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The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller

 

Part II: Letters (1887 - 1901)

 

1900

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TO  MRS. LAURENCE HUTTON

559 Madison Avenue, New York,

January 2, 1900.

 

...We have been here a week now, and are going to stay with Miss Rhoades until Saturday. We are enjoying every moment of our visit, every one is so good to us. We have seen many of our old friends, and made some new ones. We dined with the Rogers last Friday, and oh, they were so kind to us! The thought of their gentle courtesy and genuine kindness brings a warm glow of joy and gratitude to my heart. I have seen Dr. Greer too. He has such a kind heart! I love him more than ever. We went to St. Bartholomew's Sunday, and I have not felt so much at home in a church since dear Bishop Brooks died. Dr. Greer read so slowly, that my teacher could tell me every word. His people must have wondered at his unusual deliberation. After the service he asked Mr. Warren, the organist to play for me. I stood in the middle of the church, where the vibrations from the great organ were strongest, and I felt the mighty waves of sound beat against me, as the great billows beat against a little ship at sea.

   

 

TO MR. JOHN HITZ

138 Brattle Street, Cambridge,

Feb. 3, 1900.

 

...My studies are more interesting than ever. In Latin, I am reading Horace's odes. Although I find them difficult to translate, yet I think they are the loveliest pieces of Latin poetry I have read or shall ever read. In French we have finished "Colomba," and I am reading "Horace" by Corneille and La Fontaine's fables, both of which are in braille. I have not gone far in either; but I know I shall enjoy the fables, they are so delightfully written, and give such good lessons in a simple and yet attractive way. I do not think I have told you that my dear teacher is reading "The Faery Queen" to me. I am afraid I find fault with the poem as much as I enjoy it. I do not care much for the allegories, indeed I often find them tiresome, and I cannot help thinking that Spenser's world of knights, paynims, fairies, dragons and all sorts of strange creatures is a somewhat grotesque and amusing world; but the poem itself is lovely and as musical as a running brook.

 

I am now the proud owner of about fifteen new books, which we ordered from Louisville. Among them are "Henry Esmond," "Bacon's Essays" and extracts from "English Literature." Perhaps next week I shall have some more books, "The Tempest," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and possibly some selections from Green's history of England. Am I not very fortunate?

 

I am afraid this letter savors too much of books--but really they make up my whole life these days, and I scarcely see or hear of anything else! I do believe I sleep on books every night! You know a student's life is of necessity somewhat circumscribed and narrow and crowds out almost everything that is not in books....

 

TO THE CHAIRMAN OF THE ACADEMIC BOARD OF RADCLIFFE COLLEGE

138 Brattle Street, Cambridge, Mass.,

May 5, 1900.

 

Dear Sir:

As an aid to me in determining my plans for study the coming year, I apply to you for information as to the possibility of my taking the regular courses in Radcliffe College.

 

Since receiving my certificate of admission to Radcliffe last July, I have been studying with a private tutor, Horace, Aeschylus, French, German, Rhetoric, English History, English Literature and Criticism, and English composition.

 

In college I should wish to continue most, if not all of these subjects. The conditions under which I work require the presence of Miss Sullivan, who has been my teacher and companion for thirteen years, as an interpreter of oral speech and as a reader of examination papers. In college she, or possibly in some subjects some one else, would of necessity be with me in the lecture-room and at recitations. I should do all my written work on a typewriter, and if a Professor could not understand my speech, I could write out my answers to his questions and hand them to him after the recitation.

 

Is it possible for the College to accommodate itself to these unprecedented conditions, so as to enable me to pursue my studies at Radcliffe? I realize that the obstacles in the way of my receiving a college education are very great--to others they may seem insurmountable; but, dear Sir, a true soldier does not acknowledge defeat before the battle.

   

 

TO  MRS. LAURENCE HUTTON

38 Brattle Street, Cambridge,

June 9, 1900.

 

...I have not yet heard from the Academic Board in reply to my letter; but I sincerely hope they will answer favorably. My friends think it very strange that they should hesitate so long, especially when I have not asked them to simplify my work in the least, but only to modify it so as to meet the existing circumstances. Cornell has offered to make arrangements suited to the conditions under which I work, if I should decide to go to that college, and the University of Chicago has made a similar offer, but I am afraid if I went to any other college, it would be thought that I did not pass my examinations for Radcliffe satisfactorily....

 

In the fall Miss Keller entered Radcliffe College.

 

TO MR. JOHN HITZ

14 Coolidge Ave., Cambridge,

Nov. 26, 1900.

