Elements of Friendship: Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Drawing of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

"I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light."

- Helen Keller


When I think about epic friendships in history, I think about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.

Many know the basic facts about their story, but some of the greatest aspects of their friendship are not as well known: the empathy, camaraderie, and service Helen and Anne shared.


At 19 months old, Helen Keller became blind and deaf and suffered for many years because her family had no way of communicating with her. The frustration of not being able to communicate made her throw tantrums and develop very bad manners.

Anne Sullivan came into Keller's life when she was 6 years old, and having suffered vision loss herself, Sullivan had a special empathy toward Keller. It was with this empathy that she was able to teach Keller the alphabet using touch techniques and eventually learning to speak verbally and use sign language.


Anne Sullivan stayed at Helen Keller's side for 49 years as her interpreter, guide, and friend.

They faced a great deal of trials together such as plagiarism scandals and money troubles, just to name a few. Due to Keller's disability, Sullivan was constantly being accused for planting political and social ideas into Keller's mind, as if Keller did not have a mind of her own. Even though Keller and Sullivan spent a lot of time together, they still lived separate lives and were individuals, but people could not grasp that concept. In fact, people even accused them of faking Keller's deaf blindness.

Although they suffered together, they also shared many happy memories together. They were able to start many charitable foundations, give public speeches, and become role models for the disabled community. Many blind and deaf people have graduated from college and accomplished great things since then, but since Keller was the first to do so, Sullivan and Keller paid the price and remained friends through it all.


Anne Sullivan is famously known as being Helen Keller's teacher, but as much as Sullivan helped Keller, Keller also helped Sullivan.

Anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller how to communicate and opened her up to a world of education and possibility. Keller was a published author and wrote 12 books in her lifetime, all of which Sullivan helped her edit and perform the tasks that she would do if Keller had sight.

In a time where women's rights were severely undermined, Keller and Sullivan worked together. Supporting themselves financially as women, let alone disabled women, was not typically heard of. Thankfully, Sullivan benefitted greatly from Keller's talents and intelligence. They went on tour, appeared in a documentary, and Keller even wrote a biography on Anne Sullivan.


Overall, Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller's friendship is one to learn from. While maintaining their individuality, both women formed a wonderful lifelong relationship that impacted the world. They surely did not have a perfect friendship, but Sullivan and Keller had the elements of a healthy friendship--all elements we should apply to our own friendships.

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