Feature Writer Terri Winaught – Making a Difference: The Story of Anne Sullivan Macy – Part One

Johanna Mansfield Sullivan–better known as Anne Sullivan Macy–was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts on April 14, 1866.

To say that Anne’s early life was difficult would be to put it mildly. Her mother was frail, diagnosed with tuberculosis, and died in 1874 when Anne was only eight. Two years later Anne’s father, who struggled with alcoholism, abandoned the family, which resulted in Anne and her younger brother Jimmy being placed in an almshouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Shortly after their arrival, Jimmy–who was born with a tubercular hip–died, leaving young Anne to grieve not only his death but also the disappointment of two failed eye surgeries she had endured.

In 1880, during a visit to the almshouse from a state official, Anne pleaded with him to be allowed to leave. Upon receiving approval, she enrolled in Perkins School for the Blind. Anne’s curriculum included not only the usual school subjects, but also learning the manual alphabet so that she could communicate with a friend who was deaf and blind. Additionally, Anne was encouraged to tutor younger students by teachers who recognized her intelligence and potential.

When she was 20, Anne graduated as class valedictorian in 1886. By this time, Anne’s vision had also improved significantly thanks to several successful surgeries.

On March 3, 1887, Anne Sullivan arrived at the Keller estate in Tuscumbia, Alabama to teach Helen Keller, then six, to communicate as a person who was deaf and blind. Although Anne and Helen got along well immediately, Anne frequently argued with Keller’s parents about the Civil War and their previous ownership of slaves.

Initially, attempts to teach Helen were frustrating to both her and Anne. In time, however, and especially with Keller’s breakthrough of understanding that each object had a unique name (such as her home’s water pump), whole new worlds opened up for both of them and they began to flourish together as a team.

In part II, I will focus on Anne’s stellar career as tutor and companion to Helen Keller. Key to this part will be how Anne was honored for making such a positive difference in another person’s life.

Source: wikipedia.org


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