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Anne Sullivan Begins Teaching Helen Keller

March 3, 2022

On March 3, 1887, at age 20, Anne arrived at Keller’s home in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Helen Keller, who was left deaf and blind after a severe illness at 19 months, would later call this day her “soul’s birthday” as Sullivan’s presence completely changed her life. On this day, Sullivan began teaching six-year-old Keller to communicate by spelling words into her hand.

Prior to this, Helen didn’t know how to communicate to those around her except for a few imitative signs. After trial and error, Anne developed a successful system of teaching. Anne placed Helen’s hand on her face with the thumb resting on the throat, the first finger on the lips, and the middle finger on the nose. Helen could feel the vibrations of the spoken words and transform them into sound.

In six months, seven-year-old Helen had learned the manual alphabet, the Braille system, and some mathematics. In 1888, Helen enrolled in the Perkins School, and Anne came along and continued assisting her in her education. She eventually graduated from Radcliffe College, becoming the first person with a serious disability to earn an undergraduate degree.

Her first book, “My Life Story,” was recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the 100 most influential books of the 20th century. This was the first of the fifteen books that she would write. Helen and her brilliant teacher Anne devoted the rest of their lives to helping the blind by writing extensively on the subject and working tirelessly on a uniform system of Braille. In June 1968, Helen suffered a heart attack and died at her home in Connecticut at 87 years of age.


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