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  Anne Sullivan Macy: Miracle Worker
The House in Wrentham, Massachusetts (1904-1917)

In Praise of Anne

Speech delivered by Helen Keller at Helen Keller Day Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, November 6, 1915

Speech delivered by Helen Keller at Helen Keller Day Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, November 6, 1915. The inset photograph on the top left-hand side of the reprint shows Helen seated on a stone wall with Anne standing next to her. Both women are facing away from the camera holding each other's hand. Their hands lie on top of a book that is resting on Helen's lap. The reprint reads as follows:

HELEN KELLER DAY

RELEASE MORNING NOVEMBER SEVENTH

Address Delivered by Miss Helen Keller Before Teachers and School Children of San Francisco at the Helen Keller Day Celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Novemeber Sixth. Miss Keller's Teacher, Mrs. John A. Macy, and Dr. Marie Montessori Received the Teacher's Medals of the Exposition at the Same Time. The A.P. Will Send a Lead.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the great honor that has been conferred upon Mrs. Macy and myself. Many fine compliments have been paid me today. They are pleasant to me, but the recognition given my teacher delights me still more. I am glad that competent judges everywhere approve of her and of her work-a work of devotion that may well stand as an example to the teachers of all generations. I am gratified that her teaching is recognized here at the magnificent exposition where all the triumphs of education are so impressively placed before us. But she has achieved more than a triumph of education; hers is also the triumph of a noble life.

We have known each other for twenty-eight years. How wonderful it all seems as I think of the day when she came to me in a small out-of-the-way town in Alabama to open the doors of the world and let me come in out of the silence and the night. She was a young woman, alone. She had been blind from childhood and her sight had just been partially restored. Everything before her was new and unfamiliar. With little equipment except an extraordinary mind and a fine, brave heart, she began her difficult work.

Handicapped by imperfect vision, without help or counsel or any previous experience in teaching, she struggled bravely and wisely with the difficulties of a new field of education. By genius and observation she worked out her own methods of teaching. New obstacles arose daily, but they did not defeat her. She never shirked her tasks, no matter how discouraged she might feel; she never shrank from her responsibilities, however painful they might be.

My teacher was irregularly instructed. There were gaps and deficiencies in her education that she had the rare wisdom herself to see. She brought to her work a freshness, a clear open-mindedness that contributed much toward her success. She was fearless in her experiments. All the qualities of the teacher born were hers. She stimulated in her pupil a desire to know more than she had time or knowledge to teach. She aroused curiosity, aspiration and joyous effort.

Young, eager, impulsive; she was a delightful companion. Her perception was so keen and her sympathy so quick that she could at any moment herself become a little child. She entered into all my experiences and discoveries with the spontaneous joy of a fellow explorer. To this youthful interest in everything, she added a smiling tact and endless ingenuity in explaining what I did not understand. Above all, she had a discerning love, which is a higher educational asset than any knowledge.

The stimulating contacts of life that had been denied me, she strove constantly to supply. She was ever at hand to keep me in touch with the vivid world of men and women while I was dumb. With high faith and perseverance she helped me to tear away the bands of silence so that I might have the joy of speaking, if most imperfectly, to a few intimate friends. And behold, she has faced the same tremendous struggle again so that I might speak more distinctly and be understood by many people. When I was in college she would use her poor sight and her supple, speaking hand for many hours each day to read to me and spell out the lectures. She has continued to bring me, day by day, the best thoughts of men and the news of their achievements.

She could have lived her own life, and had a better chance of happiness than most women. Her power of diamond-clear, audacious thought and the splendor of her unselfish soul that have made her a teacher of teachers, might have made her a leader in the great emancipation of women that our day is seeing. The freshness and lucidity of her writing would have won high distinction. But she has closed these doors to herself and refused to consider anything that would take her from me or interfere with her labor of love. Even now, when she has a household and new demands are always being made on her time and strength, she never lets pass a chance to lighten the weight that burdens my activities and hampers my work. The story of her teaching is the complete story of her life, her work is her whole biography.

She has given me the best years of her womanhood, and you see her still giving herself to me day by day. She has known suffering and sacrifice that few, even among women, can fully understand. Yet she has emerged from her struggle a strong, sweet woman. Her unusual mind, her large charity for everyone, the energy and beauty of her helpfulness and counsel fill me with wonder. She has done much for me that cannot be defined or explained. By the vitalizing power of her beautiful friendship she has stirred and enlarged my faculties. She has held me up to the ideals of the great and the good. She has opened my eyes to find my fellow men that need help, and it is the dearest joy of her life to have me do the most that lies in my power for them. She inspires me so that my good impulses are freer, my will to serve others stronger, my judgments broader and gentler. Her sympathy is a celestial flower that blooms in my life and gives to it whatever beauty it has.

Slowly, slowly out of my weakness and helplessness she has built up my life. No one knowns better than she and I how that life falls short of what we should like to make it. But, such as it is, she has built it and thousands of people are stirred by the story of her achievement. And her own life-what shall we say of it? She has spent it in an unpromising work, and lo, you see it, brave and unselfish, complete, aglow with the splendor of genius.

So the distinguished honor you pay us today is due to the great woman as well as to the great teacher. She has given more than the story of my life and education. Her richest gift to us all is zest in overcoming obstacles, zest in understanding and helping the lives of others, zest in putting joy and beauty into our work.

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