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Snippet of Historical Figures: Helen Keller

From Audio: Helen Keller

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station description Big Lives. Little-known Facts.
Historical Figures
Duration: 04:17
Much of Anne Sullivan's life was spent tending to Keller's education, but in this snippet, you'll listen to how her self-reliance was a tool she'd one day teach her pupil.
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From an early childhood wrought with loss and abandonment, to her struggle to secure an education for herself, BY herself, to her first pupil and the inexperience with which she took the job, Anne Sullivan embodies many qualities of the perfect educator. With little more than her own intelligence, and the will to grow into an individual, Sullivan demonstrates the sacrifices and successes that gave her the empathy, patience, and skill to teach the unteachable.
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Um, And now let's continue our story. Annie Sullivan became a seminal part of Helen Keller story, but at this point she was still a young woman, wondering if she was in over her head. Anne was one of five Children born toe Irish immigrants in Massachusetts. The family lived in extreme poverty, and it only got worse after Annie's mother died. When Annie was just eight years old. Two years later, 10 year old Annie was abandoned by her alcoholic father and went to live in the poor house with her five year old brother, Jimmy. It was, ah ha rowing existence. The house was home to the sick and infirm prostitutes and predators, rats and cockroaches, infection and disease. All Anne had was her little brother, Jimmy, and then not even him. Jimmy died of tuberculosis only three months after they were sent to the poor house. It seems like more heartbreak than one person could handle, but Annie Sullivan persevered. She spent the next four years at that place and later eloquently described herself as a small, incidental figure in the great canvas of human misery. Annie had her own physical limitations. She suffered from trachoma and eye disease that made her nearly blind. In the summer of 18 80 an inspection team came to the poor house because they had heard reports of malfeasance, and he seized the opportunity to run in front of the investigators and shout, I want to go to school! The bold declaration paid off in October of 18 80 when Annie Sullivan was 14 and Helen Keller was just a few months old. Anne was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind, still known at the time as the Perkins Institution for the Blind. You might think going to school was salvation for Annie, but ironically, she soon wished she was back the poor house at Perkins. She felt adrift because the students were so straight laced she missed the excitement of the stories she heard from the prostitutes and other characters at her old home. She also felt out of place because her clothing was drab and the other girls made fun of her mistakes and picked on her because she was Irish. But eventually she found her way, learning how to spell with the manual alphabet and how to read braille. She also had a couple of eye operations while she was at Perkins. That improved her vision to the point where she could read for short periods of time. Annie attended Perkins for six years and in 18 86 graduated as class valedictorian. 18 86 is also the year that the director of the Perkins School, Michael and Agnos, received the letter from Arthur Keller asking for a teacher for his daughter. Helen, and Agnos decided that this would be Annie Sullivan's assignment. In March of 18 87 20 year old Annie Sullivan arrived in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to meet her pupil, six year old Helen Keller. Little did they know that this relationship would last for the next 49 years, and he wasn't sure she would last 49 days. There was the culture shock of arriving in the South, and although she had been warned by friends not to discuss the Civil War, that only lasted until Captain Keller's brother, Uncle Frank, showed up from Knoxville. Any later, said Uncle Frank, whose sons had died fighting for the Confederacy, was as argumentative, aggressive and vindictive as I was on this led to a shouting match. Naturally, Captain Keller took his brother's side and told Anne that her strong opinions constituted an outrageous display of prejudice and ignorance. Nanny was also concerned because she had never worked as a teacher before, although she had spent months at the Perkins School preparing for this job, she had never had a student or tried any of her methods. And then there was Helen Keller herself. If Annie had to describe her six year old pupil in a word, it would be spoiled. The Kellers had organized their life around making sure Helen was happy. So they put up with her outbursts and her bad habits, like grabbing food off of people's plates. Annie Sullivan.
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