• Created Date
  • 1936
  • Description
  • Mrs. Anne Sullivan Macy, who taught the famous Helen Keller to read and speak and thus to be an inspiration for the deaf, mute and blind throughout the world died at 7: 50 a. m. yesterday in the home which she shared with her pupil at 71-11 Seminole Avenue, Forest Hills, Queens. Miss Keller and Miss Polly Thomson, who twenty-two years ago became her secretary when Mrs. Macy’s own eyesight weakened, were at the bedside. Mrs. Macy was seventy ye... more
    Mrs. Anne Sullivan Macy, who taught the famous Helen Keller to read and speak and thus to be an inspiration for the deaf, mute and blind throughout the world died at 7: 50 a. m. yesterday in the home which she shared with her pupil at 71-11 Seminole Avenue, Forest Hills, Queens. Miss Keller and Miss Polly Thomson, who twenty-two years ago became her secretary when Mrs. Macy’s own eyesight weakened, were at the bedside. Mrs. Macy was seventy years old. Mrs. Macy, who was Miss Keller’s constant companion for half a century, died just a week before she and her pupil were to receive Roosevelt medals on the anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday for their work in bringing hope to the blind. The announcement that she would receive the medal, however, was made on October 6. Mrs. Macy had been ill almost a year. Suffering from heart trouble, she had a relapse last week and she was in a coma when she died. As she left the bedside, Miss Keller said: “My teacher is free at last from pain and blindness. I pray for strength to endure the silent dark until she smiles upon me again. She has gone from me a little while, but I shall feel her presence anew when my eyes are blessed with light, my ears saved unto harmony and my imprisoned life set free.” Funeral To Be Tomorrow It was announced at the home that funeral services will be held at 2 p. m. tomorrow in the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1010 Park Avenue, and that the Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of the Riverside Church, will officiate. Mrs. Macy had no immediate survivors. The life of Mrs. Macy was inextricably bound to that of Helen Keller. In 1886 Mrs. Macy became the teacher to an unfortunate little girl who had been made blind, deaf and mute by disease. In that year she spelled laboriously into the child’s hand a word of the manual alphabet and began the process which was to open the world to Helen Keller and make her a brilliant, educated, cultivated woman. Years pass in which the two women were almost inseparable, and then, late in 1933, came a dramatic reversal in their relationship. Mrs. Macy’s own sight failed, and Helen Keller set patiently to work teaching Braille to the woman who had taught it to her years before because Mrs. Macy had forgotten the fingertip reading code after her pupil had mastered it. Mrs. Macy was born on April 14, 1866, into a poor Irish family at Feeding Hills, a village near Springfield, Mass. A few days later the infant was taken to the cathedral in Springfield and baptized Joanna Mansfield Sullivan. She was called Annie most of her life and eventually shortened this to Anne, never using her real baptismal name. Early in life her sight was affected by trachoma, and although a series of operations cleared her vision greatly her eyes never ceased to bother her, strained as they were by the double task of serving two women of above-normal intellectual curiosity. Annie Sullivan was reared in poverty. Her mother died and the little girl subsisted for a time on the charity of relatives, then was sent to Tewksbury Almshouse, where she encountered “rats, maniacs, sexual perversions, delirium tremens, epilepsy and corpses,” to quote from the biography of Mrs. Macy written by Nella Braddy and published in 1933. “Very much of what I remember of Tewksbury,” Mrs. Macy recalled many years after, “is indecent, cruel, melancholy, grewsome [sic] in the light of grown-up experience: but nothing corresponding with my present understanding of these ideas entered my child mind. Everything interested me. I was not shocked, pained, grieved or troubled by what happened. Such things happened. People behaved like that – that was all there was to it. It was all the life I knew.” Demanded to Go to School The little Sullivan girl finally gathered up her courage and when a party of officials came to inspect the almshouse she bearded the leader, Frank Sanborn, and loudly demanded to be sent to school. Her appeal succeeded, and she was sent, still as a state charge, to the famous Perkins Institution for the Blind at Watertown, Mass., where she studied under Laura Bridgman. When she was graduated, in 1886 she was twenty years old and her sight had been mainly restored. She sought a teaching position, and through the school obtained the post of governess to the handicapped daughter of a former Confederate Army officer, Arthur Keller. When