Ann Sullivan was born in Feeding Hills in Massachusetts in April of 1866, the oldest child of Alice and Thomas Sullivan. Anne Sullivan contracted trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eye. The disease causes recurring and painful infections that leaves the eyes looking red and swollen. When she was eight years old, she lost her mother. Her father, Thomas Sullivan, felt that he could not take care of his motherless children so he abandoned them. Shortly after, Anne and her younger brother, Jimmie, were sent to live in the poor house in Tewksbury.
Poor House at Tewksbury
The poorhouse was in a deplorable state; it was underfunded, crowded, and the house was falling apart given that it lacked repairs. There were at least 940 women and children, the mortality rate was very high, and three months into their stay, Jimmie Sullivan died.
A few people took an interest in Anne Sullivan, and they extended opportunities that would reshape her future. Anne underwent eye operations, but it only gave her short-term relief from her pain. During her stay at the poor house, between 1874 and 1880, she learned of schools offering blind children a formal education and getting in one of the schools became Anne’s focus.
During a commissioners’ visit to the poor house, Anne told one that she wanted to go to school and that moment changed her life. She was enrolled at the Perkins Institution, and at 14 years old, she could not read, write her name, and she received the blunt edge of jokes and ridicule. However, she was wise in the ways of the world, politics, and tragedy. Anne closed the gaps between her and the other girls who were from prosperous farmers and wealthy families. She was the Valedictorian of the graduating class of June 1886, and she called on her fellow graduates to have an active life.