LOTW 57: The Berry Schools and Germany

by Rachel Renaud

Martha Berry had correspondences with many diverse and interesting people, as evidenced by the documents on this site. I find the many different places these people were from, and even the places she visited herself, fascinating. I decided to focus my search for intriguing letters on one specific area, and I chose the country Germany. I have always found that European nation interesting because of my own familial connections.

Martha Berry travelled everywhere up and down the east coast of the United States, and she even crossed the Atlantic Ocean and made it to Germany. In this postcard Miss Berry writes to Alice Wingo. While rather short, the postcard shows Miss Berry surrounded by German citizens. Dated September 1929, this was only a month before the stock market would plunge and a year before the Nazi Party’s stunning victory in German Parliament elections. A couple months after that postcard, there is this document, which provides a list of addresses which I assume Miss Berry would use to ask for donations. There are only a few addresses here that are from Germany, in the Bad Nauheim and the Frankfurt area.

Miss Berry was not the only one from the Berry Schools to go to Germany though. Grady Hamrick, the principal and superintendent of the Boy’s School, sent a postcard from Munich, or München. While I cannot read his handwriting, the picture on his postcard is most interesting. It features Johannes Lang Hans playing someone in a Passion Play. But perhaps the most interesting document I found which inspired this LOTW, was a letter from the Atlanta Constitution. They were writing to tell Miss Berry that Pierre Van Paassen would be interested in visiting the schools. Mr. Paassen sounds like a very interesting man according to the letter, at the time of the letter Mr. Paassen was on his way to Spain but previously he had been in Ethiopia and also had been beaten for being a spy by the Nazis. It does not mention if this happened specifically in Germany, but it is a nice piece of history. Miss Berry responds enthusiastically, but we have found no other correspondence as of yet that relates to an actual visit to the Berry Schools by Mr. Van Paassen.

germany postcard

van paassen

LOTW 56: A Taboo Subject

The letters and artifacts that comprise the Martha Berry Digital Archive often touch upon social and political issues that dominated life during the 1920s and the 1930s. Finding documents that mention poor mountain children or the country’s economic situation during the Great Depression highlight the hardships and difficulties of the period.  Usually a letter will discuss the writer’s donation to help complete a new building on campus or to provide tuition to the children under Miss Berry’s care. This letter of the week, however, mentions an important issue rarely discussed in Martha Berry’s correspondence.

Eliza G. Suydam of Annapolis, Maryland mentions in this week’s letter that she could only donate one dollar to the schools from her small $95 per month income. While making a small donation due to the economic problems of the time is not news to seasoned veterans of MBDA, the rest of the letter provides an interesting insight into a different idea to deal with the problems faced by having too many children born into poor areas than Miss Berry’s. Suydam wishes for the poor to use birth control “more judiciously” in order to insure that no child has to live without clothes and food. Seeing a letter from 1930 discussing the use of birth control, especially in relation to the southern United States, comes as a shock.

Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in the birth control movement for providing access to birth control in the United States, began her campaign in the 1910s. While the US saw an increase in birth control activism during the 1930s, the creation of the Comstock laws in the late 19th century kept general information on birth control methods from being distributed, as well as prohibiting all use of contraceptives in the United States. These laws remained a hindrance for the Birth Control Movement until the mid-1930s when a federal appeals court ruled that the US government could not stop doctors from giving their patients birth control.

Even if the Comstock laws were still in effect in 1930, Eliza Suydam obviously followed the contraceptive debate and understood the possible implications of using birth control methods to address the number of children born into financially strained communities. Although the birth control debate is still controversial today, that does not decrease the significance of seeing such a taboo subject mentioned in a letter to Martha Berry.

birth control letter
Read more of the letter here.

LOTW 55: World War I at Berry

by Jordan Brannen

World War I was a war the likes of which the world had never seen before. With almost all of the biggest and most powerful nations pitted against each other, there was no shortage of man power. While the United States tried to stay neutral in this world wide conflict, it was to no avail. The sinking of the RMS Lusitania, a passenger ship, catapulted the U.S. into the First World War. The war affected every part of the nation including Berry College.

There are countless stories of how the more than five hundred Berry students that participated in the war with great honor. Ten died and many others were wounded for the Allied cause. While fighting in the trenches, one boy earned the Croix de Guerre for his special bravery. Many of the girls from the schools helped out with the Red Cross and as Miss Berry put it, “the training in the kitchen helped them become dietitians.” Martha Berry was extremely proud of all the boys and girls who help with the war effort abroad; she prided herself so much on this that she sent appeals asking for money to help the younger breed of mountain children prepare for war. Because her students did so well during this time of war she felt it that it was very important to keep up the work of the Berry Schools.

