Happy International Women’s Day!
To mark the occasion I thought I would write a short post about two women I have recently read about, Anne Sullivan Macy and Helen Keller. Last Saturday marked the one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of these two ladies meeting each other. Below is a potted history of how they met and how they forged an inspiring partnership, which shaped the way deaf/blind people are educated today.
In 1887 Anne Sullivan Macy began teaching seven year old Helen Keller, deaf and blind since she was 19 months old. When they first met Helen was unable to communicate well with her family, the frustration she felt manifested itself in behavioural problems. Helen’s life began to change when Anne, visually impaired herself, was asked to teach her. Anne started teaching Helen by finger spelling words, progress was slow Helen’s continuing behavioural problems also hindered her learning. However, Anne’s influence and perseverance meant that her behaviour soon settled down.
The situation improved dramatically one day when Anne spelt ‘water’ on Helen’s hand, then placed it under a tap of running water. Understanding the spelling and meaning of ‘water’ was a defining moment for teacher and pupil. Helen’s amazing progress made her famous, which lead to her travelling around the world with Anne, giving lectures and appearing in Vaudeville shows. Later films, theatre productions and documentaries based on their story were made.
Anne and Helen went on to forge a fourty nine year partnership, whilst Anne’s teaching style became the blueprint for teaching deaf and deaf-blind children worldwide.