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  • Writer's pictureChristine Stevens

A Letter of Resignation to Captain Keller from His Daughter Helen’s Teacher

September 30, 1887

Dear Captain Keller,

It is with a heavy heart and a scratched cornea that I write to inform you that I will no longer be able to continue my duties as a teacher to your daughter, Helen.

The potentially permanent injury to my right eye (the good one), Captain, is courtesy of Helen. Yesterday, as I was attempting to wash her hands at the pump while tapping out “cleanliness is next to godliness “ in Morse Code (both concepts she has yet to grasp) into her small palm, she suddenly lashed out at my face, plunging her surprisingly long and sharp fingernails into my eye.

Your child, to be frank, is ungovernable. Your indulgences have created a monster. She has learned not a modicum of manners or decorum. And she has a serious sugar addiction.

I should also like to point out that the expectations of this teaching position are unrealistic and overwhelming. In addition to trying to teach your daughter that language exists, I am expected to act as Therapist, Etiquette Instructor, Disciplinarian, Maid, Punching Bag, and now, Manicurist.

I have begun to suspect that my main duty is that of a child care worker. Or, to be blunt, parent. Not an educator.

And then there is the subject of my wages. While at first, I thought 2 dollars a week was an almost acceptable salary for a partially blind, former orphan, I feel you have taken advantage of me. As I calculate it, after a 50-hour workweek (not including the two hours per night spent preparing my lessons), my hourly wage comes out to 0.04 cents per hour (and yes, I have factored in “but you have summers off”).

I believe this is due to the male-dominated nature of the teaching profession - you feel no compunction in compensating a female for far less than a man. In the future, I hope more women will take up education as a profession for surely that will bring parity in salaries and greater respect for a noble institution.

It is also my hope that future teachers will be supplied with a living wage that makes taking on a weekend part-time job in the Dry Goods section of the General Store unnecessary.

And I think you should be aware that I have spent at least $3.87 of my own money on classroom supplies, including but not limited to: bandages, a book on child psychology, and peanut butter. Taken as a percentage of my monthly income, that is nearly half.

In conclusion, Captain Keller, I can no longer afford to be a teacher as the cost is too great - mentally, spiritually, financially and now, thanks to Helen, visually.


Fanny O’Hara

P.S. I would like to recommend a replacement, a former classmate from the Perkins Institute, a Miss Anne Sullivan. Perhaps she would be a better fit. But I doubt it. I have the patience of a saint compared to her.

By Christine Stevens

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