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This child was born in Massachusetts in 1866 into extreme poverty. Her parents were Irish immigrants. She was the oldest of five children, two of whom died in infancy. Her father was an illiterate, unskilled, abusive alcoholic. Her mother was sickly with tuberculosis, and by the time the child was 4 or 5, her mother could only walk aided by crutches.
When the child was five, she was stricken with a disease that caused her to go nearly blind. Two years later, her mother died from her illness. The child's father, not wanting or able to care for children, initially sent her brother and sister to live with relatives, but kept his eldest daughter, only 8 years old, at home to keep house for him and essentially function as his servant.
Not long afterward, when the child's little brother was returned home, himself sickly with tuberculosis, her father brought both of the children to a poorhouse and abandoned them there. The conditions were filthy and terrifying. The children were exposed to numerous adults with mental disorders and physical diseases and disabilities. The child's little brother grew more sick and died. The child would suffer from night terrors and rages for the rest of her life because of her time at this place, which stretched into years. In later life, she would write that the place left her with
"the conviction that life is primarily cruel and bitter."
One day, when she was 14, the head of a charity visited the poorhouse, and the child sought him out and pleaded with him to send her to a school, where she might learn. Thus, the charity arranged for her to be sent to a boarding school for the blind.
But it was not easy. Already an adolescent, she had had no schooling at all, and she was socially and academically far behind the other students. Unlike the other students, she came from an utterly impoverished background -- she had never even owned a comb, or worn a nightgown, or done many things other children her age had done and took for granted. She felt humiliated by her lack of social skills, and was defiant and irritable as a defense mechanism, becoming nicknamed "Miss Spitfire".
But the school's director took an interest in her. He recognized her native intellect and decided to tutor her. With this help, and hard work, she started to catch up. In turn, she helped tutor younger students. During the six years she would spend at the school, the charity also provided for a series of operations that partly restored her sight. Ultimately she graduated, although at age 20, much older than the other students in her class, but as valedictorian.
After graduating, she went to work in a teaching position where she could use the skills she had gained. In connection with that position, she created techniques to aid the education of the blind. She married a Harvard University instructor and literary critic, but he was essentially a ne'er-do-well. The marriage was childless, and the two separated when he abandoned the marriage after only a few years.
She formed a partnership with her best friend, a woman whom she had met when the friend was still a child, and together they authored books, gave lectures, and performed on the vaudeville circuit, as well as produced a movie. They became widely known around the world. Today, her name is famous and her accomplishments are legendary. She overcame the severest of hardships, and devoted her life to helping others do so as well.
After her death at age 70, this child was the first woman to be honored with a resting place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. based solely on her own achievements. In 2003, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her story has been portrayed in numerous books, plays and movies.
She was "Teacher", Helen Keller's "miracle worker":
Johanna Mansfield Sullivan Macy, aka "Annie Sullivan", a girl from a "fatherless home."
This fatherless child story was researched and co-written by Elizabeth G.
* The term "fatherless" is used in this series as it is in current research and policy rhetoric by the U.S. federal government, DHHS and the National Fatherhood Initiative, most U.S. states in connection with child custody law and policy, and various family values and fatherhood interest policy and lobbying groups.
"...Just add Dad, the magic ingredient. It's hard to know where wishful thinking becomes deliberate deception. But this argument, advanced by the fathers' rights movement, is like saying that, since Mercedes Benz owners make more money than people who drive Hyundais, you will become wealthy if you buy a Mercedes..." Mike Peterson
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