 

...-- has already communicated with you in regard to her and my plan of establishing an institution for deaf and blind children. At first I was most enthusiastic in its support, and I never dreamed that any grave objections could be raised except indeed by those who are hostile to Teacher, but now, after thinking most SERIOUSLY and consulting my friends, I have decided that --'s plan is by no means feasible. In my eagerness to make it possible for deaf and blind children to have the same advantages that I have had, I quite forgot that there might be many obstacles in the way of my accomplishing anything like what -- proposed.

 

My friends thought we might have one or two pupils in our own home, thereby securing to me the advantage of being helpful to others without any of the disadvantages of a large school. They were very kind; but I could not help feeling that they spoke more from a business than a humanitarian point of view. I am sure they did not quite understand how passionately I desire that all who are afflicted like myself shall receive their rightful inheritance of thought, knowledge and love. Still I could not shut my eyes to the force and weight of their arguments, and I saw plainly that I must abandon --'s scheme as impracticable. They also said that I ought to appoint an advisory committee to control my affairs while I am at Radcliffe. I considered this suggestion carefully, then I told Mr. Rhoades that I should be proud and glad to have wise friends to whom I could always turn for advice in all important matters. For this committee I chose six, my mother, Teacher, because she is like a mother to me, Mrs. Hutton, Mr. Rhoades, Dr. Greer and Mr. Rogers, because it is they who have supported me all these years and made it possible for me to enter college. Mrs. Hutton had already written to mother, asking her to telegraph if she was willing for me to have other advisers besides herself and Teacher. This morning we received word that mother had given her consent to this arrangement. Now it remains for me to write to Dr. Greer and Mr. Rogers....

 

We had a long talk with Dr. Bell. Finally he proposed a plan which delighted us all beyond words. He said that it was a gigantic blunder to attempt to found a school for deaf and blind children, because then they would lose the most precious opportunities of entering into the fuller, richer, freer life of seeing and hearing children. I had had misgivings on this point; but I could not see how we were to help it. However Mr. Bell suggested that -- and all her friends who are interested in her scheme should organize an association for the promotion of the education of the deaf and blind, Teacher and myself being included of course. Under his plan they were to appoint Teacher to train others to instruct deaf and blind children in their own homes, just as she had taught me. Funds were to be raised for the teachers' lodgings and also for their salaries. At the same time Dr. Bell added that I could rest content and fight my way through Radcliffe in competition with seeing and hearing girls, while the great desire of my heart was being fulfilled. We clapped our hands and shouted; -- went away beaming with pleasure, and Teacher and I felt more light of heart than we had for sometime. Of course we can do nothing just now; but the painful anxiety about my college work and the future welfare of the deaf and blind has been lifted from our minds. Do tell me what you think about Dr. Bell's suggestion. It seems most practical and wise to me; but I must know all that there is to be known about it before I speak or act in the matter....

   

 

TO MR. JOHN D. WRIGHT

Cambridge, December 9, 1900.

 

Do you think me a villain and--I can't think of a word bad enough to express your opinion of me, unless indeed horse-thief will answer the purpose. Tell me truly, do you think me as bad as that? I hope not; for I have thought many letters to you which never got on paper, and I am delighted to get your good letter, yes, I really was, and I intended to answer it immediately, but the days slip by unnoticed when one is busy, and I have been VERY busy this fall. You must believe that. Radcliffe girls are always up to their ears in work. If you doubt it, you'd better come and see for yourself.

 

Yes, I am taking the regular college course for a degree. When I am a B.A., I suppose you will not dare call me a villain! I am studying English--Sophomore English, if you please, (though I can't see that it is different from just plain English) German, French and History. I'm enjoying my work even more than I expected to, which is another way of saying that I'm glad I came. It is hard, very hard at times; but it hasn't swamped me yet. No, I am not studying Mathematics, or Greek or Latin either. The courses at Radcliffe are elective, only certain courses in English are prescribed. I passed off my English and advanced French before I entered college, and I choose the courses I like best. I don't however intend to give up Latin and Greek entirely. Perhaps I shall take up these studies later; but I've said goodbye to Mathematics forever, and I assure you, I was delighted to see the last of those horrid goblins! I hope to obtain my degree in four years; but I'm not very particular about that. There's no great hurry, and I want to get as much as possible out of my studies. Many of my friends would be well pleased if I would take two or even one course a year, but I rather object to spending the rest of my life in college....

   

 

TO MR. WILLIAM WADE

14 Coolidge Avenue, Cambridge,

December 9, 1900.

 

...Since you are so much interested in the deaf and blind, I will begin by telling you of several cases I have come across lately. Last October I heard of an unusually bright little girl in Texas. Her name is Ruby Rice, and she is thirteen years old, I think. She has never been taught; but they say she can sew and likes to help others in this sort of work. Her sense of smell is wonderful. Why, when she enters a store, she will go straight to the showcases, and she can also distinguish her own things. Her parents are very anxious indeed to find a teacher for her. They have also written to Mr. Hitz about her.

