Women’s History month – March 2022

Anne Sullivan Macy April 1866 – October 1936

Helen Keller with her teacher, Anne Sullivan

“What a blind person needs is not a teacher but another self.” Hellen Keller, spoken about Anne Sullivan, teacher become friend. 

Anne Sullivan, born Johanna Sullivan. Unlike Helen Keller, Anne was born into poverty. Her family never prospered. Her brother, Jimmie was crippled from tuberculosis and she suffered from trachoma, a disease often associated with poor hygiene. The infection caused near blindness in Anne. 

Bother parents left, her mother by death shortly after Anne’s illness. The children remained, abused, then abandoned at an orphanage by their alcoholic father. Soon after, her brother Jimmie died. All this before the age of ten. Much like Helen, this little girl developed fortitude. The orphanage did not have any system of education. Through providence and tenacity she found her way into the Perkins School for the blind, where she graduated as valedictorian of her class at the age of 20.

Enter Helen Keller. Shortly after graduation she was assigned a position to teach Helen. A young woman and a little girl, both of strong wills. Whose would win?

Anne brought this doll to Helen and she loved it very much.

Though Anne Sullivan did not attend college, she was a voracious reader, searching books to learn anything that might help in teaching Helen, regarding her disabilities. Helen was blind, but deaf also. Anne’s reading included any and all books that would help prepare Helen for life. Anne’s level of commitment could be described as being “all in.”

Anne was able to teach unteachable Helen. Their teacher/student relationship developed into a lifelong friendship. Helen felt her life began when Miss Sullivan entered. Their friendship was rare; strong-willed individuals do not usually form lasting friendships. In view of their lifelong friendship and dedication to each other, loyalty must be included in the descriptions of their characters.

Not surprisingly, Anne had many insecurities. In addition to poverty, she was not trained with social graces and was often badgered for her crudeness and lack of fine breeding. Anne never entirely overcame feelings of inadequacy, but did not allow this to become paralysis in her life. It seems she channeled it toward becoming accomplished in many areas. 

Anne’s success in teaching Helen grew widespread fame. Their shared accomplishments drew many to them, including well-known individuals, as Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Huttleston Rogers (Standard Oil). It is interesting to note that it was Mark Twain that first called Ann “the miracle worker.” 

Anne was a Roman Catholic, by belief, if not by practice. She married John Macy, a professor from Harvard University. By this time Anne and Helen were well-known and Anne had become an assistant to Helen, so the three of them lived together until the marriage failed. John left the marriage for Europe, but he and Anne never divorced. Anne and Helen returned to their life’s work as a duo once again.  

Though Anne accompanied Helen throughout her life, they did not share views on everything. Anne is quoted as saying: “No matter how mistaken Communist ideas may be, the experience and knowledge gained by trying them out have given a tremendous impetus to thought and imagination.”  (AUTHOR’S NOTE: While I am glad she came to the conclusion that communism is bad, I do not think one has to try everything in order to make sound decisions.

Because of their well-known accomplishments, they were in great demand as a speaking team.  They were sought after often to raise funds for The American Foundation for the Blind and other charities devoted to the blind and deaf.

Like Helen, Anne received a good number of citations and awards for her teaching methods and successes, but also for her commitment to Helen Keller.

Anne’s abilities, reflected in her student gave her worldwide fame, but also a friendship with Helen that lasted until death. Helen held Anne Sullivan Macy’s hand as she passed from death to eternity. 

Anne Sullivan Macy was a teacher and some of the quotes I found are true today; in many ways she was a woman “ahead of her time.”

These thoughts are attributed to her:

The truth is not wonderful enough to suit the newspapers, so they enlarge upon it and create ridiculous embellishments.

The wrong things are predominantly stressed in schools – things remote from the student’s experience and need.

A strenuous effort must be made to teach children to think for themselves and take independent charge of their lives.  (My note: Yes! So long as this training is upon a solid foundation, Jesus Christ.)

Obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love too, water the mind of a child.

My heart is singling for joy this morning! A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed!

FInal Note: 

The era of Anne and Helen was shortly after the civil was. Anne was a southern gal, raised in Alabama, but strongly rebuked and challenged the Keller family because they owned slaves. 

Other articles about Women’s history month can be read by clicking below:


DOES THIS STORY HAVE A HAPPY ENDING? (The story of Helen Keller.)