Anne Sullivan

Anne Sullivan bigraphy, stories - Teacher and companion of Helen Keller

Anne Sullivan : biography

April 14, 1866 – October 20, 1936

Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy (April 14, 1866–October 20, 1936), better known as Anne Sullivan, was an Irish-American teacher, best known for being the instructor and companion of Helen Keller.Herrmann, Dorothy. Helen Keller: A Life, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1998, p. 35; ISBN 0-679-44354-1

Early life and education

Sullivan was born on April 14, 1866 in Feeding Hills, Agawam, Massachusetts. According to her baptismal certificate, her name at birth was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan; however, she was called Anne from birth. Her parents were Thomas and Alice (née Cloesy) Sullivan, Irish immigrants who reportedly couldn’t read and were almost penniless. Alice died in 1874, probably from tuberculosis; after which Anne and her younger brother, James ("Jimmie") were sent to an almshouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts (today part of Tewksbury Hospital). Anne spent seven years there. In 1880, blind from an untreated trachoma, she was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind. Aside from her brother James (born 1869),1870 United States Federal Census she also had two sisters, Ellen (born 1867) and Mary.


Some teachers recognized Sullivan’s intelligence and tamed her headstrong ways. Michael Anagnos, director of the Institute, then located in South Boston, encouraged her to tutor younger students. She also underwent eye surgery that partially restored her vision. Sullivan graduated from Perkins School for the Blind in 1886, when she was 20 years old, as the valedictorian of her class. Anagnos was approached to suggest a teacher for a deaf-blind girl, Helen Keller. He asked Sullivan, herself visually impaired and only 20 years old, to become her instructor. Sullivan arrived at Keller’s house in the small Alabama town of Tuscumbia on March 3, 1887. It was the beginning of a 49-year relationship, Sullivan evolving first into governess, and then companion., Royal National Institute of Blind People, last updated August 14, 2012. Retrieved December 30, 2012.

As soon as she arrived at the Kellers’ house in Tuscumbia, Alabama, as a young instructor from the north, she quarreled with Helen’s parents about the Civil War and over the fact that the Kellers used to own slaves.Kim E. Nielsen, The radical lives of Helen Keller, Year: 2007, c2004, New York University Press She met the then-six-year-old Helen and immediately began to teach her to communicate, by spelling words into her hand, beginning with "d‑o‑l‑l" for the doll that she had brought her as a present. Keller was frustrated at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. Her big breakthrough in communication came the next month. She realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of water. She then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world. As lifelong companions, Sullivan and Keller continually lived, worked, and traveled together.

Next, she strongly encouraged Helen’s parents to send the child to the Perkins School for the Blind where she could have an appropriate teaching. With their approval, Sullivan brought 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, head of the school, Helen Keller became the figure of Perkins School for the Blind and brought funds and donations, making it the most famous and sought-after school for the blind in the country.

When Helen graduated from Perkins, Anne followed her to New York City, where they frequented the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf. In this institution, they tried to acquire the skills of lip-reading and oral speech.Kim E. Nielsen, The radical lives of Helen Keller c. 2004, New York University Press


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.Herrmann, pp. 252–53