Anne Sullivan

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Johanna Mansfield "Anne" Macy (Sullivan)

Birthdate: (70)
Birthplace: Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, United States
Death: October 20, 1936 (70)
Forest Hills, New York, United States
Place of Burial: Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Thomas Sullivan and Alice Sullivan
Wife of John Albert Macy
Sister of Ellen Sullivan; Nellie Sullivan; James Sullivan; Mary Sullivan and John Sullivan

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Anne Sullivan

Johanna "Anne" Mansfield Sullivan Macy (1866–1936), also known as Anne Sullivan, was an American teacher best known as the instructor and companion of Helen Keller, Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Early life

Sullivan was born on April 14, 1866 in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts. According to her baptismal certificate, her full name at birth was Johanna Mansfield Sullivan; however, she was called Anne from the time she was born. Her parents' names were Thomas Sullivan and Alice Cloesy Sullivan and they were Irish immigrants who couldn't read and had little money. In 1874 her mother, Alice, died, probably of tuberculosis; after which Anne was sent to an almshouse, that today is Tewksbury Hospital in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. She was at Tewksbury for four years. In 1880, Anne, who was blind from untreated trachoma, was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind. Anne had a brother, Jimmie (James), born in 1869, a sister Ellen born in 1867 and a sister, Mary.


Michael Anaganos, director of the Institute, then located in South Boston, was approached to suggest a teacher for the Keller's deafblind daughter. He asked Anne Sullivan, a former student, herself visually impaired and only 20 years old, to become Helen's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year relationship, Sullivan evolving into governess and then eventual companion.

Anne Sullivan arrived at Keller's house in March 1887, and immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand, beginning with "d-o-l-l" for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present. Keller was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. In fact, when Sullivan was trying to teach Keller the word for "mug", Keller became so frustrated she broke the doll. Keller's big breakthrough in communication came the next month, when 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.

Personal life

On May 3, 1905, Anne Sullivan married a Harvard University instructor and literary critic, John Albert Macy (1877–1932), who had helped Keller with her publications. Macy moved in with Keller and Sullivan, and the three lived together. However, within a few years, Macy's and Sullivan's marriage began to disintegrate. By 1914 they had separated, though they never officially divorced. In the early years after their separation, John wrote and asked for money.

In the 1920 census, Helen Keller was 38 years old and listed as head of her household in the Queens, New York Census. Anne is listed as living with her, age 52, listed as a private teacher of Helen. John Macy is also listed as living with them (entered as a Lodger, writer/author, age 44). As the years progressed Macy appears to have faded from Sullivan's life. Sullivan never remarried.


In 1932 they were each awarded honorary fellowships from the Educational Institute of Scotland. They also were awarded honorary degrees from Temple University.


By 1935, Sullivan became completely blind just one year before her death on October 20, 1936 in Forest Hills, New York. She died at age 70 after a coma, with Keller holding her hand. When Keller herself died in 1968, her ashes were placed in the Washington National Cathedral next to Anne's.

Media representation

Anne Sullivan is an integral character in The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, originally produced for television, where she was portrayed by Teresa Wright. The play 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 Sullivan role. Patty Duke—who played Helen Keller in the 1962 film version—later played Sullivan in a 1979 television remake. Alison Elliott recently portrayed her in a 2000 television movie. Alison Pill played Sullivan on Broadway in the 2010 revival of The Miracle Worker, with Abigail Breslin as Keller.

Both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke won Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress for their roles as Sullivan and Keller in the 1962 film version.

Anne Sullivan's first month with Helen Keller is chronicled in the novel, Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, by Sarah Miller. The award-winning first-person narrative imagines Annie's point of view and emotional landscape as she struggles to break through to her pupil.

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Anne Sullivan's Timeline

April 14, 1866
Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, United States
October 20, 1936
Age 70
Forest Hills, New York, United States
Age 70
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States