The event was of such interest to the community that several hundred people arrived at the Tuesday Club at 2724 L St., across the street from Sutter’s Fort and just west of East Sacramento, to greet Helen and her teacher on Monday, March 16, 1914 at 8 p.m. The crowd was believed to have been the largest audience to have ever assembled at the Tuesday Club in its then 18-year history.
A report on the event in the following day’s edition of The Sacramento Bee was quick to note that Anne was of “almost equal interest” to the attendees of the gathering due to her dedication and success in working with Helen.
Prior to Anne’s involvement with Helen, she had been raised in poverty by Irish immigrants. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother died from tuberculosis when she was 9 years old.
When she was about 7 years old, Anne, who was a native of Feeding Hills, Mass., developed trachoma, which severely affected her vision.
Anne, who began attending the Perkins Institution for the Blind (now Perkins School for the Blind) in Watertown, Mass. in 1880, underwent successful eye operations in 1881 and 1882.
On March 3, 1887, about a year after she graduated as the valedictorian from the aforementioned school for the blind, Anne began her work tutoring Helen.
Helen, who was born in Tuscumbia, Ala., was the daughter of Civil War veteran and newspaper editor Arthur Keller and Kate Adams.
Although Helen was born with the ability to see and hear, when she was 1 and a half years old, she had lost those abilities due to what was then described by Helen’s doctors as an “acute congestion of the stomach and brain” or “brain fever.”
The professional medical belief today is that the mysterious illness that nearly took Helen’s life was possibly meningitis, scarlet fever, or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
With her condition, Helen often threw temper tantrums, broke items and physically attacked members of her family.
While seeking assistance for Helen, Arthur and Kate were referred to Alexander Graham Bell.
Bell, who was best known for inventing the telephone, also worked on projects to assist the deaf.
After spending time with the Kellers, Bell referred them to the aforementioned Perkins Institution for the Blind.
That school eventually recommended that Anne become Helen’s teacher and instruct her under the methods of Perkins’ first director, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876).
Anne’s first project was to teach Helen discipline and self-control.
And once Helen became a calmer person, Anne began to teach her words by outlining letters with her fingers in Helen’s hands and associating those words with particular things.
Helen, who once said, “I have always felt I was using the five senses within me,” would eventually learn to read, write and speak. She also became competent in a few foreign languages and mathematics, and learned to ride a horse and dance in time to a fox trot or waltz.
Helen’s studies included formal schooling at the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City and the Cambridge (Massachusetts) School for Young Ladies.
In the fall of 1900, Helen became the first deaf-blind person to attend college, when she enrolled at Radcliffe College (now Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study) in Cambridge. She accomplished the remarkable feat of graduating cum laude from that institution four years later.
Helen also became a published writer of both magazine articles and books. Her first book, “The Story of My Life,” was published in 1902.
With the assistance of Anne as an interpreter, Helen became involved with many lecturing events, including the featured lecture of this article: the Sacramento lecture of March 16, 1914.
In a preview for that hour-long event, The Bee, in its March 14, 1914 edition, referred to Helen’s ability to rise above her adversities with the help of Anne and others as “one of the greatest educational achievements of the age.”
And in commenting about Anne’s remarkable work with Helen, The Bee noted: “Mrs. Macy has been the teacher, guide and friend of Miss Keller for twenty-seven years. She made an accomplished woman out of a sightless, voiceless, deaf little animal that at 6 years of age (when Mrs. Macy first took charge of her) had not seemingly the semblance of intelligence.”
In further publicizing the event, the article included the following words: “About two years ago, Charles White, a singing teacher of New England added his efforts to Mrs. Macy’s in an attempt to teach her to talk, the success of which will be demonstrated next Monday evening by Miss Keller herself. The young woman speaks three (languages) and reads five languages besides playing the piano and violin. She has written two successful books and has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe – a well-known women’s college.”
Despite this historic account’s reference to Helen’s piano and violin playing ability, it should be recognized that she actually did not play an instrument.
In a June 25, 1950 New York Times article, which was written in celebration of Helen’s 70th birthday, it was mentioned that “legend has guilded (sic) the lily of her achievement and by exaggeration almost belittled it. Helen Keller does not paint or play the piano. Even as a child she was too impatient to model in clay; she wanted to use her hands in reading and she read so much the tips of her fingers ached.”
Prior to the night’s lecture at the Tuesday Club, which was entitled “The Heart and the Hand,” the audience experienced some suspense as only Anne initially appeared on stage.
During that time, Anne, who married a Harvard University instructor named John Albert Macy on May 3, 1905, explained that the audience should not expect too much when listening to Helen’s speech.
Anne later demonstrated the method in which Helen learned to speak.
That method was explained in the March 16, 1914 edition of The Bee, as follows: “Even more Herculean (than reading by Braille) was the task of learning to speak through pure mechanical development of the muscles of the throat, the position of the tongue and the vibrations received by placing her hands on the throat and lips and nose of her teacher.”
In describing the moment in which Helen spoke at the Tuesday Club, The Bee noted: “Listening intently, the greater portion of what she said could be heard, and little or none of it was missed by those seated near enough to see the movement of the lips and mouth. It was really an overwhelming moment for most of her listeners.”
During a question and answer session at the event, which was free to Tuesday Club members and had a nominal cost for other attendees, Helen was asked how she was enjoying California.
With a smile, Helen replied, “Oh, I like it. It’s so full of sweet smells.”
And after being asked to name her favorite faculty, Helen spoke about “hearing” the vibrations of music through her feet.
Helen also expressed her disappointment with not being able to speak to Sacramento schoolchildren during her visit to the capital city due to her scheduled trip to San Francisco on the following day.
Anne and Helen later took on another joint activity, as they performed in vaudeville acts from 1922 to 1924.
Anne passed away at the age of 70 on Oct. 20, 1936. She was completely blind in both eyes at the time of her death.
As Anne was beginning to lose her sight completely in about 1933, Helen began teaching her to use a new form of Braille.
In commenting about that act of kindness and appreciation, The New York Times noted: “The ‘blind leading the blind’ will henceforth have a new meaning wherever the story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller is known.”
After the death of Anne, Polly Thomson became Helen’s aide. Thomson died in 1960, and Winifred Corbally took on the role of Helen’s assistant until Helen’s death.
Although Helen, who became an advocate for the disabled, a political activist and visited in the White House with every U.S. president from Grover Cleveland to John F. Kennedy, died 26 days shy of her 88th birthday on June 1, 1968, her legacy as one who overcame tremendous obstacles in life remains one of America’s most inspirational stories.