Mar 102016
 

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On this date in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call by saying over his new invention to his assistant, the famous words, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” Could there be a better name for the inventor of the telephone than Bell?

Bell was born in Edinburgh in Scotland, on March 3, 1847. His father was Professor Alexander Melville Bell, a phonetician, and his mother was Eliza Grace (née Symonds). Born as just Alexander Bell, at age 10 he made a plea to his father to have a middle name like his two brothers. For his 11th birthday, his father acquiesced and allowed him to adopt the name “Graham”, chosen out of respect for Alexander Graham, a Canadian being treated by his father who had become a family friend. To close relatives and friends he remained “Alec.”

As a child, young Bell displayed a natural curiosity about his world, resulting in gathering botanical specimens as well as experimenting even at an early age. His best friend was Ben Herdman, a neighbor whose family operated a flour mill, the scene of many adventures. Young Bell asked what needed to be done at the mill. He was told wheat had to be dehusked through a laborious process and at the age of 12, Bell built a homemade device that combined rotating paddles with sets of nail brushes, creating a simple dehusking machine that was put into operation and used steadily for a number of years. In return, John Herdman gave both boys the run of a small workshop in which to “invent”.

From his early years, Bell showed a sensitive nature and a talent for art, poetry, and music that was encouraged by his mother. With no formal training, he mastered the piano and became the family’s pianist. Despite being normally quiet and introspective, he reveled in mimicry and “voice tricks” akin to ventriloquism that continually entertained family guests during their occasional visits.[20] Bell was also deeply affected by his mother’s gradual deafness, (she began to lose her hearing when he was 12) and learned a manual finger language so he could sit at her side and tap out silently the conversations swirling around the family parlor. He also developed a technique of speaking in clear, modulated tones directly into his mother’s forehead wherein she would hear him with reasonable clarity. Bell’s preoccupation with his mother’s deafness led him to study acoustics.

His family was long associated with the teaching of elocution: his grandfather, Alexander Bell, in London, his uncle in Dublin, and his father, in Edinburgh, were all elocutionists. His father published a variety of works on the subject, several of which are still well known, especially his The Standard Elocutionist (1860), which was published in Edinburgh in 1868. The Standard Elocutionist went through 168 British editions and sold over a quarter of a million copies in the United States alone. In this treatise, his father explains his methods of how to instruct deaf-mutes (as they were then known) to articulate words and read other people’s lip movements to decipher meaning. Bell’s father taught him and his brothers not only to write Visible Speech but to identify any symbol and its accompanying sound. Bell became so proficient that he became a part of his father’s public demonstrations and astounded audiences with his abilities. He could decipher Visible Speech representing virtually every language, including Latin, Scots Gaelic, and even Sanskrit, accurately reciting written tracts without any prior knowledge of their pronunciation.

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His father encouraged Bell’s interest in speech and, in 1863, took his sons to see a unique automaton, developed by Sir Charles Wheatstone (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/concertina-man/ ) based on the earlier work of Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen. The rudimentary “mechanical man” simulated a human voice. Bell was fascinated by the machine and after he obtained a copy of von Kempelen’s book, published in German, and had laboriously translated it, he and his older brother Melville built their own automaton head. Their father, highly interested in their project, offered to pay for any supplies and spurred the boys on with the enticement of a “big prize” if they were successful. While his brother constructed the throat and larynx, Bell tackled the more difficult task of recreating a realistic skull. His efforts resulted in a remarkably lifelike head that could “speak”, albeit only a few words. The boys would carefully adjust the “lips” and when a bellows forced air through the windpipe, a very recognizable “Mama” ensued, to the delight of neighbors who came to see the Bell invention.

Intrigued by the results of the automaton, Bell continued to experiment with a live subject, the family’s Skye Terrier, “Trouve”. After he taught it to growl continuously, Bell would reach into its mouth and manipulate the dog’s lips and vocal cords to produce a crude-sounding “Ow ah oo ga ma ma”. With little convincing, visitors believed his dog could articulate “How are you grandma?” More indicative of his playful nature, his experiments convinced onlookers that they saw a “talking dog”. However, these initial forays into experimentation with sound led Bell to undertake his first serious work on the transmission of sound, using tuning forks to explore resonance.

At the age of 19, he wrote a report on his work and sent it to philologist Alexander Ellis, a colleague of his father (who would later be portrayed as Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion). Ellis immediately wrote back indicating that the experiments were similar to existing work in Germany, and also lent Bell a copy of Hermann von Helmholtz’s work, The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music.

