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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [Anne Sullivan Macy]

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  • Amos J Wright
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      From: biod-request@... [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Wednesday, March 08, 2006 1:50 AM
      To: ANB bioday mailing list
      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

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      American National Biography Online

      Macy, Anne Sullivan (14 Apr. 1866-20 Oct. 1936), special educator,
      was born Johanna Mansfield Sullivan in Feeding Hills (near Springfield),
      Massachusetts, the daughter of Thomas Sullivan and Alice Cloesy,
      farmers. She was known throughout her life as Anne or Annie.
      Her parents (both immigrants from County Limerick, Ireland) were
      illiterate, and her childhood was marred by both poverty and
      misfortune. An attack of trachoma around the age of five left
      her virtually blind, and she was subjected to frequent beatings
      at the hands of her alcoholic father. In 1874 her mother died,
      and two years later her father abandoned his three living children.
      While her sister Mary was sent to live with relatives, Anne and
      her brother Jimmie (crippled from a bout with tuberculosis) were
      sent to the state almshouse in Tewksbury, where Jimmie died a
      few months later.

      Devastated by her brother's death, Sullivan was miserable at
      Tewksbury. The facility was filthy, badly overcrowded, and provided
      no educational facilities. She learned of the Perkins Institute
      for the Blind in Boston, and when a commission headed by state
      board of charities chairman Frank Sanborn visited Tewksbury for
      an inspection Sullivan literally threw herself at him and cried
      out "Mr. Sanborn, I want to go to school!" Arrangements were
      made shortly, and she entered Perkins in October 1880. Her childhood
      and almshouse experiences left their mark on Sullivan, who never
      quite overcame the feelings of shame and inferiority that she
      acquired as a result.

      Despite her total lack of formal education, Sullivan prospered
      at Perkins. She regained some of her sight through an operation
      in 1881, and she graduated from the school in 1886 as class
      Uncertain as to her future vocation, she learned of a governess
      position through Perkins's director (and son-in-law of its founder,
      Samuel Gridley Howe), Michael Anagnos. Arthur H. Keller of Tuscumbia,
      Alabama, had contacted Anagnos to see if anyone was willing to
      attempt to teach his daughter Helen Keller, a seven-year-old
      girl who had lost both her sight and hearing at the age of nineteen
      months. After studying Howe's notes (who taught Laura Bridgman,
      a similarly afflicted girl), Sullivan accepted the position with
      some trepidation and arrived in Tuscumbia in March 1887.

      Upon her arrival, Sullivan found Helen to be a willful, spoiled,
      and moody child. As her behavior was completely uncontrolled,
      Sullivan made instruction in obedience her first priority. Realizing
      that Helen possessed great intelligence in spite of her isolation,
      she attempted to communicate with her through a manual method--"finger
      spelling"--in which letters to words were articulated into a
      pupil's hand. After weeks of frustration, Sullivan spelled out
      the word "water" while pumping water over her pupil's hand. Keller
      recognized the connection, and her link to the outside world
      was restored. Insatiable for knowledge, she made rapid progress.
      The two visited Perkins in the spring of 1888, stopping en route
      to meet with inventor and deaf educator Alexander Graham Bell,
      who shared the astonishment felt by nearly all who came into
      contact with Keller regarding her progress.

      Sullivan remained with Keller for the rest of her life. The
      pair traveled widely as their fame spread, and they enjoyed the
      philanthropy of individuals such as industrialists Andrew Carnegie,
      Henry H. Rogers, and John Spaulding. She attended Keller's classes
      at Wright-Humason oral speech school in New York City (1894-1896),
      the Cambridge (Mass.) School for Young Ladies (1896-1897), and
      finally Radcliffe College (1900-1904). Assisting Keller in her
      schoolwork exhausted Sullivan, and the resulting overwork proved
      disastrous for her already frail eyesight. Sullivan also came
      into frequent conflict with school administrators. Fiercely protective
      of Keller and resentful of attempts to separate them (a prevalent
      rumor was that Sullivan was either "controlling" or "using" Keller),
      Sullivan experienced estrangement from both Anagnos and Arthur
      Gilman (the head of the Cambridge School). Insecure and often
      petulant in behavior, Sullivan also suffered the slights of a
      society that (she often felt) fawned over Keller while largely
      ignoring or discounting her own contributions to Keller's development.

      Following Keller's graduation from Radcliffe, the pair relocated
      to farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts. A frequent visitor there
      was John Albert Macy, a youthful Harvard instructor who had assisted
      the pair in preparing Keller's biography. Despite misgivings
      (Sullivan feared the marriage's effect on Keller; Macy was also
      eleven years her junior), the two married (with Keller's blessing)
      in 1905. Although the three lived together in harmony for a time,
      marital strains created a separation by 1912, when John Macy,
      an aspiring writer, left to work for the mayor of Schenectady.
      No children resulted from the marriage, which was never formally
      terminated despite the couple's failure to reconcile.

      Anne Macy and Keller moved to Forest Hills, New York, in 1917.
      In constant demand as lecturers and as potential fundraisers,
      the pair had to balance the public's desire to hear their story
      with their own financial constraints. Charitable to a fault,
      they were in constant need of supplementing their income. While
      a trip to Hollywood in 1918 to produce the movie Deliverance
      came to naught--the film flopped--a stint on the vaudeville circuit
      (1919-1921) proved more lucrative. Although Macy's failing health
      took them off the tour by the latter year, the pair undertook
      fundraising tours on behalf of the newly formed American Foundation
      for the Blind (1924-1927).

      Despite their worldwide fame, Macy's final years were painful.
      She hated fundraising and lost an eye through surgery in 1929.
      Totally blind at the end, she did not adapt well to her encumbrance.
      Nevertheless, long-overdue recognition came her way. Awarded
      an honorary doctor of humane letters from Temple University in
      1931, she stubbornly refused to accept it until the following
      year. She and Keller also became honorary fellows of the Educational
      Institute of Scotland (1933) and received medals from the Roosevelt
      Memorial Foundation (1936). Vacations in search of health failed
      to raise Macy's spirits, and she died at her home in Forest Hills
      after a long period of decline.

      Although occasionally controversial, "Teacher" (as Keller inevitably
      referred to her) achieved remarkable success with her one and
      only pupil. Though she possessed only minimal training, her tireless
      and creative efforts resulted in the gift of Helen Keller to
      the world. If her life apart from Keller was largely unsuccessful,
      Anne Sullivan Macy still merits the recognition that she was
      so often denied in life.


      Anne Sullivan Macy's papers are held at the Perkins Institute
      for the Blind, Watertown, Mass.; the American Antiquarian Society
      in Worcester, Mass.; and the Volta Bureau in Washington, D.C.
      Scholarship on Macy includes Joseph P. Lash, Helen and Teacher:
      The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy (1980), which
      is often critical of Macy. Dated but still useful is Nella Braddy,
      Anne Sullivan Macy (1933). Helen Keller, Teacher: Anne Sullivan
      Macy (1955), is valuable but marred by Keller's defensiveness
      on her subject. An obituary is in the New York Times, 21 Oct. 1936.

      Edward L. Lach, Jr.

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      Edward L. Lach, Jr.. "Macy, Anne Sullivan";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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