Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Make Fun of State Quarters: Alabama Loves Socialists

From what I can gather, the state quarters program which began in 1999 and dragged on for another decade. Meaning if you didn't care much for the Bush Administration, you could at least console yourself with the periodic introduction of a shiny new 25-cent piece showing some idyllic depiction of what the state is best known for. Everyone thought these were quite nice, and it was a successful enough initiative of the Mint that they'll be rolling out another set of quarters featuring Guam and Puerto Rico and other such U.S. protectorates.

I don't have any real gripes with the state quarters, but I figure this will be a fun enough 50-part series to do, with the possibility for expansion to the protectorates later on. And it just so happens that the quarter design that inspired this idea is the first, alphabetically anyway, of the states.


Helen Keller sits around and takes credit for Louis Braille's work.

This quarter was released on March 17 of 2003, all of two days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Designed by Norman E. Nemeth, the coin features Ms. Keller flanked by the magnolia-laden branches of an Alabama long leaf pine. The centerpiece, of course, is Hellen Keller and the little Braille nod in her direction. Everyone knows who Keller is. What she did is less certain. She was blind, deaf, and dumb, meaning she lived a rather scary-sounding existence based on smell and touch until she gained the ability to speak. And then...the miracle worker told her what water was? I'm not sure. Well she must have been from Alabama, anyway.

All right, here's what the wonderful Wikipedia factory has to say. Keller was born in 1880, lost the ability to see and hear due to an illness at age one-and-a-half, and was just starting to communicate when that happened...and learning to speak is kind of hard when you can't see or hear anyone. Her family wanted to give her a fighting shot at education, and with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, Keller went on to learn how to speak and alternated between schools for the blind and deaf. Then she went on to graduate from Radcliffe College in 1904, becoming the first deaf-blind person to get a Bachelor of Arts degree.

So there you have it. An inspiring story of family love and an inspiring teacher and a young woman overcoming the odds. She's certainly a good person to put on the quarter, and probably one of the better choices since the list of notable Alabamans seems to mostly feature sports stars. Rosa Parks would have been another good choice, but she was still alive when Alabama's turn came up and the Mint seems to have a practice of not putting living people on money. Though that didn't stop the more devoted Reagan lovers from demanding that the then-aging ex-President take FDR's place on the dime, since the bullet that hit Reagan during his assassination attempt was dime-shaped and all that crummy Roosevelt did was start the March of Dimes.

The designer of this Reagan was next seen making a fevered dash for Devil's Tower.

But I digress, and the Reagan currency debate can be on admittedly more solid ground now that he's passed away. Though from what I hear, some congressmen probably won't stop until he's on every piece of currency. Ever. IN THE WORLD.

So what did Ms. Keller go on to, then? Well, she got married a year after graduating college, wrote 12 books, got a dog in Japan named Kamikaze-go, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, co-founded an institution in her name, helped start the ACLU, joined the Socialist Party-

Yes, Helen Keller joined the Socialist Party as well as the International Workers of the World, spoke on the topic of workers' rights quite a bit, and campaigned for Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs. This was during that period in U.S. history when the Socialists actually had some clout, but still weren't received all that well. Keller said people who had once paid her compliments now played up her disabilities. In one amusing case, she responded to a newspaper that claimed the Socialists had used her disabilities to trick her into supporting their cause by saying, "There's a chance for satirical comment on the phrase, 'the exploitation of poor Helen Keller.' But I will refrain, simply saying that I do not like the hypocritical sympathy of such a paper as the Common Cause, but I am glad if it knows what the word 'exploitation' means."

"Shut up, Helen, there's teabaggers about!"

To wrap up the Helen Keller story: well, she died. In 1968, in Connecticut. She spent a lot of time raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind, and was made the subject of several plays and movies. Which, of course, focused mainly on how she learned about water from Anne Sullivan rather than her Socialist and pacifist tendencies.

So it seems this has turned into more of a look into Helen Keller's life than a major critique of the Alabama state quarter. I guess I'll close by saying this: Alabama, those tree branches are quite lovely, and you have a Socialist on your quarter. Which is fine, it's a free country and all. But the next time I see a Tea Party rally down that way, they'd better be demanding a redesign to put Rosa Parks on the coin or else their complaints about socialism are going to ring kind of hollow.


  1. See you've started a whole new venture! Looking forward to the next 49 posts!

  2. She was also a Wobbly (i.e., a member of the Industrial Workers of the World -- the IWW)

  3. I'm pretty sure that no other Wobbly has ever made it onto U.S. currency, but I'm not as sure about socialists. Does anybody know of any other socialist that made it onto U.S. currency? (Despite what any right-winger might say, FDR doesn't count -- he himself said he was actually saving capitalism with the New Deal, fearing possible revolution against capitalism if something like the New deal was NOT done in response to the Great Depression!)