Dismayed to find that groundbreaking work had already been undertaken by Helmholtz who had conveyed vowel sounds by means of a similar tuning fork “contraption”, he pored over the German scientist’s book. Working from his own erroneous mistranslation of a French edition, Bell fortuitously then made a deduction that would be the underpinning of all his future work on transmitting sound, reporting: “Without knowing much about the subject, it seemed to me that if vowel sounds could be produced by electrical means, so could consonants, so could articulate speech.” He also later remarked: “I thought that Helmholtz had done it … and that my failure was due only to my ignorance of electricity. It was a valuable blunder … If I had been able to read German in those days, I might never have commenced my experiments!”

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In 1865, when the Bell family moved to London, Bell returned to Weston House as an assistant master and, in his spare hours, continued experiments on sound using a minimum of laboratory equipment. Bell concentrated on experimenting with electricity to convey sound and later installed a telegraph wire from his room in Somerset College to that of a friend. Throughout late 1867, his health faltered mainly through exhaustion. His younger brother, Edward “Ted,” was similarly bed-ridden, suffering from tuberculosis. While Bell recovered (by then referring to himself in correspondence as “A.G. Bell”) and served the next year as an instructor at Somerset College, Bath, England, his brother’s condition deteriorated. Edward would never recover. Upon his brother’s death, Bell returned home in 1867. His older brother Melville had married and moved out. With aspirations to obtain a degree at University College London, Bell considered his next years as preparation for the degree examinations, devoting his spare time at his family’s residence to studying.

Helping his father in Visible Speech demonstrations and lectures brought Bell to Susanna E. Hull’s private school for the deaf in South Kensington, London. His first two pupils were “deaf mute” girls who made remarkable progress under his tutelage. While his older brother seemed to achieve success on many fronts including opening his own elocution school, applying for a patent on an invention, and starting a family, Bell continued as a teacher. However, in May 1870, Melville died from complications due to tuberculosis, causing a family crisis. His father had also suffered a debilitating illness earlier in life and had been restored to health by a convalescence in Newfoundland. Bell’s parents embarked upon a long-planned move when they realized that their remaining son was also sickly. Acting decisively, Alexander Melville Bell asked Bell to arrange for the sale of all the family property, conclude all of his brother’s affairs (Bell took over his last student, curing a pronounced lisp), and join his father and mother in setting out for the New World. Reluctantly, Bell also had to conclude a relationship with Marie Eccleston, who, as he had surmised, was not prepared to leave England with him.

In 1870, at age 23, Bell, his brother’s widow, Caroline (Margaret Ottaway), and his parents travelled on the SS Nestorian to Canada, settling in a farmhouse at Tutelo Heights (now called Tutela Heights), near Brantford, Ontario. The property consisted of an orchard, large farm house, stable, pigsty, hen-house, and a carriage house, which bordered the Grand River. At the homestead, Bell set up his own workshop in the converted carriage house near to what he called his “dreaming place”, a large hollow nestled in trees at the back of the property above the river. Despite his frail condition upon arriving in Canada, Bell found the climate and environs to his liking, and rapidly improved.

After setting up his workshop, Bell continued experiments based on Helmholtz’s work with electricity and sound. He also modified a melodeon (a type of pump organ) so that it could transmit its music electrically over a distance. Once the family was settled in, both Bell and his father made plans to establish a teaching practice and in 1871, he accompanied his father to Montreal, where Melville was offered a position to teach his System of Visible Speech.

Bell’s father was invited by Sarah Fuller, principal of the Boston School for Deaf Mutes (which continues today as the public Horace Mann School for the Deaf), in Boston, Massachusetts, to introduce the Visible Speech System by providing training for Fuller’s instructors, but he declined the post in favor of his son. Traveling to Boston in April 1871, Bell proved successful in training the school’s instructors. He was subsequently asked to repeat the program at the American Asylum for Deaf-mutes in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Returning home to Brantford after six months abroad, Bell continued his experiments with his “harmonic telegraph”. The basic concept behind his device was that messages could be sent through a single wire if each message was transmitted at a different pitch, but work on both the transmitter and receiver was needed.

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Unsure of his future, he first contemplated returning to London to complete his studies, but decided to return to Boston as a teacher. His father helped him set up his private practice by contacting Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the president of the Clarke School for the Deaf for a recommendation. Teaching his father’s system, in October 1872, Alexander Bell opened his “School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech” in Boston, which attracted a large number of deaf pupils, with his first class numbering 30 students. While he was working as a private tutor, one of his most famous pupils was Helen Keller, who came to him as a young child unable to see, hear, or speak. She was later to say that Bell dedicated his life to the penetration of that “inhuman silence which separates and estranges.” In 1893, Keller performed the sod-breaking ceremony for the construction of the new Bell’s new Volta Bureau, dedicated to “the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf”.

