THE JOURNEY OF ANNE SULLIVAN’S LIFE
When I look at Anne’s life as a whole, at first glance it appears to be a quiet life. A small life full of service to others. But when I break it up into this timeline I realize what strength Anne had. She overcame a lot of obstacles in order to be devoted to Helen. This was not a small life; this was a life filled with quiet strength and loud devotion.
1866: Anne Sullivan is born in April to Thomas and Alice Sullivan in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts.
1871: Anne contracts trachoma, an eye disease caused by bacteria.
1874: Anne’s mother passes away and her father feels it is too difficult to raise a family so he sends Anne and her brother, Jimmy, to a “poorhouse” call Tewksbury. It is here that Anne’s brother passes away.
1880: Anne learns that a committee is coming to examine the poor conditions of Tewksbury and follows them around as they investigate. She finally gets the courage to speak up and tell the committee she wants to go to Perkins School for the Blind. In October of the same year, 14-year-old Anne is allowed to attend Perkins. This is the first time Anne has ever attended school.
1881-1882: Within this two-year span, Anne has two eye surgeries that dramatically improve her vision and she can see well enough to learn how to read and write.
1886: Anne graduates from Perkins, as valedictorian. In her speech she encourages her classmates to “...go forth into active life. Let us go cheerfully, hopefully, and earnestly, and set ourselves to find our especial part. When we have found it, willingly and faithfully perform it …”
1887: Anne leaves for Tuscumbia, Alabama, to work with a young girl who lost her vision and her hearing at the age of 19 months following a severe illness. This young girl is named Helen Keller. Over the next 49 years, Anne devotes herself to the education of Helen Keller: teaching her to communicate, read Braille and talk. Together they advocate for the blind, travel, give speeches and continue their educational careers.
1905: Anne marries John Macy. Although the marriage ends in separation, John is instrumental in helping Anne’s student, Helen, in her various publications.
1920: Anne’s right eye is removed due to chronic pain.
1932: Anne and Helen are awarded honorary fellowships by the Educational Institute of Scotland.
1935: Anne loses all sight in her remaining eye.
1936: Anne dies following a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in a coronary artery that inhibits blood flow to the heart).
Anne was cremated and entombed at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. When Helen passed away in 1968, she was also cremated and her ashes were entombed beside Anne’s.
When you connect the dots of Anne’s life you realize that even though she had to endure some very harsh circumstances, these circumstances led her to changing the life of her student and thus changing the lives of all visually impaired individuals. Think about it: she was born into a struggling family, abandoned by her father, spent her childhood in a poorhouse, begged for an education at Perkins School for the Blind and it was there, at Perkins, that she started on the path to change her and Helen’s worlds. Anne’s burial at the National Cathedral is very fitting. It was a symbolic move that shows our nation’s indebtedness to Anne and how her devotion bettered the lives of so many others.