LOTW 39: New Deal or No Deal

I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge that PBS has been showing the new Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelt family (mainly focusing on Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin), but I’ve been keeping up with it as best I can, considering television should not be a part of my daily schedule. The Roosevelts are some of my favorite historical figures, and all three of the Roosevelts featured in the documentary happen to have interesting connections to Berry.  This is evident not only from the Roosevelt Cabin on campus, but also from the various documents in the Martha Berry Digital Archive. While the PBS documentary may not be entirely relevant to our work on the website, Franklin D. Roosevelt had more of an impact on the Berry Schools than previously known, at least more of an impact than just what this picture suggests.

It isn’t well known that Martha Berry had direct contact with FDR’s New Deal programs of the 1930s. The Berry Schools, like the rest of the southern United States, suffered from the Great Depression. Miss Berry, however, took the opportunity to provide work for young men in rural areas by having a Civilian Conservation Corps camp placed on her campus. The CCC was one of many “alphabet soup” programs coming from the New Deal. The program built roads and telephone poles, prevented and stopped forest fires, and planted millions of trees in rural areas like Rome, Georgia. FDR’s New Deal policies, in total, brought jobs, food, clothing, housing, and electricity to the economically depressed United States.

But not everyone saw the benefits of these New Deal programs. One letter, written in 1936, from Edward W. Clark of Philadelphia mentions his inability to donate to the Berry Schools due to the New Deal’s “attacks on public utilities and other business enterprises” in the southern states of South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. He points out the Tennessee Valley Authority (another one of the “alphabet soup” programs) as one of the main problems in the South since it “greatly affected the earnings and credit” of companies working in utilities.

While Mr. Clark’s views of the New Deal may have been a minority in the country, having this opinion sent to Miss Berry must have been a shock to those benefiting from the conservation program supported by the Berry Schools. Yet Mr. Clark’s opinion of the New Deal is valid given that programs to provide services or assistance to the poor could interfere with the livelihood of others.  Nevertheless, I saw his outcry against the New Deal as strange. The Berry Schools and millions of young men across the country benefited from FDR’s policies during the Great Depression, so seeing such a negative view on them gave me a new perspective.  A perspective, moreover, that echoes much of the political debate today about the positive and negative effects of governmental stimulus of the economy.

new deal

LOTW 38: Puzzling the Past

I have a vivid memory of learning about the World War II homefront in the fourth grade and connecting our vocabulary term, “victory garden,” to the small garden that grew those turnips Molly hated so much in American Girl’s Meet Molly, which at the time, was one of my absolute favorite books. With this connection, I was able to enhance the background of my favorite book with details about American home life in 1944 that I had learned in class. I remember telling my mom about the USO functions Molly’s older sister probably attended and all of the war bonds her mom had probably bought. But, more importantly, my knowledge of Molly’s story enhanced my understanding of life on the homefront during World War II beyond anything that could have been taught in class. I knew how frustrating it was to be nine years old dealing with sugar rations. I knew the sense of patriotism and pride that came with doing a tin drive at school. And I knew the fear that came along with the man in uniform rapping on your door, telegram in hand.

One of the biggest parts of studying history is making connections. Puzzling together the pieces of history you find in various places is not only what makes history fun – it’s what makes history real. It’s what turns a name in a textbook into a person with thoughts, feelings, dreams, and disappointments, and it’s what turns the formal title of an event into a tragedy with lost lives and lost hopes. And, luckily for me, it’s what we get to do every day at MBDA. I can’t even begin to explain the number of documents any one of us sees on a weekly basis. Today alone I scanned over fifty! Most of the time, they all blend together into a mass of thanks and donations, but, once in a while, something stands out, piques your interest, and makes you want to learn more.

