Tewksbury was the location of a public institution for the poor near Boston, where Annie Sullivan and her brother were sent after the death of their mother. The Tewksbury Almshouse was notorious for its harsh living conditions and questionable practices in its treatment of the needy.
After the death of her brother Jimmy, Annie was sent briefly to a hospital in Lowell, Massachusetts, where an unsuccessful surgery was performed on her eyes. Upon being returned to Tewksbury, Annie resolved to secure her release from the institution. When a government official came to observe living conditions at Tewksbury, she threw herself upon his mercy and begged him to give her a chance to attend the Perkins Institute, a school for blind children of which she had heard. Surprisingly, her plea was granted, and Annie was allowed to leave Tewksbury to advance her education.