This should fall in the category “Not so Famous Love Affairs”, because no one ever talks about it. I knew nothing about it until my sister-in-law suggested I do some research.
Wow, I was surprised.
Helen Keller was in love.
When we think of Helen Keller, we think of a woman who against all odds – blindness, deafness, mistreatment by others, and the binding prejudices of society – became a force for the disabled in America.
Blind and deaf from an early age, Keller was stricken with an unknown disease at the age of 19 months. Modern medicine tells us that it was probably Scarlet Fever or meningitis.
Despite her disabilities, Helen was apparently a gifted child. She developed her own signs – before Sullivan, and by the time she was six years old she could communicate with some 60+ signs to the family’s cook’s daughter, Martha Washington.
We all remember the Miracle Worker, the story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller – Patty Duke playing young Helen as Anne Bancroft corralled her into submission pulling words from the child at the well.
But no one talks about Peter Fagan, the man who asked Helen to marry him.
When Anne Sullivan married John Macy, they moved to Forest Hills, Queens, NY. Helen went with them.
Fagan, a Boston Herald, reporter was sent to the Macy’s home to take Anne’s place, and act as Helen’s private secretary when Sullivan fell ill.
In close contact with a man for the first time in her life, Helen fell hopelessly in love. Peter learned her signs, ‘read’ the paper to her daily. The proximity was electrifying. The fact that the couple shared common interests such as politics and the care of disabled persons, didn’t hurt!
And it lead to a secret engagement. Which of course, Sullivan vetoed.
Society at the time deemed it unsuitable that a blind an deaf woman marry or even have the desire to do so.
As a young woman, Helen’s reading material was censored. Romantic literature was verboten, love stories were out of the question.
But, Helen Keller, aside from the blindness and deafness. was just a much a woman as the rest of the sex. She was even a little vain, asking before going out, “Do I look pretty?” She was capable of love, joy, passion, and she planned to elope!
Sullivan put a stop to it for very selfish reasons: money and control.
Rosie Sultan, writing for Viking Press, published a novel based on the story. It’s called Helen in Love.
And, from what I can tell, she really was.