Several influential people of the time, including Bell, viewed deafness as something that should be eradicated, and also believed that with resources and effort they could teach the deaf to speak and avoid the use of sign language, thus enabling their integration within the wider society from which many were often being excluded. In several schools, children were mistreated, for example by having their hands tied behind their backs so they could not communicate by signing—the only language they knew—in an attempt to force them to attempt oral communication. Owing to his efforts to suppress the teaching of sign language, Bell is often viewed negatively by those embracing Deaf culture.

In the following year, Bell became professor of Vocal Physiology and Elocution at the Boston University School of Oratory. During this period, he alternated between Boston and Brantford, spending summers in his Canadian home. At Boston University, Bell was “swept up” by the excitement engendered by the many scientists and inventors residing in the city. He continued his research in sound and endeavored to find a way to transmit musical notes and articulate speech, but although absorbed by his experiments, he found it difficult to devote enough time to experimentation. While days and evenings were occupied by his teaching and private classes, Bell began to stay awake late into the night, running experiment after experiment in rented facilities at his boarding house. Keeping “night owl” hours, he worried that his work would be discovered and took great pains to lock up his notebooks and laboratory equipment. Bell had a specially made table where he could place his notes and equipment inside a locking cover.[66] Worse still, his health deteriorated as he suffered severe headaches. Returning to Boston in fall 1873, Bell made a fateful decision to concentrate on his experiments in sound.

Deciding to give up his lucrative private Boston practice, Bell retained only two students, six-year-old “Georgie” Sanders, deaf from birth, and 15-year-old Mabel Hubbard. Each pupil would play an important role in the next developments. George’s father, Thomas Sanders, a wealthy businessman, offered Bell a place to stay in nearby Salem with Georgie’s grandmother, complete with a room to “experiment”. Although the offer was made by George’s mother and followed the year-long arrangement in 1872 where her son and his nurse had moved to quarters next to Bell’s boarding house, it was clear that Mr. Sanders was backing the proposal. The arrangement was for teacher and student to continue their work together, with free room and board thrown in. Mabel was a bright, attractive girl who was ten years Bell’s junior, but became the object of his affection. Having lost her hearing after a near-fatal bout of scarlet fever close to her fifth birthday, she had learned to read lips but her father, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Bell’s benefactor and personal friend, wanted her to work directly with her teacher.

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By 1874, Bell’s initial work on the harmonic telegraph had entered a formative stage, with progress made both at his new Boston “laboratory” (a rented facility) and at his family home in Canada. While working that summer in Brantford, Bell experimented with a “phonautograph”, a pen-like machine that could draw shapes of sound waves on smoked glass by tracing their vibrations. Bell thought it might be possible to generate undulating electrical currents that corresponded to sound waves. Bell also thought that multiple metal reeds tuned to different frequencies like a harp would be able to convert the undulating currents back into sound. But he had no working model to demonstrate the feasibility of these ideas. In 1874, telegraph message traffic was rapidly expanding and in the words of Western Union President William Orton, had become “the nervous system of commerce”. Orton had contracted with inventors Thomas Edison and Elisha Gray to find a way to send multiple telegraph messages on each telegraph line to avoid the great cost of constructing new lines. When Bell mentioned to Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders that he was working on a method of sending multiple tones on a telegraph wire using a multi-reed device, the two wealthy patrons began to support Bell’s experiments financially. Anthony Pollok, their attorney, handled patents.

In March 1875, Bell and Pollok visited the famous scientist Joseph Henry, who was then director of the Smithsonian Institution, and asked Henry’s advice on the electrical multi-reed apparatus that Bell hoped would transmit the human voice by telegraph. Henry replied that Bell had “the germ of a great invention”. When Bell said that he did not have the necessary knowledge, Henry replied, “Get it!” That declaration greatly encouraged Bell to keep trying, even though he did not have the equipment needed to continue his experiments, nor the ability to create a working model of his ideas. However, a chance meeting in 1874 between Bell and Thomas A. Watson, an experienced electrical designer and mechanic at the electrical machine shop of Charles Williams, changed all that.

