because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Anne Sullivan

Anne Sullivan was eight years old when her mother died and she and her younger brother were sent to an orphanage in 1874. By the time she left the orphanage four years later, untreated eye infections had left her virtually blind, so she was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind, where she learned sign language and how to function generally in daily life.

One might have expected that, after graduation, she would just spend the rest of her life trying to recuperate from her awful childhood, but while it was not immediately recognizable, Sullivan's struggles had made her an in-your-face woman. So when a family named Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, contacted the Director of the Perkins School about needing a teacher for their out-of-control blind and deaf daughter, Helen, Sullivan agreed to pick up and go.

Moving from the Boston, Massachusetts, area to a small town in Alabama as a blind twenty-year-old -- after all her other ordeals -- was daunting, indeed. For one thing, the rampant racism and sexism so embedded in local tradition horrified Sullivan. And Keller showed no signs whatsoever of being teachable. Nevertheless, Sullivan hunkered down and refused to walk away. So, in time, she broke through to her young charge and a forty-nine year relationship was forged.

The story -- entitled The Miracle Worker -- appeared on television, then moved to Broadway, and ultimately was produced as an Oscar-winning feature-length film. A book about her first month with Keller (from Sullivan's perspective) was published in 2007 under the title Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. And the play was back on Broadway as recently as 2010. Even when in-your-face women's lives are primarily private, the way they live them often finds its way into the public eye. How could it be otherwise?

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