ANNE SULLIVAN Biography - Educators, philosophers & public speakers


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Anne was born on April 14, 1866 in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts. Though she was     
called Anne or Annie from the very beginning, her baptismal certificate             
identifies her as Johanna Mansfield Sullivan. Her parents, Thomas Sullivan and     
Alice Cloesy Sullivan, were poor, illiterate Irish immigrants. Her mother was       
frail, suffering from tuberculosis. Her father was unskilled and alcoholic.         
Little or nothing in her early years encouraged or supported her lively,           
inquiring mind. She was unschooled; hot tempered; nearly blind from untreated       
trachoma by age seven; and, on her mother's death when Anne was eight years old,   
left to deal with her abusive father and maintain their dilapidated home. Two       
years later Thomas Sullivan abandoned his family.                                   
On February 22, 1876, Anne and her brother Jimmie were sent to the state           
almshouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Jimmie, who was younger than Anne and had   
been born with a tubercular hip, died a short time later. Anne spent four years     
at Tewksbury, enduring the grief of her brother's death and the disappointment     
of two unsuccessful eye operations. Then, as a result of her direct plea to a       
state official who had come to inspect the Tewksbury almshouse, she was allowed     
to leave and enroll in the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts.   
Her life changed profoundly at that point.                                         
At Perkins, in October 1880, Anne finally began her academic education—quickly   
learning to read and write. She also learned to use the manual alphabet in order   
to communicate with a friend who was deaf as well as blind. That particular         
skill opened the door to her future and a life of remarkable achievements. While   
at Perkins, Anne had several successful eye operations, which improved her sight   
significantly. In 1886 she graduated from Perkins as valedictorian of her class.   
A short time later, Anne accepted the Keller family's offer to come to Tuscumbia,   
Alabama, to tutor their blind, deaf, mute daughter, Helen.                         
In March of 1887 Anne began her lifelong role as Helen Keller's beloved Teacher.   
In short order she managed to make contact with the angry, rebellious child, who   
learned eagerly and quickly once Anne had gained her confidence. Anne was Helen's   
educator for thirteen years and, in 1900, accompanied her to Cambridge,             
Massachusetts, where Helen was admitted to Radcliffe College. Anne went with       
Helen to every class, spelling into her hand all the lectures, demonstrations,     
and assignments. When Helen received her bachelor of arts degree, it was a         
triumph for both women. While Anne was not officially a student, she had gained     
a college education.                                                               
During the years at Radcliffe, John Albert Macy became Anne and Helen's friend     
and helped edit Helen's autobiography. He and Anne fell in love and married on     
May 3, 1905. Within a few years, their marriage began to disintegrate. By 1914     
they separated, though they never officially divorced.                             
Anne spent the following years living first in Wrentham, Massachusetts and then     
in Forest Hills with Helen and Polly Thomson. Polly became an essential part of     
their household, acting as Helen's secretary and assisting Anne. As early as       
1916 Anne's health began to weaken. She was incorrectly diagnosed as having         
tuberculosis and ordered to recuperate at Lake Placid. Polly went with her and     
the two women soon left Lake Placid for the warmer climate of Puerto Rico,         
returning to Forest Hills when the United States entered World War I.               
Despite Anne's declining health, the three women traveled widely in the United     
States and, after the war, in other countries. They gave lectures, vaudeville       
performances, and even appeared in a film titled "Deliverance." In 1924, Anne       
and Helen began to work for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) as         
advocates, counselors, and fundraisers.                                             
In 1930-31 Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania wished to recognize     
Anne and Helen's achievements with honorary degrees. Helen accepted but Anne       
refused. A year later, at the urging of Helen and other friends, Anne               
reluctantly accepted the honor.                                                     
In 1936, at the age of seventy, Anne Sullivan Macy died at home in Forest Hills,   
New York on October 20.