Montessori Alumni Stories - Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

The story of Maria Montessori, Helen Keller, and Annie Sullivan is a story of reciprocity in mutual admiration. The book Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook was dedicated to Helen Keller with these words:

“If a preface is a light which should serve to illuminate the contents of a volume, I choose, not words, but human figures to illustrate this little book intended to enter families where children are growing up. I therefore recall here, as an eloquent symbol, Helen Keller and Mrs. Anne Sullivan Macy, who are, by their example, both teachers to myself--- and, before the world, living adornments of the miracle in education. In fact, Helen Keller is a marvelous example of the phenomenon common to all human beings: the possibility of the liberation of the imprisoned spirit of man by the education of the senses.”

In reciprocity, Anne Sullivan stated in a speech on Helen Keller Day at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915,

“In honoring Helen Keller and her teacher you declare your faith that in every child born into the world there are latent capacities for the development of an individual that shall be an honor to the human race…..To that wonderful woman, Dr. Maria Montessori, belongs the honor and the everlasting gratitude of mankind for having systematized these ideas of education and recorded them in her book; a book that is at once a thrilling human document, a scientific text book, a prophecy and a torch unto all those whose work it is to teach little children. Dr Montessori learned, as I learned, and as every teacher must learn, that only through freedom can individuals develop self-control, self-dependence, will power and initiative. There is no education except self-education. There is no effective discipline except self-discipline. All that parents and teachers can do for the child is surround him with the right conditions.”

Maria Montessori, Helen Keller, and Anne Sullivan were beacons calling for the use and refinement of the senses in education. We owe them our appreciation and gratitude in showing the potential of human beings when allowed to develop in a supportive environment.

As Montessori wrote, “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge. The hands are the instruments of the mind.”

P.S. From sundown March 1 to sundown March 2 is a “National Day of Unplugging”. After reading this story, enjoy with your children a day of no technology; enjoy all the sensorial, hands-on, conversational activities you can!


As Montessori wrote, “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge. The hands are the instruments of the mind.” (photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan, public domain)

As Montessori wrote, “The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge. The hands are the instruments of the mind.” (photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan, public domain)

Barbara Heikkinen