With financial support from Sanders and Hubbard, Bell hired Thomas Watson as his assistant, and the two of them experimented with acoustic telegraphy. On June 2, 1875, Watson accidentally plucked one of the reeds and Bell, at the receiving end of the wire, heard the overtones of the reed; overtones that would be necessary for transmitting speech. That demonstrated to Bell that only one reed or armature was necessary, not multiple reeds. This led to the “gallows” sound-powered telephone, which could transmit indistinct, voice-like sounds, but not clear speech.

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In 1875, Bell developed an acoustic telegraph and drew up a patent application for it. Since he had agreed to share U.S. profits with his investors Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, Bell requested that an associate in Ontario, George Brown, attempt to patent it in Britain, instructing his lawyers to apply for a patent in the U.S. only after they received word from Britain (Britain would issue patents only for discoveries not previously patented elsewhere).

Meanwhile, Elisha Gray was also experimenting with acoustic telegraphy and thought of a way to transmit speech using a water transmitter. On February 14, 1876, Gray filed a caveat with the U.S. Patent Office for a telephone design that used a water transmitter. That same morning, Bell’s lawyer filed Bell’s application with the patent office. There is considerable debate about who arrived first and Gray later challenged the primacy of Bell’s patent. Bell was in Boston on February 14 and did not arrive in Washington until February 26.

Bell’s patent 174,465, was issued to Bell on March 7, 1876, by the U.S. Patent Office. Bell’s patent covered “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically … by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound” Bell returned to Boston the same day and the next day resumed work, drawing in his notebook a diagram similar to that in Gray’s patent caveat.

On March 10, 1876, three days after his patent was issued, Bell succeeded in getting his telephone to work, using a liquid transmitter similar to Gray’s design. Vibration of the diaphragm caused a needle to vibrate in the water, varying the electrical resistance in the circuit. When Bell spoke the famous sentence “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” into the liquid transmitter, Watson, listening at the receiving end in an adjoining room, heard the words clearly.

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Although Bell was, and still is, accused of stealing the telephone from Gray, Bell used Gray’s water transmitter design only after Bell’s patent had been granted, and only as a proof of concept scientific experiment,[84] to prove to his own satisfaction that intelligible “articulate speech” (Bell’s words) could be electrically transmitted. After March 1876, Bell focused on improving the electromagnetic telephone and never used Gray’s liquid transmitter in public demonstrations or commercial use.

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Such is history. To conclude I would like to note the following amazingly prescient quotes from Bell:

The day will come when the man at the telephone will be able to see the distant person to whom he is speaking (c.1906)

[It will not be long until] a man can take dinner in New York and breakfast the next morning in Liverpool (1907). The nation that secures control of the air will ultimately rule the world. (1908).

Every town or city has a vast expanse of roof exposed to the sun. There is no reason why we should not use the roofs of our houses to install solar apparatus to catch and store the heat received from the sun. Solar heat [can be used]…. to heat a liquid and store the liquid in an insulated tank… applying even the Thermos bottle principle of a partial vacuum around the tank.” (1914)

Coal and oil are……strictly limited in quantity. We can take coal out of a mine but we can never put it back. What shall we do when we have no more coal or oil? (1917)

[The unchecked burning of fossil fuels] would have a sort of greenhouse effect. The net result is the greenhouse becomes a sort of hot-house.”(1917).

Although a Canadian by transplantation, Bell was a Scotsman by birth. I thought that a Canadian Scots recipe would answer my usual need only to discover that there really is no such thing. Scots transplants display their heritage through classic Scots cooking along with highland games, bagpipe bands, and the like, much as they do in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Time, therefore, for another Scots dish. This time my favorite cake, Dundee cake. The cake is often made with currants, sultanas and almonds; sometimes, fruit peel may be added to it. The cake originated in 19th-century Scotland, and was originally made as a mass-produced cake by the marmalade company called Keiller’s. Keiller’s marmalade company first produced the cake commercially and have been claimed to be the originators of the term “Dundee cake”. However, similar fruit cakes were produced across Scotland. The top of the cake is typically decorated with concentric circles of almonds.

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Dundee Cake

Ingredients

175g softened butter (extra for greasing)
175g soft light brown sugar
3 tbsp orange marmalade
3 eggs, beaten
225g self-raising flour
25g ground almonds
2 tsp ground mixed spice
400g mixed currants, raisins, and sultanas
2 tbsp whisky
40g blanched almonds to decorate
1 tsp granulated or caster sugar, to decorate (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300F.

Grease and double-line a 20cm/8in loose-based deep cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a food mixer until very light and fluffy.

