Anne Sullivan: The Blind Woman Who Taught Helen Keller

By Phin Upham

Hailing from the region of Feeding Hills, Massachussetts, Anne Sullivan was the oldest of her family’s children. Her parents were both illiterate and unskilled. They journeyed to the US in 1860 from Ireland to escape the Great Potato Famine there.


When she was eight, she contracted trachoma. She suffered painful infections in her eyes, and went partially blind. To make things worse, her mother died that same year and her father left two years later out of fear that he was inadequate. She was sent to an almshouse in Tewksbury Massachussetts along with her brother, who died three months after arriving at the hospital from a debilitating hip ailment.

Anne underwent some surgeries at the almshouse that helped treat her condition, but ultimately not to any serious effect. As a result, Anne did not develop skills in literature or arithmetic. She could only find work as a housemaid.

It was not until an 1880 inspection of her almshouse that she was able to meet and convince one of the inspectors that she should be sent to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. She successfully enrolled there in 1880, but her rough manners made it tough for her in the beginning. Soon, she adapted to schooling and graduated Perkins at the age of 20. She was valedictorian of her class as well.

After her education at Perkins, she took a job working for a man named Arthur Keller. His daughter, Helen, was both blind and deaf. Anne successfully broke barriers of language and sight to teach Helen Keller how to live a fulfilling life.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.