Helen Keller's Bookshelf

Dorothy Herrmann, author of Helen Keller: A Life, tells us about the writer and activist’s passion for philosophy, love of Walt Whitman, and devotion to the work of a Swedish theologian.

Illustration of famous books

Illustration by Jane Mount

June 1, 2018

Helen Keller was very well read. Reading was one of her few pleasures because, as a woman who was totally deaf and blind, she really couldn’t hear music or see paintings. Before braille was first standardized in the United States in 1918, there were about five different types of raised point, and she knew all of them. She fought for braille to be standardized and was very glad when that came to pass; having to deal with reading material in all of these different raised prints was very difficult.

She knew several languages and was able to read in braille the works of foreign authors. She read Goethe and Schiller in German, Molière in French, Milton’s poetry in English. She was especially interested in philosophy. Referring to her years at Radcliffe College, she wrote, “I was so happily at home in philosophy that it well would have rendered those four difficult years worthwhile. Philosophy taught me how to keep on guard against the misconceptions which sprang from the limited experience of one who lives in a world without color and without sound.”

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