Joanna Sullivan was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts, on April 14, 1866. For her whole life, she was called by her nickname, Anne or Annie. Her mother died when she was eight, and when she was ten, her father deserted her and her siblings. On top of that, she became blind from an earlier illness. In 1880, she entered the Perkins Institution for the Blind where she underwent surgery and regained some of her sight. She graduated in 1886 at the top of her class.
In March 1887, Anne moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama, to be Helen Keller's governess. She taught Helen the names of things with a manual alphabet signed into Helen's palm. In 1888, they went to the Perkins Institution together, then New York City's Wright-Humasen School, then the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and then Radcliffe College. Helen graduated from Radcliffe in 1904 and after that, they moved together to Wrentham, Massachusetts, and lived on a benefactor's farm.
In 1905, Anne married Harvard instructor John A. Macy, who had helped Helen with her autobiography. However, they were unhappy and divorced in 1913. Still, Anne stayed with Helen at their home and joined her on tours. Sadly, through all her actions, Anne had overexerted herself and her strength, health, and sight declined. In 1935, once again, she became completely blind, and in Forest Hills, New York, on October 20, 1936, she died.