Add the marmalade and mix for a few seconds more. Slowly add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour, almonds and spices to the batter. Mix slowly until well combined, then stir in the mixed dried fruit. Add the whisky and combine well.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, smooth the surface and carefully arrange the blanched almonds in circles on top.

Bake for 1½-2 hours, or until well risen, firm and golden-brown. Make sure it is cooked by inserting a toothpick and look to see that it comes out clean. Check regularly, to be sure the cake does not dry out.

Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes then remove from the tin, peel off the lining paper and set aside to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. Store in an airtight cake tin. It is best after a day’s rest but will not keep longer than 4 or 5 days.

Jun 272015
 

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Today is the birthday (1880) of Helen Adams Keller, an internationally celebrated deafblind U.S. author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film “The Miracle Worker.” Her birthplace in West Tuscumbia, Alabama is now a museum and sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day”. Her birthday is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and was authorized at the federal level by presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, the 100th anniversary of her birth.

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Helen Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her family lived on a homestead, Ivy Green, that her grandfather had built decades earlier. Keller was born with the ability to see and hear. At 19 months old, she contracted an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain,” which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness left her both deaf and blind. At that time, she was able to communicate somewhat with Martha Washington, the six-year-old daughter of the family cook, who understood her signs; by the age of seven, Keller had more than 60 home signs to communicate with her family.

In 1886, Keller’s mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickens’ American Notes of the successful education of another deaf and blind woman, Laura Bridgman, dispatched young Helen, accompanied by her father, to seek out physician J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice. Chisholm referred the Kellers to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. Michael Anagnos, the school’s director, asked 20-year-old former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, to become Keller’s instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship during which Sullivan evolved into Keller’s governess and eventually her companion.

Anne Sullivan arrived at Keller’s house in March 1887, and immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with “d-o-l-l” for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. In fact, when Sullivan was trying to teach Keller the word for “mug”, Keller became so frustrated she broke the mug.[18] Keller’s big breakthrough in communication came the next month, when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of “water”; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.

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Starting in May 1888, Keller attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind. In 1894, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan moved to New York to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf, and to learn from Sarah Fuller at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. In 1896, they returned to Massachusetts and Keller entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before gaining admittance, in 1900, to Radcliffe College, where she lived in Briggs Hall, South House. Her admirer, Mark Twain, had introduced her to Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers, who, with his wife Abbie, paid for her education. In 1904, at the age of 24, Keller graduated from Radcliffe, becoming the first deaf blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She maintained a correspondence with the Austrian philosopher and pedagogue Wilhelm Jerusalem, who was one of the first to discover her literary abilities.

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Determined to communicate with others as conventionally as possible, Keller learned to speak, and spent much of her life giving speeches and lectures. She learned to “hear” people’s speech by reading their lips with her hands—her sense of touch had become extremely subtle. She became proficient at using braille and reading sign language with her hands as well. Shortly before World War I, with the assistance of the Zoellner Quartet she determined that by placing her fingertips on a resonant tabletop she could experience music played close by.

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Anne Sullivan stayed as a companion to Helen Keller long after she taught her. Anne married John Macy in 1905, and her health started failing around 1914. Polly Thomson was hired to keep house. She was a young woman from Scotland who had no experience with deaf or blind people. She progressed to working as a secretary as well, and eventually became a constant companion to Keller. Keller moved to Forest Hills, Queens, together with Anne and John, and used the house as a base for her efforts on behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Anne Sullivan died in 1936 after a coma, with Keller holding her hand. Keller and Thomson moved to Connecticut. They traveled worldwide and raised funds for the blind. Thomson had a stroke in 1957 from which she never fully recovered, and died in 1960. Winnie Corbally, a nurse who was originally brought in to care for Thompson in 1957, stayed on after her death and was Keller’s companion for the rest of her life.

In 1911 Keller wrote:

The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands—the ownership and control of their livelihoods—are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.

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She went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, an opponent of Woodrow Wilson, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter. In 1915 she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. In 1920 she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller traveled to over 40 countries with Sullivan, making several trips to Japan and becoming a favorite of the Japanese people. Keller met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with many famous figures, including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. Keller and Twain were both considered radicals at the beginning of the 20th century, and as a consequence, their political views have been forgotten or glossed over in popular perception.

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Keller was a member of the Socialist Party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working class from 1909 to 1921. She supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in each of his campaigns for the presidency. Before reading Progress and Poverty, Helen Keller was already a socialist who believed that Georgism was a good step in the right direction. She later wrote of finding “in Henry George’s philosophy a rare beauty and power of inspiration, and a splendid faith in the essential nobility of human nature.”

