Anne Sullivan Macy Biography (1866-1936)


Anne Sullivan Macy was an American educator, best known for her work as HelenKeller's teacher. Born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, on April 14, 1866, she was named Joanna Mansfield Sullivan, but was always called Anne or Annie.

Sullivan's youth was not a happy one. As a child, an infection damaged her eyes, causing them to weaken throughout her early life until she was nearly blind. Her mother died of tuberculosis when she was 8, and her father deserted Sullivan and her siblings three years later. At age 11, Sullivan and her lamebrother were sent to the state poorhouse in Tewksbury.

She lived in the almshouse for four years. One day, during a visit by the State Board of Charities, Sullivan asked a board member if she could go to school. The board agreed, and in 1880 Sullivan was assigned to the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. While a student there, she hadseveral surgeries that partially restored her sight. Sullivan graduated fromPerkins in 1886 as class valedictorian.

While at Perkins, Sullivan learned the manual alphabet, a kind of language that uses a series of hand motions to represent letters and is used mostly by people who are both blind and deaf. Sullivan learned this alphabet in order tocommunicate with Laura Bridgman, a fellow student and the first deaf-blind person to be educated in the United States.

A year after graduating from Perkins, Sullivan took the train from Boston toTuscumbia, Alabama, to meet Helen Keller, an undisciplined, angry child she had been hired to teach. Helen had been left blind, deaf, and mute as the result of an illness during infancy and had no means of communicating with others.

After an extremely difficult adjustment period, Sullivan worked to calm Helendown and gain her trust. She began trying to communicate with Helen throughthe manual alphabet she had learned at the Perkins School. She taught Helen by using her finger to spell the names of objects into Helen's palm, while allowing the child to feel or hold the objects at the same time. One day, whilespelling w-a-t-e-r into Helen's palm as running water poured over their hands, Helen suddenly made the connection between the letters in her hand and thewater she could feel running through her fingers. From then on, she was ableto learn rapidly.

From that moment on, Sullivan became Keller's trusted constant companion. Sheaccompanied Helen to the Perkins Institute where the child was educated, andlater to the Wright-Humason School in New York City. They both went to the Cambridge School for Young Ladies. Eventually, Sullivan accompanied Helen to Radcliffe College in Boston. Sullivan served as Helen's translator, spelling out the lectures into her palm, and reading to her through the use of the manual alphabet for long periods every day. While Helen has been praised as an excellent student, Sullivan's role as her teacher and friend has been widely recognized as vital to Helen's success.

When Helen graduated from Radcliffe in 1904, she and Sullivan moved to a farmin Wrentham, Massachusetts, that had been donated to them by a benefactor. While living there, Helen wrote her famous autobiography, The Story of My Life. A Harvard instructor, John Albert Macy, worked with Helen to edit the book. Eventually, he and Sullivan fell in love and were married in the living room of the Wrentham home. However, Sullivan found it difficult to spend time away from Helen, and John Macy grew discouraged at having to share his wife with her blind student. The couple stayed together for eight years, separating in 1913. While they did not live together after that time, the couple remained married.

Meanwhile, Sullivan remained the constant companion of Helen, who had becomean outspoken socialist political commentator and an advocate for the educational rights of handicapped persons. They traveled together on lecture tours that took them all over the world. In 1917, the two moved from Wrentham, and in1924 they began working as fundraisers and advocates for the American Foundation for the Blind. In 1927, Nella Braddy began writing Sullivan's biography,Anne Sullivan Macy. The book was published in 1933.

Sullivan's health began declining rapidly at about this time, and her eyesight, which had never been good, continued to deteriorate. By 1935 she was completely blind, and she died October 20, 1936 in Forest Hills, New York, at 70 years of age.

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