Saturday 3 March 2012

The Miracle Worker

W-A-T-E-R signed Anne Sullivan into the hand of Helen Keller, a six year old girl who was blind and deaf.  Then she held Helen's hand under the water pump so that she would associate the word with the thing that it represented.  All of a sudden, Helen had an "Aha!" moment as she realized that the two were interconnected.  "Wa-wa!" she said.  For the first time in several years, the young girl had spoken.  The "Miracle Worker" had perfomred her magic.

Anne Sullivan was born in 1866 in Massachusetts.  As a child she suffered an infection which led to blindness.  Anne enrolled at the Perkins Institute for the Blind where she learned the manual alphabet.  On March 3, 1887, Anne arrived at Ivy Green, the Keller's Alabama home, to tutor Helen, on the recommendation of the Perkins Institute.  Mr. and Mrs. Keller had sought the advice of Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with the deaf, about their daughter and he had recommended the Institute. 

Finding the young blind and deaf girl quite strong-willed and uncontrollable, Anne spent the first few weeks socializing and disciplining her.  In time, the teacher gained her pupil's trust and the relationship blossomed.  The first gift that Anne gave Helen was a D-O-L-L which she signed into her hand.  One by one Miss Sullivan spelled out words into the young girl's hand.  At first the task seemed futile.  However, by that April, the breakthrough would take place when Helen would realize that these letters that Anne was signing into her hand represented the objects that she handed her.

Anne went on to teach Helen not only sign language but also Braille and lip-reading (using her hands).  She also taught Helen how to speak by putting her hand against her throat so that Helen could feel the vibrations of her voice box.  By 1894, Helen and Anne moved to New York City where the former enrolled in the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf.  Two years later Helen attended the Cambridge School for Young Ladies.  She was the first blind and deaf student to graduate from Radcliff College in 1904.  Anne was always by Helen's side as she attended classes at all three schools. 

Helen became an author (The Story of My Life) and a public speaker.  She campaigned as a suffragette and a pacifist.  She met famous people like Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain and every American President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson.

Anne and Helen remained lifelong companions unil the former's death in 1936,  As Helen explained:  "I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light."

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