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  Anne Sullivan Macy: Miracle Worker

Portrait of Anne Sullivan Macy: Miracle Worker

Anne Sullivan Macy Biography
Anne Sullivan Macy (1866 - 1936)

Anne was born on April 14, 1866 in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts. Though she was called Anne or Annie from the very beginning, her baptismal certificate identifies her as Johanna Mansfield Sullivan. Her parents, Thomas Sullivan and Alice Cloesy Sullivan, were poor, illiterate Irish immigrants. Her mother was frail, suffering from tuberculosis. Her father was unskilled and alcoholic.

Little or nothing in Anne Sullivan's early years encouraged or supported her lively, inquiring mind. She was unschooled; hot tempered; nearly blind from untreated trachoma by age seven; and, on her mother's death when Anne was eight years old, left to deal with her abusive father and maintain their dilapidated home. Two years later Thomas Sullivan abandoned his family.

On February 22, 1876, Anne and her brother Jimmie were sent to the state almshouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Jimmie, who was younger than Anne and had been born with a tubercular hip, died a short time later. Anne spent four years at Tewksbury, enduring the grief of her brother's death and the disappointment of two unsuccessful eye operations. Then, as a result of her direct plea to a state official who had come to inspect the Tewksbury almshouse, she was allowed to leave and enroll in the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, Massachusetts. Her life changed profoundly at that point.

At Perkins, in October 1880, Anne finally began her academic education—quickly learning to read and write. She also learned to use the manual alphabet in order to communicate with a friend who was deaf as well as blind. That particular skill opened the door to her future and a life of remarkable achievements. While at Perkins, Anne had several successful eye operations, which improved her sight significantly. In 1886 she graduated from Perkins as valedictorian of her class. A short time later, Anne accepted the Keller family's offer to come to Tuscumbia, Alabama, to tutor their blind, deaf, mute daughter, Helen.

In March of 1887 Anne began her lifelong role as Helen Keller's beloved Teacher. In short order she managed to make contact with the angry, rebellious child, who learned eagerly and quickly once Anne had gained her confidence. Anne was Helen's educator for thirteen years and, in 1900, accompanied her to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Helen was admitted to Radcliffe College. Anne went with Helen to every class, spelling into her hand all the lectures, demonstrations, and assignments. When Helen received her bachelor of arts degree, it was a triumph for both women. While Anne was not officially a student, she had gained a college education.

During the years at Radcliffe, John Albert Macy became Anne and Helen's friend and helped edit Helen's autobiography. He and Anne fell in love and married on May 3, 1905. Within a few years, their marriage began to disintegrate. By 1914 they separated, though they never officially divorced.

Anne spent the following years living first in Wrentham, Massachusetts and then in Forest Hills with Helen and Polly Thomson. Polly became an essential part of their household, acting as Helen's secretary and assisting Anne. As early as 1916 Anne's health began to weaken. She was incorrectly diagnosed as having tuberculosis and ordered to recuperate at Lake Placid. Polly went with her and the two women soon left Lake Placid for the warmer climate of Puerto Rico, returning to Forest Hills when the United States entered World War I.

Despite Anne's declining health, the three women traveled widely in the United States and, after the war, in other countries. They gave lectures, vaudeville performances, and even appeared in a film titled "Deliverance." In 1924, Anne and Helen began to work for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) as advocates, counselors, and fundraisers.

In 1930-31 Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania wished to recognize Anne and Helen's achievements with honorary degrees. Helen accepted but Anne refused. A year later, at the urging of Helen and other friends, Anne reluctantly accepted the honor.

In 1936, at the age of seventy, Anne Sullivan Macy died at home in Forest Hills, New York on October 20.

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