Anne Sullivan Macy

Anne Sullivan Macy

Macy, Anne Sullivan, 1866-1936, American educator, friend and teacher of Helen Keller, b. Feeding Hills, Mass. Placed in Tewksbury almshouse (1876), she was later admitted (1880) to Perkins Institution for the Blind, since her eyes had been seriously weakened by a childhood infection. Although a series of operations partially restored her sight, she learned the manual alphabet in order to talk with Laura Bridgman, a fellow resident at Perkins. She was graduated in 1886 and one year later was chosen to teach Helen Keller. The two remained constant companions until Anne Sullivan's death. As Helen Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan pioneered in techniques of education for the handicapped. She based her instruction on a system of touch teaching; rather than attempt to explain the properties of an object, she would allow her student to experience it directly. In 1905 she married John Macy, who later became a noted writer and literary critic. During the early 1920s, Anne Macy and her former student helped to publicize the new American Foundation for the Blind (founded 1921) and lobbied for its program of increased opportunities for the sightless.

See biographies by N. Braddy (1933) and L. A. Hickock (1961); H. A. Keller, Teacher (1955, rev. ed. 1966).

Anne Sullivan Macy, born Johanna Mansfield Sullivan, (April 14, 1866October 20, 1936) was a teacher best known as the tutor of Helen Keller. She is also known as Annie Sullivan.


Anne Sullivan was born in Feeding Hills, a subsection of the town of Agawam, Massachusetts. Her parents, Thomas Sullivan and Alice Clohessy, were impoverished cooks who left Ireland in 1847 during the Potato Famine. Anne Sullivan’s father taught her Irish tradition and folklore. Her mother suffered from tuberculosis and died when Anne was nine. When she was ten, Anne had to move in with a relative, who later sent her and her brother to the Tewksbury Almshouse (today Tewksbury Hospital). Anne Sullivan spent her time there with her younger brother, Jimmie, in hopes that they would not be separated; however, his condition resulting from a tubercular hip weakened him and he died a few months later.

When Anne Sullivan was three she began having trouble with her eyesight; at age five, she contracted the eye disease trachoma, a bacterial infection that often causes blindness by scarring. Sullivan underwent a long string of surgeries. Doctors in Tewksbury had made a few vain attempts to clean her eyelids. Later, Father Barbara, the chaplain of the nearest hospital, took it upon himself to arrange a procedure. This operation failed to correct her vision. Still more attempts were made. Father Barbara took her to the Boston City Infirmary (today Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary ) this time, where she had two more operations. Even after this attempt her vision remained blurry. Sullivan returned to Tewksbury, against her will. After four years there, in 1880, she entered the Perkins School for the Blind where she underwent surgery in 1881 and regained some of her sight. After the improvement of her eyesight, and graduating as class valedictorian in 1886, a founder of the Perkins Institute for the Blind, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, encouraged her to teach Helen Keller. In 1887, Sullivan had an additional surgery which restored more of her vision.

Sullivan moved in with her charge and, acting as governess, began teaching Keller nouns using the sign language alphabet signed into Keller's palm. The first word Helen learned was "doll". Her second word was "water". In 1888, the pair went to the Perkins Institution together, then New York City's Wright-Humasen School, then the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and finally to Radcliffe College. Keller graduated from Radcliffe in 1904 and after that, they moved together to Wrentham, Massachusetts, and lived on a benefactor's farm.

On May 2, 1905, Sullivan married a Harvard University professor and critic, John Albert Macy (1877 – 1932), eleven years her junior, who had helped Keller with her autobiography. Within a few years, their marriage began to disintegrate. By 1914 they had separated, though they never officially divorced. In the early years after their separation John Macy wrote and asked for money; however, as the years progressed he appears to have faded from her life. Macy died at the age of 55 in 1932. Sullivan stayed with Keller at her home and joined her on tours. In 1935, she became completely blind. She died in Forest Hills, New York, on October 20, 1936.

A public school, PS 238, in the neighborhood of Gravesend, Brooklyn, NY was named in Sullivan's honor. Annie Sullivan Middle School in Franklin, Massachusetts was named after Sullivan, and there is also a large building named after her located at Tewksbury State Hospital in Tewksbury Massachusetts which houses several state agencies and a large day care center.

Media representation

Anne Sullivan is a major character in The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, originally produced for television, where she was portrayed by Teresa Wright. It then moved to Broadway, and was later produced as a 1962 feature film. Both the Broadway play and 1962 film featured Anne Bancroft in the Anne Sullivan role. Patty Duke—who played Helen Keller in the 1962 film version—later played Anne Sullivan in a 1979 television remake. The most recent portrayal was by Alison Elliot in a 2000 television movie.


External links

Search another word or see anne sullivan macyon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature