In 1881, after suffering what was called "brain fever"--possibly scarlet fever--when she was only nineteen months, Helen Keller was left blind and deaf. Her father, referred to as Captain Keller, was the typical patriarch of a Southern family and influential man in his community of Tuscumbia, Alabama. His wife Kate was a doting mother who found the illness of Helen difficult to accept.
In "The Miracle Worker," after several doctors have examined and treated Helen to no avail, Captain Keller tells his wife that it is futile and a waste of money to seek any others. Nevertheless, the loving mother cannot give up hope and locates a governess for Helen from the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston: Anne Sullivan, who herself has recovered from blindness to partial vision at the institute. When Kate is apprehensive upon meeting Anne about the twenty-year-old's youth, Anne assures her that the energy of a young person will be an asset to the task ahead, as well as her experience at having been blind, and, indeed, they are.
Kate wants to bring in a governess for Helen who can help to teach her. Ann wants to teach Helen sign language. She is aware that Helen needs to have a language in order for her to be able to communicate her wants and needs. She begins right away by spelling into Helen's hands. Helen does not understand the relationship of the spelling and does various things to get out of the lessons. She is also very obstinate and spoiled which Anne realizes needs to be addressed before she can really begin to help Helen to learn.
Helen locks Ann in a room and hides the key. This results in the door having to be taken down to free Anne.
Ann is blind nearly because she had an eye condition that required her to have many surgeries.