Helen Keller? Anne Sullivan? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Helen Keller was once asked about the price she would pay to gain the sense of sight. Her reported response was thoughtful and poignant:
I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light.
What were the circumstances surrounding this quotation? I have been unable to find a solid citation.
Quote Investigator: In the early 1920s Helen Keller and her inseparable teacher Anne Sullivan faced a difficult financial situation, and they decided to earn money via appearances on the vaudeville circuit. The pair had already given performances on the Chautauqua circuit, and hence the experience of exhibiting themselves for remuneration was not alien.
The comprehensive dual biography “Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy” by Joseph P. Lash released in 1980 included a chapter about this interval spent in show business. The act of Keller and Sullivan “lasted only twenty minutes”. A question and answer period allowed Keller to deliver many witty and sharp observations about her life and society. But, she and Sullivan did make advance preparations: 1
Many of her quick sallies were not as spontaneous as they appeared. With businesslike foresight they began to list the questions usually asked, together with answers Helen might give. In the end the list ran to seventeen pages.
A list with dozens of Q&A pairs was given in the biography by Lash. The author did not state the provenance of the list, but he did have access to several key repositories, e.g., the Helen Keller archives at the American Foundation for the Blind and the archive at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf in Washington, D.C. Here is a small sample of five Q&A pairs. The first concerns President Warren G. Harding:
Q. What do you think of Mr. Harding?
A. I have a fellow-feeling for him; he seems as blind as I am.
Q. What is the greatest obstacle to universal peace?
A. The human race.
Q. What is the slowest thing in the world?
Q. Do you think women are men’s intellectual equals?
A. I think God made woman foolish so that she might be a suitable companion to man.
Q. Do you desire your sight more than anything else in the world?
A. No! No! I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light.
The last answer above corresponds to the statement under exploration. So there is good evidence that Keller did communicate this saying. However, variants of this quote were being used in the religious domain many years earlier as discussed below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1980, Helen and Teacher: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy by Joseph P. Lash, Chapter: On the Vaudeville Circuit , Start Page 487, Quote Page 496 to 498, A Merloyd Lawrence Book: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