On January 15, 1914, Helen Keller appeared an the lecture series sponsored by the Albion United Methodist Church to speak onThe Heart and the Hand; or, The Right Uses of Our Senses. With her was Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen’s beloved teacher and companion during her emergent years. After a warm and appreciative introduction by Professor F.C. Demorest of Albion College, she rose to speak. In the words of the reporter from the local newspaper, “With happiness shining from her face and the light of love emanating from her eyes that could not see, Helen Keller stood before a packed house and told of her philosophy of life.”
For one young man in the audience it was a heartening experience. On the brink of an endeavorbesieged by derision for its ridiculous faith in boykind, here was a kindred spirit who shared his own convictions. True, Miss Keller was speaking of the commonwealth of man when she said, “We are all bound together in this world. We are all dependent one ach other for all the joy or all the sorrow we have in life. Therefore we owe it to each other to make the most of what God has given us.” to Starr, however, she was speaking about hisCommonwealth, for its very existence had spring from the selfsame principles.
Almost three decades later, in the early autumn of 1941 Starr said to his secretary, “I want Helen Keller to come here and speak to the boys.” After a flurryof correspondence with Polly Thompson, her companion of later year, arrangements were completed for a two day visit and public lecture on November 4, 1941.To Starr youngsters in 1941, Helen Keller had already become a living legend. Upon her arrival, however, they were unsure how they should receive this tall lady with the strange eyes and the stranger voice. “At first the boys were almost comically shy in her presence,” one worker observed. “As usual though, they adjusted to her better than the rest of us did.”
Helen Keller was the epitome of courage to Starr. Against incredible odds, she had achieved full personhood, graduated from Radcliffe College, and gone forth with missionary zeal to preach lives of fulfillment and joy. Even asshe had overcome high handicaps of her own, Starr reasoned, so she could help his boys surmount their difficulties in a hostile society.
The two ladies were scarcely settled in Gladsome when Helen began her usual practice of familiarizing herself with strange surroundings. “It was remarkable,” Uncle Floyd told the boys later, “howquickly she settled into the cottage.” One one table her fingers came upon a bowl of pine and oak boughs. Tracing the oak leaves with her fingertips, she said, “I love the oak tree; it is so strong andsturdy. This branch is from a red oak tree.” She was right.
At dinner that evening, Miss Keller continued to amaze Starr and his guests. “After Miss Thompson served her,” herecalled later, “she took her fork and ate as delicately as any person who ever sat at my table. Even her water goblet she handled perfectly. After locatingit with her fingers, she never touched it again except when she took it up to drink.” Through a long and formal dinner, “Miss Keller ate with delicacy and she was perfectly charming.”
In Webster Hall the following day, “Miss Thompson introduced Miss Keller to the audience by explaining how she had learned to identify objects, understand other’sspeech, and even speak herself.” When Helen rose to address to crowd, the first thing she said was that “she knew the auditorium was packed because the air is full of life.” Many of her auditors at first found her voice difficult to comprehend, but they soon forgot the strain of understanding in the mystique of her presence and the power of her message.
Many years after her first visit to the city of Albion in 1914, Starr noted, “Miss Keller was sill speaking my language in 1941.” Keeping in mind themyriad handicaps besetting the boys before her, she declared, “Without doubt the overcoming of limitations develops the qualities we most admire in man. The great and good at all times bear witness to the potency of struggle in forming character.” Heller later concluded, “I have come to the conclusion that we gain from life opportunity andhappiness in proportion to the qualities of mind and heart we put into it. Square your shoulders to your responsibilities, hold fast to the ideals of the Starr Commonwealth, and with love and faith you will ride victoriously the whirlwind that is weeping us to a higher civilization.” Unknown to any in Webster Hall that day, however, another whirlwind was forming on the horizon which would delay for four tragic years our upward climb to “a higher civilization.” One month later came the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.