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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While working on research for an exhibit—slated to be installed in the spring of 2015 at the Berry College Archives—commemorating the 30th anniversary of Alumni Work Week, I stumbled upon an interesting letter from D. H. Mast. In his letter Mast advises Martha Berry that she “should make an effort to obligate [alumni] to contribute something for the maintenance of the schools, after they have become established in life, provided they are able to do so.” Mast continues on in the letter, explicating his suggestion in a markedly critical tone. I can only imagine how Martha Berry must have reacted when she read it!
This aside, I thought it was interesting that a contributor to the schools suggested something so similar to the vein of thought behind Alumni Work Week 55 years before it was ever established. As Mast said, “The best education is that which is worked for,” and he made a very good point. Being a student at Berry College, I’m a part of the Student Work Program, and I agree that the best education is one that is worked for. A good deal of every paycheck I receive goes toward my tuition and during the summer I work full time, my wages again going to the same place. I personally feel that working to fund my education has given me a fuller and deeper appreciation for it.
While the Student Work Program today is not the same as it was in Martha Berry’s time, I feel that its value has not changed. Once I have graduated and become established, I fully intend to give back to the schools—although perhaps not in the way that D. H. Mast means. Instead of making monetary contributions, I hope to return to the Schools for Alumni Work Week and give back in a more hands-on sense.
I doubt many Berry students (excluding MBDA workers, of course) know about Martha Berry’s interest in politics other than her connections to the Roosevelts. Yet, it is clear from her correspondence that Martha Berry frequently acknowledged upcoming elections, both on the national and local level. Even before the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 gave women the right to vote, Martha Berry found ways to support her own political agenda through the help of men outside of Berry, as shown in this letter to J. L. Campbell in 1918.
Although I have not yet run across any information about who Miss Berry voted for in the early 1920s, it is clear in this letter exchanged between her and Elizabeth Achelis that she intended to vote for Herbert Hoover in the presidential election of 1928. Hoover’s reputation today has been undermined by the disastrous consequences of the Great Depression that began not long after he took office. However, in 1928, Hoover was seen by many Americans as a progressive and competent figure. This was based both on his efforts to feed Europe in the wake of World War I’s devastation and his ability to increase efficiency as Secretary of Commerce.
Hoover still holds a place at the bottom of many “Best President’s” lists, so it is refreshing to see letters about his accomplishments in the eyes of Martha Berry. The Herbert Hoover tag on the Martha Berry Digital Archive contains informative letters to and from Miss Berry on the importance of Hoover during his campaign for the presidency. Although Hoover has a tarnished image after his inability to react efficiently to the Great Depression, he still caught the attention of Martha Berry and even received her vote for the presidency.
This year is the centennial of the beginning of World War I, and because of that I thought it would be interesting to see how WWI affected the Berry Schools. There are some very interesting documents in the WWI tag, such as the male students and the draft and the schools’ financial needs and donations, but there were three letters that especially caught my eye.
Martha Berry wrote to Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo wondering if he could help secure an exemption to the draft for the Berry Schools’ physical education teacher. The letter, while hard to read in some places, definitely shows how resourceful and determined Martha Berry could be. Though the later corresponding letters, both from Secretary McAdoo and from the War Department, show that she was not successful in her efforts, it is astounding to me that Martha Berry knew such people to begin with. While most students think that the Berry Schools were just a small, out in the country type school, many amazing people were in contact with Martha Berry. Everyone knows the story of Teddy Roosevelt, or the Fords coming to the schools, but the Martha Berry Digital Archive truly shows how far-reaching the Schools’ efforts were.
As many of you know, we just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Grand March at Berry College. This tradition, which was started by Martha Berry herself, is done once a year on Mountain Day in celebration of Miss Berry’s birthday. To an outsider, and often to the Berry students themselves, the tradition seems a little strange. First, there are the clothes. All students are required to wear specific colors based upon the original Berry student uniforms. Underclassmen girls wear pink, underclassmen boys wear blue, senior girls wear blue, and senior boys wear white. The students, divided by gender and class, spend about thirty minutes walking up and down a hill, first alone, then in pairs, then in groups of four, and so forth, until the entire student body marches down the hill together in rows of sixteen. During the March, students drop a number of pennies equal to their age in a basket at the bottom of the hill as a birthday gift to Martha Berry. The ceremony closes with all of the students holding hands and singing the Berry College Alma Mater. When visualizing the Grand March, it seems like an amazing display of student unity and pride, and also a powerful way of thanking the school’s founder. However, as a Berry College sophomore who has now participated in the Grand March twice, I have a few confessions.
First of all, there is one thing no one ever explicitly tells the Berry freshman: it is very exhausting to walk up and down a hill five times. By the end of the March, even the football player standing beside me was sweating like crazy and panting for breath. Also, when they say hill, they mean hill. This is no gently sloping plain that we are walking on. It is a full on, walking-turns-to-climbing hill which, of course, furthers the exhaustion. Also, I was ill-advised about what to wear my first Mountain Day, and I decided to go with cute, rather than sensible, shoes. The blisters where unbelievable and I got a fantastically deep bruise in the arch of my foot so I couldn’t walk right for weeks. Another thing the female students tend to discuss a lot is how long it will take for the boys to run out. Since our school’s gender ratio is so uneven, when the students are paired off during the March, the boys will run out before the end, forcing many of the underclassman girls to pair up with each other rather than a guy. Last year as a freshmen I was in this boat, but this year I got to the very front of the sophomore line and got to hold hands with a boy. This, as any Berry girl knows, is a very big deal.
Every year as we approach Mountain Day “Are you going to march?” is a constant question. The seniors usually say yes: “I wouldn’t miss my chance to wear blue!” The freshman will often say, “There’s an option?” Then, there are always those (like me) who declare, “Of course! It’s a tradition!” Some people look at you like you’re crazy and say, “Why? I did it freshman year.” And, often, the “why” is not made clear to students. I was recently looking in the archive, out of curiosity, for some Mountain Day documents, and I found this short telegram sent to Martha Berry by her assistant, Inez Henry, in 1941. The note was obviously written for the sole purpose of informing Miss Berry about how the Grand March had gone that year. This was, in all likelihood, the first time that Martha had ever missed the March which had, at that point, been happening for almost thirty years. At that time, Miss Berry was hospitalized in Atlanta due to a series of illnesses that would eventually lead to her death a mere five months later. The fact that, even in Martha’s current condition, Inez was specifically sending a message to her with the details of the Grand March – that it was perfect, that the band had played “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” and that she had been sorely missed – shows how important this event was to Miss Berry. And that’s why we have continued to hold our yearly March for the past one hundred years. I’m proud that this strange and wonderful tradition in honor of Martha Berry will continue at our school, along with the tradition of all of the students grumbling about it and still doing it anyway.