October 2, 2022

When 11-years-old Helen Keller was accused of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a vice. It actually plagues many lives with stress, headache and terror to write anything again. There are both types of people, those who copy paste their article, dissertation, and thesis from internet and those who make every effort to be original but accused of plagiarism because crore of people have written unmeasurable content till date.

I had the occasions when some students asked my advice on their articles which were wholly copy pasted from law blogs even they did not remove ad links. It can make angry to anyone if any person just steals the hard work of others and paste their name on it. I have also seen many websites whose content have much similarities to the content of other websites. Sometimes, for instant publication, students copy the matter from other website without reference and send it to publication, and wonder of mine that those websites (to whom they sent) also publish their articles. Even the popular law blogs do such things.

But sometimes, many people come in this plagiarism circle even though they did not do such tactics. Recently, an Indian historian was accused of plagiarism for the sentences that he wrote in his books without reference. however, that Indian historian tried to defend his case by placing it in record that whenever he referred any material from other books, he wrote the reference in footnotes. Indian court also gave him relief over that issue.

This type of accusation of plagiarism when a person toiled for research in his/her piece, gave unbearable distress and permanent headache. And when you are just 11-year-old and you face such allegation, then it becomes the scare throughout the life.

When Helen wrote ‘The frost King”

Helen Keller was 19 month years old when her power to hear and sight were impaired. When she was 7 years old, someone advised her father to search for teacher who can teach for visually impaired children. After running two-three cities at the same time, Helen’s father succeeded in finding a teacher from Perkins Institute for Blinds. This new teacher Ms. Sullivan throw the light in the life Helen. She taught to learn her by touching the things and subjects and spelling the words on her hands.

Helen had a warm bond with the director of Perkins Institute, Mr. Anagnos. He was very kind to her. In 1892, When Helen 11 years old, she wrote a story ‘Autumn leaves’ to send it as special message on the birthday of Mr. Anagnos. She also read the story to her family members and they appreciated it too much. It was suggested her to change the name of the story ‘The frost King’ from ‘Autumn leave’. Helen did it.

Then she copied the story and sent to Mr. Anagnos by mail. Mr. Anagnos delighted after reading the story and published it in one of the Perkins Institutions reports. It pleased Helen too much. But, soon it was discovered that a story similar to ‘The frost king’ called ‘The Frost fairies’ by Miss Margret T. Canby had appeared before the birth of Helen in the book ‘Birdie and His Friends’.

Helen writes in Chapter XIV of her autobiography ‘The story of my life’ that,

“The two stories were so much alike in thought and language that it was evident Miss Canby’s story had been read to me, and that mine was- a plagiarism”.

Writing about her mental condition after hearing this, Helen further writes,

“It was difficult to make me understand this; but when I did understand I was astonished and grieved. No child ever drank deeper of the cup of bitterness than I did. I had disregard myself; I had brought suspicion upon those I loved best; And yet how could it possibly have happened?”

When Mr. Anagnos came to know about this plagiarism thing, he deeply troubled but tried to believe on Helen. After some days, at the time of a celebration in Institution, a teacher asked Helen about ‘the frost king’ and in the answers given by Helen, that teacher made conclusion that Helen stole the idea of story from ‘The frost fairies’. She told it to Mr. Anagnos.

This time, Mr. Anagnos became too angry and did not listen anything what Helen tried to tell him. According to Helen,

“Mr. Anagnos, who loved me tenderly, thinking that he had been deceived, turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of love and innocence. He believed, or at least suspected, that Miss Sullivan and I had deliberately stolen the bright thoughts of another and imposed them on him to win his admiration.”

Helen was brought before a court of Investigation composed of the teachers and officers of the institution. She was there without Miss Sullivan, she was questioned and cross-questioned and according to Helen, she was tried to force to acknowledge that she remembered the story ‘the frost fairies’. Recalling about the time of questioning and then night of the day, Helen writes,

“The blood pressed about my thumping heart, and I could scarcely speak, except in monosyllables…..As I lay in my bed that night, I wept as I hope few children have wept. I felt so cold, I imagined I should die before morning.”

Helen claimed in her autobiography that Ms. Sullivan had never heard of ‘the frost fairies’ or of the book in which it was published. With the help of Mr. Alexander graham bell, Ms. Sullivan tried to investigate the matter and it came out that Mrs. Sophia C. Hopkins had a copy of Miss Canby’s ‘Birdies and his friends’ in 1888, the year Helen spent summer with her. She told that although she did not remember the reading of ‘the frost fairies’, yet she said that she read ‘Birdies and his friends’ to Helen when Ms. Sullivan was away on her vacation.

Helen writes that although she did not remember the reading and any circumstances connected to that reading yet the fact remained that Miss Canby’s story was read to her once, and that long after she had forgotten it, it came back to her so naturally that she never suspected that it was the child of another mind.   

After that incident, Helen received may messages of love and sympathy. One of these messages was from Miss Canby herself, she wrote to her,

“Someday you will write a great story out of your own head, that will be a comfort and help to many.”

Indeed, this incident terrified Helen a lot, even when she wrote a letter to her mother, she read sentences again and again to make sure that she had not read them in book. The encouragement and support of Miss Sullivan helped her to get better.

Although, the allegation of plagiarism is a matter of embarrassment but I think it was too extreme to accuse a 11-years-old deaf and blind child, who is learning to read by lip reading, touching and spelling on the hand by her teacher, for plagiarism. Even if she was wrong she might have been warned or forgiven but constituting a panel of 10 people to question and cross-question a 11-year-old child was indeed extreme. After all, she was not going to get any monetary reward from that story and she sent it just as a birthday gift.

Reference

‘The story of my life’ by Hellen Keller

This article was originally published at AbabeelFolks.