The Life of Helen Keller, A Series - Part 2 Expanding Her Bounds

A multi-part, in-depth series on the life of Helen Keller. Part 2: Expanding Her Bounds

From the excitement gained at the water pump, Helen continued her education at various schools for blind and deaf children, where she learned arithmetic, French, and Latin. In 1896, Helen enrolled at The Cambridge School for Young Ladies, a private high school. It was here that Helen was first exposed to an educational system not built to specifically serve the disabled. The hardships caused by this fact, however, did not slow Helen whatsoever.

At school, Anne accompanied Helen to every lecture and every class, translating lessons for Helen in the palm of her hand. When outside the classroom, Anne worked determinedly to translate all of Helen’s books into Braille, helping Helen to continue her studies. Of this Helen wrote, “I could not take notes in class or write exercises; but I wrote all my compositions and translations at home on my typewriter.”[i] From her astonishing spirit and personality, many of Helen’s classmates sought to learn sign language in order to converse with Helen.[ii]

As a small child, Helen once proclaimed, “someday I shall go to college – but I shall go to Harvard.”[iii] Harvard was an all male college at the time; yet Helen did not allow her dream to die.

In 1900, Helen’s dream became reality when she enrolled at Radcliffe College, the female coordinate college of Harvard. During her preliminary examinations, Helen passed all of her tests, even receiving honors in German and English.[iv] Surprised by Helen’s quick ability to learn and excel in every subject, Many administrators surmised that Anne was to account for this success. As a result, Anne could not help Helen translate her tests and examinations, none of which were printed in Braille.[v]

Even though Anne was replaced by a new translator, Helen continued to excel, exhibiting her intellect and proving that she relied on no one. Helen recalled, “The administrative board of Radcliffe did not realize how difficult they were making my examinations, nor did they understand the peculiar difficulties I had to surmount. But if they unintentionally placed obstacles in my way, I have the consolation of knowing that I overcame them all.”[vi]

Helen graduated from Radcliffe cum laude four years later, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, becoming the first blind-deaf individual to earn such a distinction. During her junior year, Helen wrote her autobiography The Story of My Life, the first of thirteen books. Throughout her life, Helen respected her education, as it gave her the chance to better express her unique situation and philosophy to others. Above all else, Helen understood that “the highest result of education is tolerance.”[vii]


[i]Keller, The Story of My Life, pg. 84.

[ii]Keller, The Story of My Life, pg. 87.

[iii]Keller, The Story of My Life, pg. 83.

[iv]Keller, The Story of My Life, pg. 87.

[v]Keller, The Story of My Life, pg. 93.

[vi]Keller, The Story of My Life, pg. 95.

[vii]Helen Keller, My Key of Life: Optimism, (London: Isbister & Co., 1903), pg. 44.


© Matthew Gordon, 2011

Helen, during her graduation.
Helen, during her graduation.

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