 

I also know a child at the Institution for the Deaf in Mississippi. Her name is Maud Scott, and she is six years old. Miss Watkins, the lady who has charge of her wrote me a most interesting letter. She said that Maud was born deaf and lost her sight when she was only three months old, and that when she went to the Institution a few weeks ago, she was quite helpless. She could not even walk and had very little use of her hands. When they tried to teach her to string beads, her little hands fell to her side. Evidently her sense of touch has not been developed, and as yet she can walk only when she holds some one's hand; but she seems to be an exceedingly bright child. Miss Watkins adds that she is very pretty. I have written to her that when Maud learns to read, I shall have many stories to send her. The dear, sweet little girl, it makes my heart ache to think how utterly she is cut off from all that is good and desirable in life. But Miss Watkins seems to be just the kind of teacher she needs.

 

I was in New York not long ago and I saw Miss Rhoades, who told me that she had seen Katie McGirr. She said the poor young girl talked and acted exactly like a little child. Katie played with Miss Rhoades's rings and took them away, saying with a merry laugh, "You shall not have them again!" She could only understand Miss Rhoades when she talked about the simplest things. The latter wished to send her some books; but she could not find anything simple enough for her! She said Katie was very sweet indeed, but sadly in need of proper instruction. I was much surprised to hear all this; for I judged from your letters that Katie was a very precocious girl....

 

A few days ago I met Tommy Stringer in the railroad station at Wrentham. He is a great, strong boy now, and he will soon need a man to take care of him; he is really too big for a lady to manage. He goes to the public school, I hear, and his progress is astonishing, they say; but it doesn't show as yet in his conversation, which is limited to "Yes" and "No."...

   

 

TO  MR. CHARLES T. COPELAND

December 20, 1900.

 

My dear Mr. Copeland;

I venture to write to you because I am afraid that if I do not explain why I have stopped writing themes, you will think I have become discouraged, or perhaps that to escape criticism I have beat a cowardly retreat from your class. Please do not think either of these very unpleasant thoughts. I am not discouraged, nor am I afraid. I am confident that I could go on writing themes like those I have written, and I suppose I should get through the course with fairly good marks; but this sort of literary patch-work has lost all interest for me. I have never been satisfied with my work; but I never knew what my difficulty was until you pointed it out to me. When I came to your class last October, I was trying with all my might to be like everybody else, to forget as entirely as possible my limitations and peculiar environment. Now, however, I see the folly of attempting to hitch one's wagon to a star with harness that does not belong to it.

 

I have always accepted other peoples experiences and observations as a matter of course. It never occurred to me that it might be worth while to make my own observations and describe the experiences peculiarly my own. Henceforth I am resolved to be myself, to live my own life and write my own thoughts when I have any. When I have written something that seems to be fresh and spontaneous and worthy of your criticisms, I will bring it to you, if I may, and if you think it good, I shall be happy; but if your verdict is unfavorable, I shall try again and yet again until I have succeeded in pleasing you...

   

 

TO  MRS. LAURENCE HUTTON

14 Coolidge Avenue, Cambridge,

December 27, 1900.

 

...So you read about our class luncheon in the papers? How in the world do the papers find out everything, I wonder. I am sure no reporter was present. I had a splendid time; the toasts and speeches were great fun. I only spoke a few words, as I did not know I was expected to speak until a few minutes before I was called upon. I think I wrote you that I had been elected Vice-President of the Freshman Class of Radcliffe.

 

Did I tell you in my last letter that I had a new dress, a real party dress with low neck and short sleeves and quite a train? It is pale blue, trimmed with chiffon of the same color. I have worn it only once, but then I felt that Solomon in all his glory was not to be compared with me! Anyway, he certainly never had a dress like mine!...

 

A gentleman in Philadelphia has just written to my teacher about a deaf and blind child in Paris, whose parents are Poles. The mother is a physician and a brilliant woman, he says. This little boy could speak two or three languages before he lost his hearing through sickness, and he is now only about five years old. Poor little fellow, I wish I could do something for him; but he is so young, my teacher thinks it would be too bad to separate him from his mother. I have had a letter from Mrs. Thaw with regard to the possibility of doing something for these children. Dr. Bell thinks the present census will show that there are more than a thousand in the United States alone [The number of deaf-blind young enough to be benefited by education is not so large as this; but the education of this class of defectives has been neglected.]; and Mrs. Thaw thinks if all my friends were to unite their efforts, "it would be an easy matter to establish at the beginning of this new century a new line upon which mercy might travel," and the rescue of these unfortunate children could be accomplished....

 

 


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