Mit Reklaw’s Truth on Annie Sullivan

Given instruction to consider history’s notable women, most minds would likely swing to famous female athletes or actresses of days gone by. Curious. The World’s most notable and indeed, the most remarkable woman ever to live, in my opinion, went by the name Anne.

Born in Massachusetts on April 14, 1866, Johanna Mansfield Sullivan immediately became known as, Anne. As one of four siblings of impecunious Irish immigrants, Anne was only a child when in 1874, her mother passed away. Thereafter Anne and brother James were sent to an almshouse, where she remained for almost seven years. In 1880 Anne lost her vision as a result of an untreated trachoma and was subsequently sent to Perkins School for the Blind. While there she underwent eye surgery, successfully restoring partial vision and went on to graduate in 1886, aged 20, as valedictorian.

It was in 1887 that Anne’s life took a most dramatic turn.

She was approached by the head of her former school, Michael Anagnos, and asked to become a tutor for 6-year-old deaf-blind sufferer, Helen Keller. This proposition would begin a 49 year relationship between two dedicated people, inspiring a bond of unprecedented trust and companionship.

Anne first taught Helen to communicate by placing an object in one of her student’s hands while spelling its name into the palm of her other, beginning with d-o-l-l for the doll that she had brought as a gift. Unsurprisingly, with limited comprehension of practically everything that comprised her world, Helen initially showed frustration at not understanding the theme of the game – that all of life’s objects come with a unique title.

The breakthrough came around one month later. Anne ran cool water over one of Helen’s hands while tracing the name ‘water’ on the palm of the other, until the child realized the symbolic significance of the letters being drawn. She could now relate the patterns she felt on her hand, with the sensation of water.

From then on Anne’s onus became much more tiresome, with the innately curious Helen wanting to know what palm motions went with almost every other familiar object in life.

In 1888, Anne went to work convincing Helen’s parents to allow her to attend Perkins School for the Blind, where she could have proper tutelage. On approval they moved to Boston where Helen received the schooling she required and Anne continued to build upon those abilities. Helen soon became revered for her remarkable progress. When she graduated some years later, Anne followed her to New York where they frequented Wright-Humason School for the Blind. It was at this institution that they endeavoured to gain further skills in the fields of lip-reading and oral speech.

In 1905 Anne married Harvard University instructor and literary critic, John Albert Macy who moved in with Helen and she. Alas, a few years on, Anne and John’s union began to fall apart. Although the pair never officially divorced, he gradually faded from her life.

Johanna Mansfield Sullivan never remarried.


Article by Mit Reklaw

Photography by I.C. Ocean

Edited by I.C. Ocean II

Foreword by P.N. Ocean

Graphics by C.U.P. Higher By Design

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