Miss Sullivan arrived at Tuscumbia, Ala., in 1887 she found Helen Keller a strong, healthy child of seven. At the age of nineteen months the little girl had been stricken with a peculiar congestion of the brain and stomach which nearly took her life but finally left her sound in body but totally bereft of speech, sight and hearing. Members of the family had lacked the courage to train and discipline the child, and had treated her so indulgently that she was utterly spoiled. The new governess took over her training and there followed a terrific conflict of wills which not infrequently resulted in physical struggle. Annie Sullivan’s problem was to control Helen without breaking her spirit, and within a month she had succeeded. “Doll” First Word Learned She was then ready to start the great undertaking of opening lines of communication between the world and the child’s blockaded bind. The first word Helen Keller learned was “doll.” Miss Sullivan spelled the word out in the manual alphabet against the little girl’s hand, meanwhile touching the doll she was holding. Helen thought that the governess was trying to get the doll away from her, and put up a battle, but after many repetitions she grasped the connection between the object and the manual symbols. “Cake” was the second word, and the child began to take a mild interest in the process of learning. The words “mug” and “milk” were the first great stumbling block, for she found it hard to dissassociate [sic] the container from the fluid. This was solved one day out at a pump as Helen stood holding a cup and felt the water gush out over her hands. That single incident gave her a sudden impetus, and within a few minutes she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary. Miss Sullivan had noticed that two-year-old children are able to understand things they cannot say themselves, and began to converse with Helen just as though the child were still only nineteen months old and normal. In this way she taught her words not easily explained by material objects. Next came the task of breaking down Helen’s concept of words into a concept of letters of the alphabet. At the end of three years the child had mastered the alphabet, knew how to read and write, and could use both the manual (sign language) system and Braille raised type. Miss Sullivan then began to teach her charge how to speak, dividing sound into various categories and analyzing the muscular movements of throat and tongue needed to produce each. Helen Keller’s speaking voice never could become normal or easy, but she learned to speak and make herself understood, and was no longer completely mute. She made rapid progress in her studies and soon caught up with the usual public school curriculum. She studied for a brief period at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, in Boston, then passed her entrance examinations and entered Radcliffe College, in 1900. Although warned that she was impairing her own weak vision, Miss Sullivan accompanied Miss Keller to every class and interpreted lectures and discussions to her. Helen studied in Braille whenever possible and Miss Sullivan read to her out of textbooks. A few of the blind girl’s instructors became sufficiently interested in her to learn the manual alphabet themselves so that they might talk with her directly. Miss Sullivan had taught Helen to type, and all her papers and examination answers were done on the typewriter. Miss Sullivan also mastered the Morse telegraphic code and imparted it to Helen so that they might converse without touching hands directly. Helen’s response to vibrations developed keenly. Married to Harvard Instructor Helen was graduated cum laude from Radcliffe in 1904 with an A. B. degree and special mention for excellence in English literature. Soon afterward she moved to a farm at Wrentham, Mass. Miss Sullivan was still with her, serving not only as guide, philosopher and friend, but as companion, interpreter and amanuensis. While they were at Wrentham, Miss Sullivan was married to a Harvard instructor, John A. Macy, but it was with the understanding that Helen was not to be neglected, and after a brief wedding trip, they returned to Wrentham and the farm. The Macys later separated, Mrs. Macy remaining with her pupil. Mr. Macy, who became a critic and essayist, died in 1932. By 1914, Mrs. Macy’s sight had begun to trouble her again, and a third woman joined the household as Miss Keller’s secretary. She was Miss Thomson, who took over many of the routine duties of reading and correcting manuscripts. Helen Keller and her aids went on lecture tours and embarked on a great campaign to raise funds for the blind. They traveled through Europe and America, and Mrs. Macy occasionally had the fun of hearing visitors ask, “Whatever had become of Annie Sullivan?” Two things helped to brighten Mrs. Macy’s last years. In May, 1935 a delicate operation