Grateful American® Foundation

History Matters
March 1 to March 15, 2021

Showing our children that their past is prelude to their future

by John Grimaldi and David Bruce Smith

Nineteen months after her 1880 birth, Helen Keller contracted scarlet fever–or bacterial meningitis—which left her blind, deaf, and mute. Her parents sought help from Alexander Graham Bell, who was known for his invention of the telephone, but—also—his celebrated work educating the deaf. He introduced the Keller family to the Perkins Institution– it trained people afflicted with “deafblindness”—and–facilitated the family’s hiring of 20-year-old Annie Sullivan, one of its special needs’ teachers.

Keller was a stubborn student, but Sullivan was an equally determined teacher. She “spelled” words in Keller’s palm–a difficult, and monotonous process–but Sullivan “got through” to Helen—within a few months when Keller felt the water flowing from a pump, and “remembered”.

Helen and Teacher stayed together from March 3,1887, until Sullivan’s 1936 death.

According to History.com, Keller went on to learn how to read, write and speak. With Sullivan’s assistance, her student attended Radcliffe College, graduated with honors, became a public speaker, and published her first book, “The Story of My Life” in 1903.

For more information about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Helen Keller: Humanitarian by Lois P. Nicholson.

On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his “harmonic telegraph”—or–telephone. Up until then, Samuel Morse’s telegraph was the only means of “instantaneous” communication, but Bell had been concentrating on resolving the limitations; it could only handle one message at a time—and it required a courier to deliver the news to the recipient.

The Bell family had immigrated from England to Massachusetts and settled in Boston where Alexander worked as a teacher for the deaf. But he was also the son of an inventor, and, while he was fond of his work as a teacher, he also had an innate desire to devise a way for people to speak “directly” with each other–from a distance. He partnered with Thomas A. Watson, who worked in a machine shop; and when the telephone was completed, he uttered the now famous phrase: “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you.”

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Telephone: The Invention That Changed Communication by Samuel Willard Crompton.

The first Rin Tin Tin to become a movie star was brought home by an American GI from World War I. Apparently, it was the pup of a German “War Dog” that got cast in a 1922 silent movie, The Man from Hell’s River –the first of twenty-seven “Rin Tin Tin” films.

Both sides in the conflict used War Dogs, mainly to carry messages. But it wasn’t until March 13, 1942 that the first official K-9 Corps was established by the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps to train dogs for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.

According to History.com “The K-9 Corps initially accepted over 30 breeds of dogs, but the list was soon narrowed to seven: German Shepherds, Belgian sheep dogs, Doberman Pinschers, collies, Siberian Huskies, Malumutes and Eskimo dogs. Members of the K-9 Corps were trained 8 to 12 weeks; then, they were put through one of four specialized programs to prepare them for work as sentry dogs, scout or patrol dogs, messenger dogs or mine-detection dogs. In active combat duty, scout dogs proved especially essential by alerting patrols to the approach of the enemy and preventing surprise attacks.”

The Grateful American Book Prize recommends No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition: A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II by Robert Weintraub.


History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize.