Helen Keller was always a vocal supporter for the rights of children. In 1923, she wrote a fundraising letter on behalf of the National Playground and Recreation Association of America. In it she passionately advocated for the need for outdoor spaces where children could run around safely and enjoy themselves. Keller instinctively understood that play is as important to the healthy development of a child as is study indoors. Read her words below — they are as applicable today as when she wrote them over ninety years ago.
I have been asked to write a letter on behalf of the "National Playground and Recreation Association of America." This movement has for its object the safeguarding of the health and happiness of the children of the nation. It should, therefore, appeal to the heart, the intelligence and conscience of the country.
One cannot walk through the thoroughfares of our large cities without realizing that they are not safe or otherwise desirable places for children to play in. By right divine the great Out-of-doors belongs to all children. But since we grown-ups have so misplanned our lives that our children are denied their birthright, it becomes an urgent necessity to provide them with wholesome places of recreation. Furthermore, it is our sacred duty to see to it that the playgrounds have as much of sunshine, pure water and sweet air as possible.
…Truly the happiness of childhood is the most precious responsibility of the community. The sun can as easily be spared from the earth as joy from the life of a child. Remember, our early years are the formative, impressionable years. Fortunate is the child who grows up in a sane, bright, healthy environment! These sweet influences, like color and perfume in a flower, cling to his soul and remain a part of it forever.
Is it not a disgrace to this great, prosperous, resourceful country that there should be thousands of children growing up under conditions which hinder their normal development, dampen the ardor of youth and quench the fire of aspiration in their young hearts? Thousands of boys and girls — the most precious treasure of the nation — live in crowded tenements where the walls are bare, the furniture cheap and ugly, and food coarse and served in a slovenly manner, wear shabby clothes, play in alleys and gutters, exposed always to soul-destroying influences! Of course all this is wrong. When we consider the myriad available agencies which produce food, clothing, shelter, and make possible the diffusion of knowledge and beauty in the world, it is an affront to human intelligence, an impeachment of civilization that any child should be denied a joyous, free, normal childhood.
Image: Helen Keller and her niece Adair Faust, 1956