almost completely restored the sight of her left eye, making it possible for her to move around again and read. And on October 6, 1936, the Roosevelt Memorial Association announced that the Roosevelt medals for that year would be awarded to Miss Keller and Mrs. Macy in recognition of “a co-operative achievement of heroic character and far-reaching significance-the release and development of an imprisoned personality which, by its emergence and its effective activity, has become for millions a symbol of hope and inspiration to effort.” Their Collaboration Acclaimed James R. Garfield, president of the association, noted that this was the first time that two Roosevelt medals had been awarded for one deed or accomplishment. “The achievement has been in the truest sense a collaboration,” he said, “having been possible only because the devotion and native genius of Mrs. Macy were matched in Miss Keller by intelligence, courage and indomitable determination. It constitutes one of the most notable instances in history of the triumph of the mind and spirit over bodily affliction.” In recent years Miss Keller, Mrs. Macy and Miss Thomson have lived in Scotland or at their American home, in Forest Hills. Mrs. Macy received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Temple University and was decorated with the medal of St. Sava by the Jugoslavian [sic] government, but most of her days were spent in her accustomed place, but most of her days were spent in her accustomed place, the shadow of the bright publicity which has always focused upon Helen Keller. The public which knew so much about the result of her work knew little about the work itself. But this was her own choice, for even Helen Keller once wrote that her friend hid her inner life “behind an almost impenetrable reserve.” It required a year to persuade Mrs. Macy that she should accept the Temple honor. In 1932, when the University of Glasgow conferred an honorary degree upon Miss Keller. Sir Robert Ralt, principal of the institution, said of Mrs. Macy: “We honor also the teacher and friend whose devotion and whose genius rendered the triumph possible." Both women also were elected honorary fellows of the Educational Institute of Scotland. Mrs. Macy’s citation praised her “devotion, patience and resource without parallel.” Many educator have described the Helen Keller-Annie Sullivan relationship as the meeting of a perfect teacher with a perfect pupil. When Helen was learning her first words, she asked what the new friend’s name was and was told, in manual symbols, “teacher.” “Teacher” was what Helen Keller called her then, and to the end. Miss Keller took personal charge of all arrangements for the funeral. During the time Mrs. Macy was in a coma, Miss Keller was with her teacher almost continuously, leaving the bedside only rarely to walk in her garden. Members of the household said that Mrs. Macy was last conscious a week ago today when she cried: “Oh, Helen and Polly! My children, I pry God will unite us in love!” Honorary Pallbearers Honorary pallbearers include M. C. Migel and Robert Irwin, president and director respectively of the American Foundation for the Blind; Russell Doubleday; Harvey D. Gibson; Dr. Conrad Berens, the physician who operated upon Mrs. Macy a year ago; Dr. Phillip Smith, chief Alaskan Geologist of the United States Geological Survey; Dr. William Saybolt, Mrs. Macy’s physician; Dr. John H. Finley, William Ziegler Jr., Louis Bamberger, Dr. William Allan Neilson, president of Smith College, and the Rev. Dr. Edward C. Allen, rector emeritus of the Perkins Institute of the Blind. Among the hundreds of telegrams of condolence received was one from Hermann Hagedorn, executive director of the Roosevelt Memorial Association, who announced that the presentation of the medal to Miss Keller would be postponed until next year. Others wiring their regrets included Mr. And Mrs. William Ziegler jr. and Gilbert Grosvenor. Mr. Hagedorn’s announcement follows: “The trustees of the Roosevelt Memorial Association have heard with profound regret of Miss Macy’s death. They recognize, of course, that it will be impossible for Miss Keller to come to the dinner on October 27 to receive the Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal and will postpone the presentation until next year. The dinner, however, will be held as usual. The speakers will be announced later.”. Newspaper clipping from the New York Herald Tribune on October 21, 1936. Headline: Mrs. Anne Macy, Helen Keller's Teacher, Dies- 50-Yr. Companionship Ends Week Before Both Were to Receive Roosevelt Medals- Tutor's Own Eyes Failed- Pupil at Bedside, Prays for Strength in Silent Dark. New York Herald Tribune. less
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  • Samuel P. Hayes Research Library, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. Contact host institution for more information.