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Anne Sullivan

Anne SullivanAKA Johanna Mansfield Sullivan

Born: 14-Apr-1866
Birthplace: Feeding Hills, MA
Died: 20-Oct-1936
Location of death: Forest Hills, NY
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

Gender: Female
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Educator

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The Miracle Worker

More famously known as "The Miracle Worker", Anne Sullivan was the lifelong teacher and companion to Helen Keller. Anne Sullivan was the daughter of Irish immigrant farmers who had fled to the United States to escape the Irish Potato Famine. Afflicted with trachoma, Anne had begun to lose her eyesight due to corneal scarring at age three, and was virtually blind by the age of five. When she was eight, her mother died of tuberculosis, and when she was ten her father, an abusive alcoholic, abandoned both her and her beloved younger brother at a poorhouse, Tewksbury's Massachusetts State Infirmary, to be raised there as orphans. Here her brother Jimmie, also suffering from tuberculosis, died in the Tewksbury infirmary, possibly victim to one of the many epidemics that routinely decimated poorhouse children.

Through various benefactors, Anne received a series of operations to correct her vision. She was eventually accepted into the Perkins Institution, where she received additional treatment. Eventually her sight was restored enough that she could read for short periods. Meanwhile, she applied herself sufficiently to her studies that she graduated class valedictorian. Her talent and persistence had left a sufficient impression upon the staff at the Perkins Institution that she was personally recommended by its director to become Keller's teacher and mentor.

On 5 April 1887, after a month of instructing Helen in the manual alphabet, and in civilized behavior, Anne experienced the "miracle" breakthrough that led Helen back into the world of communication and learning. While standing at the water pump together, with the water running over Helen's hand, Anne spelled the word "water" into Helen's hand. Suddenly Helen understood: the strange finger game they played was an attempt to communicate names and ideas.

Soon Anne was serving as Helen's tutor and companion at Boston's Perkins Institution. Later, she accompanied Helen to the Wright-Humasen School in New York City as well as The Cambridge School for Young Ladies and Radcliffe College. While many admired her work with Helen, there were those detractors who were suspicious of the relationship, accusing Anne of manipulating Helen for her own purposes. Amongst the latter were those who felt Helen's socialist politics were merely a parroting of beliefs held by Anne and Anne's husband, writer and Harvard professor John Macy. Sullivan had met Macy when he had helped put together Helen Keller's autobiography. The couple divorced in 1913, but Anne's relationship with Helen Keller continued until Anne's death on 20 October 1936. In the year prior to her death, Anne's vision had relapsed into blindness.

Father: Thomas Sullivan
Mother: Alice Cloesy
Husband: John Albert Macy (m. 2-May-1905, separated 1913/14, d. 1932)

    High School: Perkins School for the Blind (1886)
    Teacher: Perkins School for the Blind

    Left at Orphanage
    Risk Factors: Blindness

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #1824 (15 cents, with Helen Keller, issued 27-Jun-1980)


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