Helen Henrietta Tanzer was born in New York City to German-speaking Jewish parents. She graduated from Barnard College in 1903, and taught Greek and Latin at Hunter College before earning a doctorate from Johns Hopkins in 1929. That year, she began teaching classics and archaeology at Brooklyn College, where she remained until her retirement. She also studied at the American School of Classical Studies in Rome (1906-1907), and conducted research in Italy and Greece. Helen Tanzer's scholarship focused on ancient Roman culture. She became a pioneering educator and collector of Greco-Roman artifacts for classroom use. Her introduction to and translation of The Villas of Pliny the Younger (1924) taught generations of students about these villa/garden complexes -- a prototype for the Renaissance country house. She went on to translate The Letters of Pliny the Younger (1936) and other Latin texts as well as German works by Erasmus and others. She also created and edited Latin Visualized, a series of films with manuals. During World War I, Helen Tanzer served as the assistant director of the Division of Foreign Language Publications for the Commission on Public Information; and she worked for the Belgian information service after the war. In recognition of her service, she was named a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold II of Belgium.