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Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy (1866 – 1936), also known as Annie Sullivan, was an American teacher best known as the instructor and companion of Helen Keller.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Sullivan was born on April 14, 1866 in Feeding Hills, Agawam, Massachusetts. In 1874 her mother, Alice, died, probably of tuberculosis;[2] after which Anne was sent to an almshouse, that today is Tewksbury Hospital in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. In 1880, Anne, who was nearly blind from untreated trachoma, was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind. Anne had a brother, Jimmie (James),[3]Template:Unreliable source born in 1869,[2] a sister Ellen born in 1867[2] and a sister, Mary.[citation needed]


Michael Anaganos, director of the Institute, then located in South Boston, was approached to suggest a teacher for the Keller's deafblind daughter. He asked Anne Sullivan, a former student, herself visually impaired and only 20 years old, to become Helen's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year relationship, Sullivan evolving into governess and then eventual companion.

Anne Sullivan arrived at Keller's house in March 1887, and immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with "d-o-l-l" for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. In fact, when Sullivan was trying to teach Keller the word for "mug", Keller became so frustrated she broke the doll.[4] Keller's big breakthrough in communication came the next month, when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of "water"; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world.

As lifelong companions Sullivan and Keller continually lived, worked, and traveled together.

Personal lifeEdit

File:Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan in July 1888.jpg

On May 3, 1905, Sullivan married a Harvard University instructor and literary critic, John Albert Macy (1877–1932), who had helped Keller with her publications. The three lived together. However, within a few years, their marriage began to disintegrate. By 1914 they had separated, though they never officially divorced. In the early years after their separation, John wrote and asked for money.

In the 1920 census, Helen Keller was 38 years old and listed as head of her household in the Queens, New York Census. Anne is listed as living with her, age 52, listed as a private teacher of Helen. John Macy is also listed as living with them (entered as a Lodger, writer/author, age 44). As the years progressed Macy appears to have faded from Sullivan's life. Sullivan never remarried.


In 1932 they were each awarded honorary fellowships from the Educational Institute of Scotland. They also were awarded honorary degrees from Temple University.[5]


By 1935, Sullivan became completely blind just one year before her death on October 20, 1936 in Forest Hills, New York City. She died after a coma at age 70, with Keller holding her hand.[6] When Keller herself died in 1968, her ashes were placed in the Washington National Cathedral next to Anne's.

Media representation Edit

Anne Sullivan is an integral character in The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, originally produced for television, where she was portrayed by Teresa Wright.[7] The play then moved to Broadway, and was later produced as a 1962 feature film.

References Edit

  1. Herrmann, Dorothy. Helen Keller: A Life, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1998, p. 35. ISBN 0679443541
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Nielsen, Kim E. (2009). Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller, 5,7, Beacon Press. "1874 death of Alice Sullivan. .. stories indicate she had tuberculosis"
  3. Anne Sullivan Macy Biography. URL accessed on 2 October 2010.
  4. Wilkie, Katherine E. Helen Keller: Handicapped Girl. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill
  5. Herrmann, p. 252–53
  6. Herrmann, p. 255.
  7. Teresa Wright (I) at The Internet Movie Database

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

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