This happened to me recently when I ran across this article about Mary Rodes, age 21, who was a young opera singer featured in the 1936 Georgia State Fair. Miss Rodes, who is pictured in the article (and appears to be much older than previously stated), is described as modest and shy with a “winsome personality.” The article is an interesting read, especially the comments given by Miss Rodes about the impact of the radio on American society. However, the question I had to ask is: why on earth had Martha Berry kept this article? Mary Rodes was born in Kansas and had been performing in New York for the past three years. Excepting the fact that in October of 1936 she was in the state of Georgia, Miss Rodes had no obvious connection to the Berry Schools. I tried Google first, but apparently the young singer’s legacy did not reach digital immortality. Then it occurred to me that I should try searching MBDA for any other writings regarding Mary Rodes that Martha Berry had saved. I was in luck, and found another newspaper article about her at the state fair and a letter from a Paul M. Conway. Mr. Conway informs Martha Berry that, at the request of Mrs. John Henry Hammond, Mary Rodes would like to give a concert at the Berry Schools. There it is – another piece of the puzzle. Mary Rodes, the modest young opera singer now becomes Mary Rodes, the girl who offered to give a concert at the Berry Schools, my school, free of charge. And just like that, with the connection to this school I love so much, she becomes a real person. I can image her performing in the Ford Auditorium where I have attended many talent shows. I can see the student body, likely clad in pink, blue, and white, rising to their feet to give her a standing ovation. I now know that Miss Berry cut out those articles so she could, with her ever discerning eye, get a little background on this girl who would be influencing her students for an hour or two. Suddenly, the past becomes tangible.

There is no concrete proof that Mary Rodes actually performed at the Berry Schools in 1937, but all the evidence seems to point that way. A note on the top of Mr. Conway’s letter shows that someone at least followed up with him, and the very fact that those newspaper articles where kept seems to indicate that she did indeed appear at the schools. Either way, these short documents and the connections we can make because of them allow us to piece together a vague outline of the woman known as Mary Rodes, immortalizing yet another soul in the Martha Berry Digital Archive.

mary rodes

LOTW 37: Circle of Influence

In this letter W. B. Mebane, an attorney, reminds Martha Berry about a case that the late Judge Wright fought for. A man was charged with murder years ago but since he was “weak minded” he broke out of prison. He was captured and is awaiting trial again.

Mr. Mebane says that he thinks Judge Wright would have wanted this man to live rather than be hanged. He also says that he remembers Judge Wright mentioning to him that Martha Berry was interested in having this man live as well, so he enlists her help.

I think it’s really interesting that this attorney thought she would have enough weight in society to make a difference in this man’s trial. This letter leaves me with so many questions about the things Martha Berry did in her community that we don’t know about. Her opinion was clearly valued in the community and what she thought and the causes she supported were important and influential. It makes me wonder what other causes she supported and what else happened because of her. There is evidence of her supporting other causes and political factions in the collection, but there are probably many untold stories of her service to her community in Rome as well as supporting other schools and educators.


LOTW 36: Moonshining

by Lindsey Purvis

While I was working on editing documents on MBDA—as I do every week—I stumbled upon something interesting: a letter to Martha Berry from Albert Shaw, Jr. of the American Review of Reviews. In this letter Shaw inquires about a Berry faculty member, Mr. Elwood I. Terry, who has recently submitted a manuscript for publication. This in itself is neither special nor surprising, except for the fact that the manuscript is for an article, cleverly titled “Can Moonshining Be Turned Into Sunshining?” about the medicinal values of moonshine and why its production should be allowed under government supervision.

This, in 1927—and attached to the Berry Schools no less! I only wish there was a copy of this article in the Berry College Archives so that I could read a little more into his argument.

Luckily, though, MBDA does have the Berry Schools’ response to Shaw’s letter and to Terry, who teaches forestry and agronomy. As expected the Schools are collectively scandalized and hope that Terry, employed for only eighteen months as of the letter’s postmark, did not cite or even mention the Berry Schools in his article. More than anything the concern seems to be in the impression that any moonshine-related article would have upon Martha Berry and the Schools’ reputations. Berry is, after all, a historically conservative and dry campus. How dare its name be mentioned in the same breath as moonshine other than to denounce it?

All in all, these letters make me curious as to how the Schools’ addressed Terry on this matter, if he was reprimanded, and how much longer he remained in the employment of the Berry Schools. As a worker starting her third year in the Berry College Archives, I plan on looking into these questions—particularly Elwood Terry’s employment status after this exchange in 1927. It’s funny the little things like this that turn up while sifting through Martha Berry’s correspondence!

Although, I also think it’s important to remember how crucial reputation was at that time, especially in the case of a woman trying to maintain and fund an institution like the Berry Schools all by herself.

lotw lotw2

You can read the letters here and here.

LOTW 35: Lucy W. Parmly

by Lindsey Purvis

I really enjoyed reading Lucy W. Parmly’s correspondence with Martha Berry, and not just this letter in particular.  The numbers of her letters are considerable and densely packed with her slanting hand and her quiet concern.

