Anne Sullivan experienced much suffering in childhood. She became partially blind after contracting trachoma at five years old. Her mother passed away when Anne was eight, and two years later, her father abandoned his children. At that point, she was separated from her sister and sent to an almshouse with her brother, where he passed away just a few months later.
The almshouse was known for being overcrowded, unsanitary, and cruel. Anne desired to get out. But besides a brief period of living in a hospital, Anne spent about five years there before finally finding a way out. During an almshouse inspection in 1880, she persuaded the State Inspector of Charities to move her to the Perkins School for the Blind.
Anne was resilient, unmannered, had learned survival skills most students and teachers at the Perkins School for the Blind never experienced. She struggled to adjust at first. But as she found her way and her vision improved after successful surgeries, Anne graduated valedictorian of her class.
After completing school, Anne was recommended for a position teaching Helen Keller. Helen’s father was seeking a teacher for his daughter, who was blind and deaf. Anne became a teacher to Helen and a governess, and for their almost fifty years of knowing one another, a dear friend.
As Helen would say, “The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old.”
“Anne Sullivan: a teacher and dear friend” sources: The photograph is of Anne Sullivan with Helen Keller in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1888. Helen is eight years old, Anne twenty-two / Stanton Avery Special Collections, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society / Wikimedia Commons / Keller, H. (1954). The story of my life. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.