In 1918 a teacher, Mr. S.H. Cook, was drafted into battle. Now being the woman that she was, Martha Berry would not let even a P. E. teacher go without a fight.Martha Berry would not let even a P.E. teacher go without a fight. This story is just an example of how Martha Berry believed that everyone she had on staff was indispensible, as well as the tight knit community she wanted for Berry. In hopes to pardon Mr. Cook from the draft, she wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury William G. Macadoo asking to return her teacher to the school. In this letter, Macadoo responds and refers her to the Secretary of War, because as you can imagine the Secretary of the Treasury does not have much say in matters of war. Although Martha Berry did not get an exemption for Mr. Cook, this correspondence speaks volumes for her persistence in always helping make her schools the best that they could be.



LOTW 54: Thanksgiving Quail

by Rachel Renaud

As Thanksgiving is swiftly approaching, I am sure everyone is already thinking of the delicious food to be served. Yams, ham, green beans, turkey, and pumpkin pie all make up the stereotypical Thanksgiving dinner that we enjoy. With the gathering of families and friends to enjoy this feast, there is sure to be some drama and stress. But for Martha Berry in 1928, Thanksgiving was stressful in a different way.

In letters written about a month after the incident, Martha Berry mentions that over fifty quails were killed on Berry’s campus by various people for their Thanksgiving dinners. Looking through the tag and other documents, there is not much to be found about the quails, but I did want to find out the net price of the loss the Berry Schools suffered with these quails’ deaths.

Finding out the prices of quails today proved to be a little difficult but still interesting. On the Citarella Fine Foods website, a site featuring gourmet meat, a half of pound of quail costs $5.99. On the Meats USA site, a pound of quail would be $7.68. I looked up the weight of quails and assuming Martha Berry had American quails (a heavier type of quail) on the land, a mature bird would weigh about 220 grams, or .48 pounds. So using a calculator I figured that was about 24 pounds of quail meat that was stolen from the Berry grounds. Using the lowest price I found, that’s about $287 dollars in today’s money. Taking inflation into account, account the cost of the stolen birds in 1928 would be $20.62. That was quite a lot of money that could have been used to take care of the students, since the cost of tuition for a student for a whole year was only $150.

Perhaps Martha Berry realized just how much all those quails were worth, because she asked that there be a guard on duty on Christmas day so that no one killed her quails for their Christmas dinners too. I hope you found my investigation work amusing and hopefully even interesting. Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving break!

LOTW 53: Two Presidents and a Business Mogul

by Jordan Brannen

It is well known that Martha Berry was a well connected lady. At the college today we have buildings named after some of the most prominent businessmen and politicians of the times. With names like Ford and Roosevelt on the front of the buildings, it is hard to deny that Martha Berry had some pretty important friends. While editing last week I came across a letter in which several of these people who are so well known in American history are mentioned by name. In a letter to Mrs. Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, (who is pretty well known herself) Martha Berry talks about a visit to Virginia where she saw her dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford. She also talks about a new couple she met — none other than Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson! Martha Berry says that Mrs. Wilson was a very nice lady and that she hopes to see her again. As if this were not enough, towards the end of the letter Martha Berry tells Mrs. Hammond that she needs to make a trip down to Warm Springs, GA to see then-Governor Roosevelt while he was relaxing in the springs to help his polio. Over the course of time I am sure that Martha Berry interacted with dozens of other important people of history, it was just so interesting to me that in this particular letter, all of these people were mentioned in the same place.


Read the rest of the letter here.

LOTW 52: Taking Chances with Paramount Pictures, Part II

by Adriana Spencer

It’s pretty rare that I backtrack to a letter that I have written about in the past, but this time I actually have reason to. Remember that long post I wrote concerning the possibility of a motion picture about Martha Berry funded by Paramount? Remember how I could not for the life of me find any other information about said movie nor Martha’s response? Well, I seem to have found a clue as to what happened to this nonexistent project. Mind you, since this is the only letter I found about the subject (so far), I am not sure about the whereabouts of this film.

It all started when I found a letter addressed to Mrs. Hammond from Martha Berry. The letter starts off with Miss Berry discussing business as usual. She is happy to hear that Mrs. Hammond will be attending the 18th Pilgrimage to Berry and is pleased with the arrangements that will take place when she arrives. She talks of the new dressmaker Mrs. Hammond has acquired and how said dressmaker would be delighted to help out the school. She also thanks Mrs. Hammond for sending over a package of materials for the schools and how Miss Berry appreciates everything Mrs. Hammond does for them.

