Helen Mary Wilson was born on April 14, 1924, in Winchester, about 60 miles southwest of London. Her father, Archibald, a housemaster and teacher at Winchester College, a boarding school, died before she was born. Her mother, Ethel (Schuster) Wilson, was the daughter of a wealthy German-born banker and did not have to work after her husband’s death.
Ms. Warnock said she never missed the father she had never met. She was raised by her mother, whom she recalled as a remote intellectual, and a nanny.
After attending one boarding school in Winchester — where she told the BBC in a 2007 interview that her head “was absolutely crammed with the liturgy and with hymns” — and another in Godalming, in southeast England, she attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she studied classics.
She taught philosophy at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, from 1949 to 1966 before becoming headmistress of the all-girl Oxford High School until 1972. She also served as mistress of Girton College at the University of Cambridge from 1984 to 1991.
In 1949 she married Geoffrey Warnock, a fellow philosopher, who in the 1980s became the vice chancellor of Oxford. They were a formidable intellectual couple who, she said, surprised people by saying they spent considerable time watching sports and the Muppets on television.
“We absolutely adored the Muppets,” she said in an interview with The Telegraph in 2003. “Wonderfully funny.”
Her reputation for immersing herself in difficult moral and philosophical issues blossomed in the 1970s when she was asked by Margaret Thatcher, then the British government’s secretary of state for education and science, to oversee a committee looking into the education of disabled children. Her report, delivered in 1978, set out a landmark plan to bring children with disabilities into mainstream education.