The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Anne Sullivan

Anne Sullivan, Annie Sullivan, or Johanna Mansfield Sullivan Macy, (April 14, 1866October 20, 1936) was born in Feeding Hills , Massachusetts. Her parents, Thomas Sullivan and Alice Cloesy , were poor Irish farmers who left Ireland in 1847 because of the Irish Potato Famine. Anne’s father was an alcoholic and sometimes abused her, but he also passed on to her Irish tradition and folklore. Her mother suffered from tuberculosis. Her mother died when she was eight, and when she was ten, her father deserted her and her siblings, leaving them at the Massachusetts State Infirmary in Tewksbury. Anne spent all her time with her younger, crippled brother (who, like his mother, suffered from tuberculosis) in hopes that they would never be separated; however, Jimmie soon died in the infirmary.

When Anne was three she began having trouble with her eye-sight; at age five, she contracted the eye disease trachoma, a bacterial disease that affects the eye and can often lead to blindness, because of the scar tissue it creates. Anne underwent a long string of operations in attempts to fix her eyesight. Doctors in Tewksbury had made a few unsuccessful attempts to clean her eyelids, but these procedures did no good. Later, a Catholic priest and the chaplain of the nearest hospital, by the name of Father Barbara set out to correct her condition. He arranged a procedure at the hospital for her eyes. The doctors attempted to numb her eyes with cocaine before the procedure. This operation failed to correct her vision and more attempts were made. Father Barbara took her to The Boston City Infirmary this time where she had two more operations. Even after this attempt her vision remained blurry and unchanged. Against her will, Annie then returned to Tewksbury. After four years there, in 1880, she entered the Perkins School for the Blind where she underwent surgery and regained some of her sight. After regaining her eyesight and graduating as class valedictorian in 1886, she began teaching Helen Keller.

She taught Helen the names of things with a manual alphabet signed into Helen's palm. In 1888, they went to the Perkins Institution together, then New York City's Wright-Humasen School, then the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and then Radcliffe College. Helen graduated from Radcliffe in 1904 and after that, they moved together to Wrentham, Massachusetts, and lived on a benefactor's farm.

In 1905, Anne married Harvard instructor John A. Macy, who had helped Helen with her autobiography. However, they were unhappy and divorced in 1913. Anne stayed with Helen at their home and joined her on tours. In 1935 she became completely blind, and in Forest Hills, New York, on October 20, 1936, she died.


Anne Sullivan Macy Nella Braddy 1933 Doubleday, Doran & Co. Random House
Helen and Teacher Joseph P. Lash 1980, reissued 1997 ISBN 0891282890

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04