It is towards the middle of the letter that the discussion changes. Miss Berry mentions that she is happy Mrs. Hammond has found some trace of Mr. Burton, one of the possible directors and writers that were asking to make a film over Martha’s life. Berry asks Mrs. Hammond to find more information on the script because she would like to look over it to check for any errors in accuracy and determine if it is appropriate enough to represent the school in a positive light. She’s worried that the image of the school could be distorted and that it would be best for someone who understands to school to look over the script and even help with forming a final draft for the film.

She goes on to mention that she finds it strange for Mr. Burton and The Paramount Company to never write her back, since she was “promised the privilege of looking over the script,” and asks for Hammond’s help and advice over the matter. From there, the letter switches back to other topics, like the happenings in New York and how Miss Berry treasures the friendship she has with Mrs. Hammond.

After reading over the letter, I’ve come across a couple of revelations. One: Miss Berry was actually interested in making a film about her life and her school. Two: she was having difficulty contacting the company that wanted to work on this project. And three: this Martha Berry movie may or may not actually be in existence.

Now, because I’m a bit of a pessimist and because Paramount is such a big name film company, it would be safe to say that the film never was created. However, there is always a possibility for some strange secret surrounding this film. Who knows, maybe a movie was created, but Miss Berry or the production company didn’t like it or had a falling out, so the film was kept secret for no one to ever know about. Maybe there’s a secret copy hiding in the Archives or in some deep, dark catacomb hidden underneath the school. Maybe it’s a cursed film, making any who view it do horrendous things…or maybe I’m just kidding myself and it never even existed. Can’t blame a girl for trying to find a scandal. Anyway, if I find any more information, I’ll continue writing these updates.

MB154_3_21_001      MB154_3_21_003

LOTW 51: Six Degrees of Martha Berry

by Allison Moore

This week when I was searching for a letter to write about I happened to look for my hometown of Kennesaw, GA to see if could find any names I recognized. I found several letters from a Mr. Charles Frederick Naegele of Marietta, GA, which is about ten minutes away from where I grew up. The name sounded vaguely familiar to me, so I turned to Google.

Born in Knoxville, TN, Naegele was a renowned painter known for his landscapes and portraits. Near the end of his life, he wrote to the Berry Schools in 1930 regarding an invitation sent to him about giving an art talk to the students. After a string of letters, in which it is very clear that they had some issues scheduling the talk, I discovered that Mr. Naegele did manage to visit the school and later even wrote to Miss Berry about an exhibit he thought she’d enjoy.

Apart from his connection to my school and my hometown, Charles Naegele also has a connection to one of the most famous art museums in the world. His painting, “Mother Love,” is in the collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Mr. Naegele is one of the many names to found in the Martha Berry Digital Archive, and is further evidence of the far-reaching aspects of the school. Having gone through hundreds of the Archive’s letters and seeing the plethora of names and locations to which Martha Berry was connected, it often makes me think of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It can certainly make you wonder how easy it would be to link Miss Berry to everyone else in the world!

1909.7.52 003

“Mother Love” by Charles Naegele


LOTW 50: Possum Trot Pot Pie

by Adriana Spencer and Meg Ratliff

When someone finds an interesting document about something as strange as possum cooking, you have to share it with your friends and coworkers. The two of us, Adriana and Meg, decided to embark on a journey of possum discovery. While Adriana scanned last week, she came across an interesting note sent to Mr. Byers from S. P. Alston on possums, Possum Trot, and the Department of the Interior. This small note mentioning his questions about possums was attached to a larger document discussing this situation in greater detail.

This larger document by Merritt E. Hotchkiss from Los Angeles asks the Home Economics Department at the Berry Schools about specific utilizations of “opossums.” Hotchkiss had previously asked the Fish and Wildlife Services of the Department of the Interior about the subject, but they could provide very little information. The obvious next step was to ask the well-known possum expert, Martha Berry, for information and help. His letter to the Berry Schools asks detailed questions about how to care for and/or eat these beloved animals since he is confident that the possum hide hung on the wall at Possum Trot must have been eaten by someone affiliated with the Berry Schools. He goes into depth explaining how he would like to take care of the “opossums” prior to possibly consuming their meat. Some examples of his questions include:

How many opossum females are needed per male when mating?

Where in the United States are the largest opossums found?