In this letter specifically, I loved Lucy’s worry for her niece’s apprehensions during her time of illness.  Her niece’s concerns of course weren’t for her own health but the safe delivery of a box of clothes to the children of Berry.  I thought it spoke volumes about both Lucy and her niece’s characters that both would express so much concern over clothes for poor children.  Lucy specifically seems very thoughtful here because she actually wrote a letter to reassure her niece of the package’s safe arrival at the Berry Schools.  Where others might have made the promise and not followed through, Lucy did just as she promised.

It’s through little bits of human kindness like these that make me feel especially connected to the past.  People are the same now as they were then:  sometimes silly with their worries but altogether well-meaning and thoughtful.

  Check out the rest of the letter here.


LOTW 34: Dr. Erlanger’s Cure

by Adriana Spencer

As a college student, it’s always a tad bit difficult to try to pay attention to whatever comes my way. With professors shoving projects and exams down my throat, to family drama that seems like it should come out of a Spanish soap opera, and not to mention the stress of trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life after I finish college, I don’t have time to really stop and think about what I’m doing. I just tend to follow my daily routine in a stoic haze, with a face and attitude that many of my peers have dubbed  “zombie-like.”

However, it is still possible for me to snap out of this mind-numbing funk if I come across something that is completely out of the blue, like a bear riding a clown that is riding a unicycle. But since that would be a rare sight to see, finding funny and interesting documents while scanning can also bring a smile to my face.

Recently, as I was perusing through the various documents that I had to scan, I came across an interesting news clipping concerning a new electro-chemical method for treating poor vision. At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me (please forgive the corny pun), but as I read through the article, I realized that this was actually legitimate.

The article focused on the work of Dr. Gustav Erlanger’s new method, as it explained how it can help cure eyesight, both chemically and organically. In the news clipping, Dr. Erlanger stated that a person’s eyesight could be improved by introducing a chemical substance into the eye by means of an electric current. The treatment, known as iontophorosis, is said to break up the chemical substance into electrified particles or ions, and carry them into the desired area that needed to be repaired. As the article went on, it was reported that the treatment was going fairly well for many of his patients, even going as far as curing color blindness if only the center of the eye was afflicted.

From reading the article, it was apparent that Dr. Erlanger’s treatment was becoming highly recommended, as Martha Berry tried to seek out his services. Miss Berry sent a letter to Dr. Erlanger, asking if this treatment would benefit in treating the cataracts in her eyes, as well as for information about what causes cataracts and what can be done about them. She also sent some literature about the Berry Schools along with the letter, to inform Dr. Erlanger about her work.

Unfortunately, Dr. Erlanger was not able to help Ms. Berry with his treatment. In a follow-up letter, Dr. Erlanger tells Ms. Berry that it is “impossible to give an opinion” about her cataract treatment unless another doctor can see to her case; although, he was able to give her a little bit of information about cataracts and if it was possible to treat them. He also promised Martha Berry a copy of his book focusing on ophthalmology when reprints were ready so as she can become well informed over the topic.

Even though this was an incredible find and amazing to hear about a breakthrough in medicinal science, I was left a bit skeptical about this procedure. I come from a medically associated family, with both parents having jobs in the medical field and various relatives sharing knowledge about the human body. I’ve even picked up a medical journal or two for fun, and never have I heard something that could possibly cure color blindness. Although I do not doubt that doctors and scientists were exploring how far science could go to cure numerous illnesses to the mind and body, it still seems pretty surreal that someone could find a way to cure vision, much less color blindness! How would you react to something like this?

Despite feeling skeptical about this treatment, it did give me something to laugh about and think over for the rest of my day. This article brought a touch of light and laughter to my dark and mundane lifestyle and for that I am happy.


LOTW 33: The Search

by Rachel Renaud

When I was younger my dream job was to be a veterinarian and I wanted to save all the animals, but now in college I have discovered my passion for studying history and political science. However, this hasn’t changed the fact I still have a soft spot for animals, and childishly shout “cows!” every time I see some in the Berry fields. In my time editing for the Martha Berry Digital Archives, I have come across many interesting letters concerning animals like cows, horses and dogs. But the one that stands out to me the most in the number of letters I have come across is the peafowl (also known as peacock).

Looking through the peafowl tag, I noticed how Martha Berry was on a search for some peafowls for over eight years. The earliest letter I found was written in 1927. Martha Berry was inquiring about the peafowls that they had currently at the Foundation School and if she should go and try to buy some more. Three years later she wrote to John T. Benson about a purchase for a pair of white peafowl. He wrote back to her with the price and conditions of two white peafowls he had. I think this letter might be my favorite on the site, partly because there is a cool looking tiger on it and also because it makes me wonder about the other exotic animals he might have had to sell.

