This article is about Anne Sullivan, the teacher and companion of Helen Keller. For other uses, see Anne Sullivan (disambiguation).
Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy (April 14, 1866 - October 20, 1936), better known as Anne Sullivan, was an American teacher, best known for being the instructor and lifelong companion of Helen Keller. She contracted an eye infection when she was eight years old which left her blind and without reading or writing skills. She received her education as a student of the Perkins School for the Blind where upon graduation she became a teacher to Helen.
Anne was born on April 14, 1866 in Feeding Hills, Agawam, Massachusetts. According to her baptismal certificate, her name at birth was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan; however, she was called Anne or Annie from birth. She was the oldest child of her parents Thomas and Alice Sullivan. Her family came to the United States as immigrants from Ireland who left during the Great Famine. When she was only five years old she contracted a bacterial eye disease known as trachoma, which created painful infections and over time made her nearly blind. When she was eight, her mother passed away and her father abandoned the children two years later for fear he could not raise them on his own. She and her younger brother, James ("Jimmie"), were sent to an overcrowded almshouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts (today part of Tewksbury Hospital). Jimmie suffered from a debilitating hip ailment and died three months into their stay. Anne remained at the Tewksbury house for four years after his death, where she had eye operations that offered some short-term relief for her eye pain but ultimately proved ineffective.
Due to Anne losing her sight at such a young age she had no skills in reading, writing, or sewing and the only work she could find was as a housemaid; however, this position was unsuccessful. Another blind resident staying at the Tewksbury almshouse told her of schools for the blind. During an 1880 inspection of the almshouse, she convinced an inspector to allow her to leave and enroll in the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, where she began her studies on October 7, 1880. Although her rough manners made her first years at Perkins humiliating for her, she managed to connect with a few teachers and made progress with her learning. While there, she befriended and learned the manual alphabet from Laura Bridgman, a graduate of Perkins and the first blind and deaf person to be educated there. Also while there, she had a series of eye operations that significantly improved her vision. In June 1886, she graduated from there at age 20 as the valedictorian of her class. She stated "Fellow-graduates: duty bids us go forth into active life. Let us go cheerfully, hopefully, and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our especial part. When we have found it, willingly and faithfully perform it."
The summer following Anne's graduation, the director of the Perkins Institution, Michael Anagnos, was contacted by Arthur Keller, who was in search of a teacher for his 7-year-old blind and deaf daughter, Helen. Michael immediately recommended Anne for this position and she began her work on March 3, 1887 at the Kellers' home in Tuscumbia, Alabama. As soon as she arrived there, she argued with Helen's parents about the Civil War and over the fact that they used to own slaves. However she also quickly connected with Helen. It was the beginning of a 49-year relationship: Anne evolved from teacher to governess and finally to companion and friend.
Anne's teachings to Helen involved a very strict schedule with constant introduction of new vocabulary words; however, Anne quickly changed her teachings after seeing they did not suit Helen. Instead, she began to teach her vocabulary based on her own interests, where she spelled each word out into Helen's palm; within six months this method proved to be working when Helen had learned 575 words, some multiplication tables, as well as the Braille system. Anne strongly encouraged Helen's parents to send her to the Perkins School where she could have an appropriate teaching. When they agreed, Anne took Helen to Boston in 1888 and stayed with her there. Anne continued to teach her bright protégée, who soon became famous for her remarkable progress. With the help of Michael Anagnos, Helen became a public symbol for there and this increased funding and donations, making it the most famous and sought-after school for the blind in the country. However, an accusation of plagiarism against Helen was very upsetting to Anne: she left and never returned, but did remain influential to the school. Anne remained a close companion to Helen and continued to assist in her education, which ultimately included a degree from Radcliffe College.
On May 3, 1905, Anne married Harvard University instructor and literary critic, John Albert Macy (1877-1932), who had helped Helen with her publications. He moved in with them, and they lived together. However, within a few years, the marriage began to disintegrate. By 1914 they separated, though he is listed as living as a "lodger" with them in the 1920 U.S. Census. They never officially divorced. As the years progressed after their separation, he appears to have faded from her life. She never remarried.
In 1932 Helen and Anne were each awarded honorary fellowships from the Educational Institute of Scotland. They also were awarded honorary degrees from Temple University. In 1955 Anne was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University., and in 1956 the director's cottage at the Perkins School was named the Keller-Macy Cottage.
Anne had been seriously visually impaired for almost all of her life, but by 1935 she was completely blind in both eyes. On October 15, 1936 she fell into a coma and then died five days later on October 20 at age 70, in Forest Hills, Queens, New York. She died with Helen holding her hand. Helen described Anne's last month as being very agitated, but during the last week was said to return to her normal generous self When Helen died in 1968, her ashes were placed in the Washington National Cathedral next to those of Anne.
Anne is the main character in The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, originally produced for television, where she was portrayed by Teresa Wright. It then moved to Broadway, and was later produced as a 1962 feature film. Both the play and film featured Anne Bancroft as Anne.Patty Duke, who played Helen on Broadway and in the 1962 film version, later played Anne in a 1979 television remake.Alison Elliott portrayed her in a 2000 television movie.Alison Pill played her on Broadway in the short-lived 2010 revival, with Abigail Breslin as Helen.
Both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for their roles as Anne and Helen in the 1962 film version.
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