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Anne Sullivan

Johanna Sullivan
Sullivan circa 1886-8 -9
Born Johanna Mansfield Sullivan
(1866-04-14)April 14, 1866
Feeding Hills, Agawam, Massachusetts
Died October 20, 1936(1936-10-20) (aged 70)
Forest Hills, New York
Spouse(s) John Albert Macy (1905–1932)

Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy (April 14, 1866 – October 20, 1936), better known as Anne Sullivan, was an American teacher, best known for being the instructor and lifelong companion of Helen Keller.[1] She contracted trachoma, a highly infectious eye infection, when she was eight to ten years old which left her blind and without reading or writing skills.[2] She received her education as a student of the Perkins School for the Blind where upon graduation she became a teacher to Keller when she was 20.[2]


  • Childhood 1
  • Education 2
  • Career 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Awards 5
  • Death 6
  • Media representation 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Anne was born on April 14, 1866, in [3]


1912 Howe Building Watertown Massachusetts by A. H. Folsom

Due to Anne losing her sight at such a young age she had no skills in reading, writing, or sewing and the only work she could find was as a housemaid; however, this position was unsuccessful.[2] Another blind resident staying at the Tewksbury almshouse told her of schools for the blind. During an 1880 inspection of the almshouse, she convinced an inspector to allow her to leave and enroll in the Perkins School for the Blind in [3] In June 1886, she graduated from there at age 20 as the valedictorian of her class. She stated “Fellow-graduates: duty bids us go forth into active life. Let us go cheerfully, hopefully, and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our especial part. When we have found it, willingly and faithfully perform it."[2]


This is a picture that has been colorized by Michael T. Sanders of Originally, the photograph was taken in 1899 by Alexander Graham Bell at his School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech. In the picture is Helen Keller along with lifelong companion and teacher Anne Sullivan.

The summer following Anne's graduation, the director of the Perkins Institution, Michael Anagnos, was contacted by Arthur Keller, who was in search of a teacher for his 7-year-old blind and deaf daughter, Helen.[2] Michael immediately recommended Anne for this position and she began her work on March 3, 1887 at the Kellers' home in Tuscumbia, Alabama.[2] As soon as she arrived there, she argued with Helen's parents about the Civil War and over the fact that they used to own slaves.[5] However she also quickly connected with Helen. It was the beginning of a 49-year relationship: Anne evolved from teacher to governess and finally to companion and friend.[6]

Anne's teachings to Helen involved a very strict schedule with constant introduction of new vocabulary words; however, Anne quickly changed her teachings after seeing they did not suit Helen.[2] Instead, she began to teach her vocabulary based on her own interests, where she spelled each word out into Helen's palm; within six months this method proved to be working when Helen had learned 575 words, some multiplication tables, as well as the Braille system.[2] Anne strongly encouraged Helen's parents to send her to the Perkins School where she could have an appropriate teaching. When they agreed, Anne took Helen to Boston in 1888 and stayed with her there. Anne continued to teach her bright protégée, who soon became famous for her remarkable progress. With the help of Michael Anagnos, Helen became a public symbol for the school, helping to increase its funding and donations and making it the most famous and sought-after school for the blind in the country. However, an accusation of plagiarism against Helen greatly upset Anne: she left and never returned, but did remain influential to the school.[2] Anne remained a close companion to Helen and continued to assist in her education, which ultimately included a degree from Radcliffe College.

Personal life

Helen Keller and Anne vacationing at Cape Cod in July 1888

On May 3, 1905, Anne married Harvard University instructor and literary critic, John Albert Macy (1877–1932), who had helped Helen with her publications.[7] He moved in with them, and they lived together. However, within a few years, the marriage began to disintegrate. By 1914 they separated, though he is listed as living as a "lodger" with them in the 1920 U.S. Census.[8] They never officially divorced. As the years progressed after their separation, he appears to have faded from her life. She never remarried.


In 1932 Helen and Anne were each awarded honorary fellowships from the Educational Institute of Scotland. They also were awarded honorary degrees from Temple University.[9] In 1955 Anne was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University.,[7] and in 1956 the director's cottage at the Perkins School was named the Keller-Macy Cottage.[2]


Anne had been seriously visually impaired for almost all of her life, but by 1935 she was completely blind in both eyes. On October 15, 1936, she suffered a coronary thrombosis, fell into a coma, and then died five days later on October 20[10] at age 70, in Forest Hills, Queens, New York. She died with Helen Keller holding her hand.[11] Helen described Anne's last month as being very agitated, but during the last week was said to return to her normal generous self.[12] Sullivan was cremated and her ashes were interred in a memorial at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. She was the first woman to be recognized for her achievements in this way. When Helen Keller died in 1968, her ashes were placed in the Washington National Cathedral next to those of Anne.

Media representation

Anne is the main character in The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, originally produced for television, where she was portrayed by Teresa Wright.[13] It then moved to Broadway, and was later produced as a 1962 feature film. Both the play and film featured Anne Bancroft as Anne.[14] Patty Duke, who played Helen on Broadway and in the 1962 film version, later played Anne in a 1979 television remake.[15] Alison Elliott portrayed her in a 2000 television movie.[16] Alison Pill played her on Broadway in the short-lived 2010 revival, with Abigail Breslin as Helen.

Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, for their roles as Anne and Helen in the 1962 film version.


  1. ^ Herrmann, Dorothy. Helen Keller: A Life, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1998, p. 35; ISBN 0-679-44354-1
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2014
  3. ^ a b c Anne Sullivan profile at
  4. ^ Marzell, Terry Lee. Chalkboard Champions. Tucson, AZ: Wheatmark. 2012.
  5. ^ Kim E. Nielsen, The radical lives of Helen Keller, Year: 2007, c2004, New York University Press
  6. ^ The life of Helen Keller, Royal National Institute of Blind People, last updated August 14, 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Lash, 1980
  8. ^ In the 1920 census, Helen was 38 years old and listed as head of her household in Queens, New York. Anne, age 52, is listed as living with her as a private teacher. John, age 44, is also listed as living with them, as a "lodger", with the occupation of writer/author.
  9. ^ Herrmann, pp. 252–53
  10. ^ Nielsen, p. 266
  11. ^ Herrmann, p. 255.
  12. ^ Nielsen, p. 266.
  13. ^ Teresa Wright (I) at the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ Anne Bancroft (I) at the Internet Movie Database
  15. ^ Patty Duke at the Internet Movie Database
  16. ^ Alison Elliott (I) at the Internet Movie Database
  • Tewksbury Almshouse patient records
  • McGinnity, B.L, J Seymour-Ford, and K.J Andries. “Anne Sullivan.” Perkins School for the Blind. February 14, 2014. Accessed February 14, 2014.
  • Lash, Joseph P. Helen and Teacher: the Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy. New York: Delacorte Press, 1980.
  • Nielsen, Kim E. Beyond the Miracle Worker: the Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller. Beacon Press, 2010.

Further reading

  • Delano, Marfe Ferguson (2008). Helen's Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's Teacher. National Geographic Books.  
  • Miller, Sarah (2007). Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. Atheneum.  
  • Keller, Helen (1955). Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy: A Tribute by the Foster Child of Her Mind. Doubleday. 
  • Braddy, Nella (1933). Anne Sullivan Macy: The Story Behind Helen Keller. Doubleday, Doran & Company. 

External links

  • Anne Sullivan Macy: Miracle Worker, a multimedia museum from the American Foundation for the Blind
  • Works by Annie Sullivan at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Anne Sullivan at Internet Archive
  • Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Archive at Perkins School for the Blind
  • "Anne Sullivan". Educator.  
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