences. Soon Helen's mother noticed Helen could not hear nor see. This devastated the entire family. Helen became totally unmanageable, throwing fits and tantrums, as well as destroying items in the home. They sought help and were referred to Alexander Graham Bell, who was teaching deaf children. Bell suggested they contact the director of the Perkins Institute and request that they find a teacher for Helen. Immediately the director of the Institute recommended a former pupil, Anne Sullivan.
Anne had lost almost all of her sight by the age of five. She had a horrible childhood, losing her mother at age ten, followed by her father deserting her. Both her and her brother were sent to the poorhouse in 1876. Her brother died there and Anne went on to educate herself at the Perkins Institute. There the Director of the Institute, Michael Agnos, recommend Anne as Helen's teacher. .
On March 3, 1887, Anne arrived at the Keller household and the work began. Helen had horrible table manners; eating with her hands, which disgusted Anne. She was still throwing temper tantrums, and being around the family proved to be a challenge to Anne when she tried to discipline Helen. So they moved out of the main house into a small cottage on the land, which proved to be a positive move. She first tried to teach Helen to finger-spell with objects familiar to Helen.