Today is the 142nd anniversary of the birth of one of the most extraordinary teachers in American history, Annie Sullivan, who gave a little blind and deaf girl the power of language. William Gibson, who wrote two plays about the teacher and her student, says that when people refer to “The Miracle Worker” as “the play about Helen Keller,” he replies, “If it was about her, it would be called ‘The Miracle Workee.'” Sullivan, herself visually impaired, was first in her class at the Perkins School for the Blind. When she went to work for the Keller family she was just 21 years old. And Keller, who was blind and deaf due to an illness when she was 19 months old. When Sullivan arrived, Keller was almost completely wild, without any ability to communicate or any understanding that communication beyond grabbing and hitting was possible.
Every family should watch the extraordinary film about what happened next, and read more about Keller, who, with Sullivan’s help, graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude and became an author and a world figure.
Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars for their performances as Sullivan and Keller, repeating their Broadway roles and Duke later played Sullivan in a made-for-television adaptation. In this scene, after months of teaching Keller to fingerspell words, Sullivan is finally able to show her that language will give her the ability to communicate, with a new world of relationships, feelings, and learning. No teacher ever bestowed a greater gift.