She contracted a disease when she was nineteen months old (likely scarlet fever or meningitis) that left her blind and deaf. As a young child, she developed a repertoire of physical signs which she used to communicate with her parents and with the young daughter of the Keller family's cook.
Her life and her childhood education with radical Teacher, Anne Sullivan, were immortalized in The Miracle Worker, a Broadway play (and later, Oscar-winning film) based on Keller's autobiography, The Story of My Life. Sullivan taught her sign language through the use of a water pump.
She was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama to Kate Adams and newspaper Editor and Confederate Army Captain, Arthur H. Keller. Helen Keller's paternal grandmother was the second cousin of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
She became good friends with the American author, Mark Twain, who helped her become the first deaf-blind person to receive a Bachelor's degree.