Where can someone find the best opossum recipes?

The Hotchkiss letter, once uploaded onto the MBDA website, will be found under the Possum Trot tag. We examined other documents within that tag to look for documents that possibly had some relation to this strange letter. Not surprisingly, we found nothing. While the Possum Trot tag had many interesting documents on the history of Possum Trot and its importance to the Berry Schools, there was no evidence to suggest that Miss Berry received other documents on trying to raise or eat possums.

Additional research suggests that possum cooking now-a-days is less taboo than we expected, especially in the South. While searching the internet for some useful possum recipes, our other archives associate, Lindsey Purvis, came across an interesting website on redneck recipes and down-home cooking using wild game. Since most of the possum recipes incorporate possum meat into a normal dish like stew or kabobs, we hope that future Berry cookbooks, or even the dining hall, could introduce possum related foods like our new creation, Possum Trot Pot Pie! Check out the recipe we’ve included below the images of the letters.

MB154_10_19_001     MB154_10_19_002


Stuffed Possum
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
For all those who wonder how to cook a possum.
  • 1 possum (whole)
  • 1 qt. cold water
  • ⅛ cup salt
  • 5 beef bouillon cubes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 celery stalks (chopped)
  • 2 onions (sliced)
  • 1 bag packaged stuffing
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak possum in cold salt water for 10 hours. Rinse meat in cold water and refrigerate 2-4 hours. Prepare stuffing according to package directions. Stuff possum cavity with prepared packaged stuffing. Close cavity tightly. Place stuffed possum in roasting pan, add water, bouillon cubes, bay leaves, celery and onion. After 2 hours turn meat. Reduce heat to 300 degrees. Cook for 1 more hour. Test roast, if not done reduce heat and cook until done.
Original recipe found at http://www.redneckpossum.com/Recipe_Stuffed.htm.


LOTW 49: Community of Educators

The collection of documents on MBDA has taught me a lot of interesting things about people working together to make their communities better. I’ve noticed that there are many different groups represented in the collection, like the Rome community, the DAR from all over the US, the various philanthropic societies, churches, and educational organizations. It seems like there was a tight-knit community of educators who worked together to improve education, to help out when times were tough at various institutions, to give advice, and above all to help students everywhere get the education they needed.

Martha Berry was in contact with professors, principals and presidents of schools like The Spence School, Agnes Scott College, Berea, Birmingham Southern College, Emory, Mercer, Columbia Theological Seminary, Davidson College, Spelman College, The University of Georgia, and so many more.

She went to speak at many of those schools and she asked professors and preachers from those schools to come and inspire the boys and girls at Berry to continue their education. She received letters like this one from the Dean of History and founder of the first football team at Auburn, who was sending his sympathy about the burned dormitory. She even sent donations to other schools, as demonstrated by this letter from Booker T. Washington, in which he thanks her for the donation she sent to his school and wishes her a financially successful year as well.

Although there was already quite a bit of collaboration and community between the schools in Georgia and the South, several people suggested ways to further those ties between the schools. Shelley C. Jackson suggested in this letter that Martha Berry approach private schools in New York to ask if the students, who have been handed their education on a silver platter, to help raise money for the students at Berry who have to work very hard for their education. In another letter, Caroline Hazard suggests that the schools in Georgia band together and make the state see that it needs to send more support to its schools.

I don’t know how Martha Berry responded to those suggestions, but it’s easy to see how there was a large community of educators working together to help their schools and their students succeed.


LOTW 48: Martha Berry: The Queen of “Junk Mail”

by Jordan Brannen

In today’s society when people get letters in the mail asking them to sign up for a magazine subscription or send money to help starving children in Africa, most people disregard these letters and throw them away. Strangely enough these sorts of letters are a large part of what helped Martha Berry raise money for her life’s work. She sent letters and pamphlets about The Berry Schools all over the country asking for donations to fund scholarships for needy mountain children. The number of affirmative responses she received is astounding, and is based off of the pure generosity of the appeal letter recipients. In the letter that I came across this week, a sickly Christian woman from the middle of nowhere in Utah sends money that she normally uses for the donation plate in church to The Berry Schools. By doing this, the woman indirectly claimed that money would be better used helping the students half way across the country get an education, than in the church she attends every Sunday. This is not an isolated event. Time and time again people would send their money to a woman they had never met and more than likely would never meet. It is crazy to believe that she made her money this way, especially in today’s time when people are becoming more and more skeptical and unlikely to give to a cause with which they are not associated.