The alphabet is one of our most progressive inventions, a unique concept with such profound implications. The act of stringing together characters to create a word, which has the ability to change meaning by the mere manipulation of its placement in a row, is indeed extraordinary. The word “but” is a conjunction, however switch the letters and we get “tub”, a noun. Then if we add a few letters we can have the word “cat” and with the addition of an “s”, placed before or after the word, we get two distinct words and two different definitions, “cats” or “scat”. Put them together with a space between and we have a sentence “scat cat!”
One can all agree that the inventions of the 21st century certainly have improved our lives, but let us not forget those that came before us… the offering that has most likely contributed most universally, impacting and influencing effects on civilization to the greatest degree… the alphabet.
Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Anne Sullivan (1866-1836) (Born Johanna “Anne” Mansfield Sullivan Macy). An accomplished American educator, she is best known as the teacher and companion of Helen Keller. Anne was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts to Irish immigrants who came to the United States to escape the notorious potato famine. Sullivan and her surviving siblings grew up in impoverished conditions, and struggled with health problems. Anne contracted an eye disease, trachoma, at the age of five and nearly caused her to lose her sight. Her mother suffered from tuberculosis and died when Anne was eight years old.
Left with an abusive father, she and her brother were sent to live at an almshouse for the poor, however after a short time the younger brother dies and Anne is left alone. Wanting to get an education, she convinces a prominent group of inspectors of the almshouse to allow her to leave and she is sent to the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Having never attended school, she proves that she is intelligent and quick learner, tutoring other students at the school. After undergoing surgery, she regains some of her own vision back.
Overcoming her own disabilities, in 1887, Anne Sullivan accepts a positon of teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. To prepare herself, Sullivan studies the case of a former Perkins student who was also blind, deaf, and mute who had been taught to communicate through the use of raised letters and manual language.
Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, the previously difficult and defiant Helen Keller flourishes, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” remained Keller’s interpreter and constant companion until the Sullivan’s death in 1936.
First image: Photograph of sculpture by Robert Indiana, 1970