So What?

Anne Sullivan: Teaching the Mute to Speak

So What?

"In the 1800s, people with disabilities were considered meager, tragic, pitiful individuals unfit and unable to contribute to society, except to serve as ridiculed objects of entertainment in circuses and exhibitions" (Disability Rights Movement | backgrounders). ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

"These events impacted education and the reformers who pushed for it. The reform of education for people with disabilities in the 1800s was a reaction to the absence of educational opportunities for these populations" (Disability History: Educational Reform). 

Anne Sullivan was one of the many reformers in the 1800s and strived to provide her only prodigy with the educational opportunities the public denied her. Anne Sullivan's persistence in showing that Helen was more than entertainment changed the way people saw the disabled community. 

Statue of Sullivan and Keller at the Tewksbury Almshouse.

(Perkins School for the Blind Archives)


 In her teaching, Anne was able to show that someone who grew up blind, deaf, and mute was trainable and could learn to speak. She accomplished the impossible and allowed a young girl to achieve her dreams. As a result of her ability to use the teaching techniques, she was able to prove that the deafblind are teachable. 

"In the fall of 2003, Anne Sullivan Macy was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, an organization that honors in perpetuity women "whose contributions...have been the greatest value for the development of their country" (American Foundation for the Blind).

"Sullivan’s dedication and innovative teaching had made it possible for Keller to break through the formidable barriers that challenged people with multiple disabilities. Both became role models for thousands of physically challenged people around the world and raised thousands of dollars for organizations that assisted the blind. Sullivan’s focus, persistence, and creativity forged a model that contributed to changing public perceptions regarding the capabilities of people with disabilities. Her insight and dedication contributed to the contemporary expansion of opportunities for people with disabilities and to breaking down myths and stereotypes, furthering social and economic justice" (Women's Hall of Fame).

But not only was she inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame but was also awarded the honorary degree from Temple University.

Letter to Anne Sullivan Macy December 23, 1930 from A. Edward Newton.

[American Foundation for the Blind].

​​​​​​​Letter States:

My dear Lady: 

Dr. Beury has sent me a copy of your letter to him of December 17th, in which you graciously but firmly decline the honorary degree which Temple University considers giving you. I think I violate no confidence when I say that I made this suggestion, which was favorably received and acted upon by the Trustees. Permit me to give my reasons for hoping that you will reconsider your decision.

First, I regard Helen Keller as one of the most remarkable personalities now living, and I have always thought that what you have done with her was little, if any, less remarkable than what she was able to do for herself. To put it vulgarly, she was inside seeking to look out, whereas you were outside looking in. You could not have the same longing for the light that she had. I am not alone in this feeling: it is the feeling of all who have given your great achievement a moment's consideration.

Another reason why I trust you will accept the degree which Temple offers is this: it gives Temple an opportunity of announcing its wish to encourage rare achievement wherever it may be found, especially when the recipient of its honor occupies a position which makes it unlikely that she can ever do anything by way of return. Too many degrees are given by universities in the hope of receiving a quid pro quo. Temple is not moved by this. Its honor then you have no right to decline. May it not be that Miss Keller and your many friends more correctly appraise the value of your work than you do?

I hope, too, that both you and Miss Keller (with your maid) will honor me by being my guests when you come to Philadelphia. I live in the country, as most Philadelphians do, but I will place a motor and chauffeur at your disposal and do everything in my power to make your stay in Philadelphia memorable.

Permit me to wish you, both, the compliments of the season.

Yours very sincerely,

A. Edward Newton

(American Foundation for the Blind).

Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller accepting the honarary degree at Temple University

[American Foundation for the Blind]

"Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller dramatically changed the world's perception of individuals with disabilities." 

-- Perkins School for the Blind   

"Anne Sullivan has served as an inspiration for the teachers who help these students achieve their potential" (Anne Sullivan | Perkins School for the Blind)

"Anne was a pioneer in the field of education. Her work with Helen Keller became the blueprint for education of children who were blind, deaf-blind, or visually impaired that still continues today" (Anne Sullivan Macy: American Foundation for the Blind). 

There are several charities around the world today such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind, American Foundation for the Blind, Third World Eye Care Society, and The Anne Sullivan Foundation for people who are deafblind, that started in honor of her perseverance and determination. They believe that, "We’re a catalyst for change – inspiring people with sight loss to transform their own personal experience, their community and, ultimately, society as a whole. Our focus is on giving them the help, support and tools they need to realise their aspirations" (Royal National Institute for the Blind). 

Anne showed everyone that, despite the challenges we are presented with, we are able to overcome them when we persevere. The confidence her mentors instilled in her was shown through encouragement for Helen. This teaches us that there is always someone who believes in us. In her lifetime, Anne broke the communication barrier, the barrier between the disabled and the rest of society, and made it possible for us to break the mental barrier between us and our successes. She quietly lives on in the hearts of those who recognize what she did in history so everyone could be equal despite their disabilities.

Created by: Yulianna Bullock, Mataya Pacheco, Emma Reynolds