Helen Keller: What Would She Say if She Attended Davos Today?

01/21/2015

Helen Keller with Polly Thomson in Fukuoka, Japan, 1948 Helen Keller at an institution for war blinded children 1946 Helen Keller with musicians blinded while on active duty during World War IIHelen Keller and Polly Thomson in front of a sign

Yesterday was the first day of the Annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At a time of global concern over economic disparity and cultural polarization it is interesting to read a letter that Helen Keller wrote in 1922.

In this letter, excerpted below, Keller sends her regrets to the Rand School in New York City (now the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives), saying that she is unable to attend an event. The letter conveys her strong support for the school’s commitment to a more equitable economic and social world order.

"Dear Miss Mailly,

…If the Rand School succeeds in making it clear even to a few individuals that the collapse of our present-day civilization is due to economic and social causes, and not to any one nation or race, it will have accomplished something worthwhile. Moreover, if it teaches men that the world is an economic unit, and that no part of the world can do business without reference to its relations to all the other parts, it will have taken a long step in the direction of finding a remedy for what is wrong with us. There is less need of resentment and denunciation of the evils we perceive in the social system than of patient study and determination to understand them. Education is the most powerful and effective weapon that can be put into the hands of the Proletariat. Sometimes I think man’s ignorance is the measure of his wrong-doing. Perhaps he only needs to see in order that he may burgeon out of darkness into light.

It must be obvious to anyone who thinks at all that the world is passing through a period of economic, social and political change. Circumstances are forcing men to alter their attitude towards time-honored institutions and traditions... "

Letter from Helen Keller to Miss Mailly, December 28, 1922. Copyright © American Foundation for the Blind, Helen Keller Archives

Image top left:Helen Keller speaking to a large crowd in Fukuoka, Japan in 1948. Keller is on the far right with Takeo Iwahashi and Polly Thomson beside her.

Image top right: Helen Keller with children blinded and maimed during World War II in Rome, Italy, 1946.

Image bottom left: Helen Keller with blinded musicians who fought during World War II, London, 1946.

Image bottom right: Helen Keller and Polly Thomson stand in front of a plaque marking a center of atomic bomb damage in Japan in 1948.