Newspaper columnists who had praised her courage and intelligence before she expressed her socialist views now called attention to her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote that her “mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development.” Keller responded to that editor, referring to having met him before he knew of her political views:

At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him. … Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which are trying to prevent.

Keller joined the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, known as the Wobblies) in 1912, saying that parliamentary socialism was “sinking in the political bog”. She wrote for the IWW between 1916 and 1918. In Why I Became an IWW, Keller explained that her motivation for activism came in part from her concern about blindness and other disabilities:

I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.

The last sentence refers to prostitution and syphilis, the former a frequent cause of the latter, and the latter a leading cause of blindness.

When Keller was young, Anne Sullivan introduced her to Phillips Brooks, who, in turn, introduced her to Christianity, Keller famously saying: “I always knew He was there, but I didn’t know His name!” Her spiritual autobiography, My Religion, was published in 1927 and then in 1994 extensively revised and re-issued under the title Light in My Darkness. It advocates the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Christian revelator and theologian who gives a spiritual interpretation of the teachings of the Bible and who claims that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already taken place.

Keller described the progressive views of her belief in these words:

But in Swedenborg’s teaching it [Divine Providence] is shown to be the government of God’s Love and Wisdom and the creation of uses. Since His Life cannot be less in one being than another, or His Love manifested less fully in one thing than another, His Providence must needs be universal . . . He has provided religion of some kind everywhere, and it does not matter to what race or creed anyone belongs if he is faithful to his ideals of right living.

Keller suffered a series of strokes in 1961 and spent the last years of her life at her home. In September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ two highest civilian honors. In 1965 she was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair.

Keller died in her sleep on June 1, 1968, at her home, Arcan Ridge, located in Easton, Connecticut, a few weeks short of her eighty-eighth birthday. A service was held in her honor at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and her ashes were placed there next to her constant companions, Anne Sullivan and Polly Thomson.

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Helen Keller fondly recalled many foods from her childhood in her autobiography, The Story of My Life. These were: ice cream, bread and butter, raisins, Christmas cakes/cookies. Her father grew grapes, berries, watermelons, and strawberries in his garden. He always brought Helen the first grapes and choicest berries. Helen loved her family’s orchard which grew peaches and apples. She was also a great lover of hot dogs, but since I have already devoted two posts to them, let me switch gears and talk about ice cream.

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My wife was a huge fan of ice cream, and she and I spent years perfecting our own recipes. By the time of her death we owned 5 ice cream makers of various sorts. Our favorite was an old hand-cranked model of the bucket with salt and ice variety, although the others were less labor. The thing about hand cranking is that you can vary the speed of churning – slowing down as the ice cream freezes to produce a smoother finished product. My wife also loved ice creams that were drowning in butterfat, but it took us years for us to get it right. We found that the more heavy cream we used the gummier the ice cream was. Then we found a magazine article by Gaston Lenôtre who advocated adding butter to the custard. Voilà !! Problem solved. Here’s our recipe for vanilla ice cream from memory. Make sure you use the best vanilla pods you can find. We mail ordered Madagascar beans. Perhaps later I’ll talk about our other favorite flavors. For now I recommend serving this one with a fresh fruit salad to honor Keller.

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©Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients

6 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter
2 vanilla beans split open lengthwise

Instructions

Heat the milk in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly, until it starts to bubble. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved, then add the vanilla beans. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks until they are pale yellow. Add a little hot milk slowly to the egg yolks whilst whisking.   Pour this mixture back into the saucepan containing the rest of the milk.

Cook the custard over low heat, stirring constantly. This is a critical step. You must cook it until it coats a spoon such that if you draw your finger through it on the back of the spoon, the custard does not flow back immediately. Do not overcook otherwise it will become scrambled egg and you will have to start again. Constant stirring prevents sticking. Sometimes I use a double boiler which prevents sticking or burning, but will not prevent curdling.

Remove from the heat and add the cream and butter. Whisk until smooth and the butter has melted. Remove the vanilla pods and scrape the inner vanilla flecks into the custard.

Chill the custard in the refrigerator until it is as cold as you can get it. Then churn in the ice cream maker of your choice. When finished it will be soft, but delectable. If you can resist eating it all at that point, pack it into a ziplock bag, squeeze the air out, seal it, and place it in the freezer for several hours. Do not keep it more than a day or two because without stabilizers and other chemical junk, ice crystals will form, ruining the texture.