Martha Berry’s peafowl search did not stop there however. In 1936 she wrote to George C. Clausen to purchase another pair of peafowls and ask for instructions on how to care for them. I wonder how her peafowl fared at the Foundation School, or if there are any still around. Perhaps I will come across more documents in my time working for MBDA and will find my answer to what happened to them. The Berry Schools are well known for our large amount of land and the large numbers of deer and cows on campus, but how interesting would it be if we also had peafowls running around somewhere?

I hope you enjoyed my findings, and if you find any documents concerning peafowls be sure to tag them so we can find them later!



LOTW 32: Martha Berry and Her “Great Spirit”

This week I will be writing on a document that I edited.  This document got my attention right away because it was actually sent from my home town of Carrollton, Georgia.  I decided I would push through the sometimes hard-to-read cursive handwriting and see what connection there was between my hometown and the lady who founded my new home.

This letter is from Lillian Williams to Martha Berry, and like many other letters written to Berry, it is thanking her for her kindness.  It appears that Williams gave some kind of donation to the school, and is thanking Berry for the great kindness she has shown her and the happiness she has helped Williams receive.  Berry seemed to be what I like to call a “people person.”  She did a good job at raising funds for the Berry schools, mostly due to her great people skills.  From what I have read in this document and others, she makes people feel happy by just being around her, and she convinces them to invest in Berry by showing them hospitality and encouraging them to come see the campus.  She wasn’t just a used car salesman who was just trying to sell a certain product, but instead she took the time to personally write letters and even get to know the people from whom she sought out donations.  Evidence is found of this when Williams thanks Berry for the “silver gravy ladel [she] gave [them].”  This shows how Berry was willing to go the extra mile to make her school successful so she could take care of her students.

Martha Berry’s personality did more than just convince people to donate to her school.  Berry filled people with joy and made them want any remnant or reminder they could have of her.  Williams writes about the gravy ladle and how she is so excited just to have something she can look at or touch to remind her of Berry.  This just shows what an amazing woman Martha Berry was, which says a lot because of how hard it was for women to be successful during this time period.  Williams is affected by Berry’s personality so much, that she states that there is a “spirit of service” that Berry has instilled in her heart.  To be able to convince someone to make a donation is one thing.  To be able to give someone happiness is another, but to instill something as powerful as a spirit of service in someone is a whole new level.  It amazes me to think about how great of a woman Martha Berry had to be to create this affect on people.  Williams seems desperate to get even a small grasp of something that has come from Berry.  I only wish that I could one day leave an impact like this on people.



Read more of this letter here

LOTW 31: The Importance of Connections

Some people say we’re all connected or separated by six degrees or however you want to put it. It just goes to show the importance of connections in people’s lives. For Martha Berry, connections were everything! She needed to stay connected with people in order for her life’s work, The Berry Schools, to stay afloat.

As I was editing this week, I came across a letter that Miss Berry wrote to Mr. Firestone, of Firestone Rubber and Tire Company, introducing herself and her schools. She gave him the history of the schools and described some of their charming qualities as well as the principles which they instill in the students but Miss Berry also talked about the fact that she feels like she knew Mr. Firestone, even though they had never met before. Miss Berry used her connections with Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Edison to make a connection with Mr. Firestone.

Miss Berry would often use such a method in recruiting potential donors for the Berry Schools. In many letters that she writes to her wealthy friends she often includes her wishes that they would tell their friends about the Berry Schools and the good work that they do.

It just goes to show how important it is to make connections with the right people because it can change the way that things go. Martha Berry understood that and utilized her skills as a people person and a good networker to leave a lasting legacy that she arguably couldn’t have imagined when she started the Berry Schools in 1902.

LOTW 30: The Joys of Tagging, Part 2

We’ve had a lot of serious posts for a while, so I thought I would lighten things up with some more strange and funny tags.


This is a note from someone donating money to the schools and informing Miss Berry that a former teacher at the Berry Schools is in India with Dr. Higginbottom. This tag brought out the five-year-old in me and I giggled at the poor doctors name. Come on, say it out loud – it’s good for you to remember your inner immaturity.

“mushroom spawn”

Mr. Edward H. Jacob donates to the Berry Schools and also mentions that he used to live in the mountains of North Carolina and was “thrown into close contact with the natives and really became very fond of them,” which is a funny phrase in its own right, but the reason this letter stuck out to me was the letterhead. One of Mr. Jacob’s titles is “Manufacturer of Mushroom Spawn.” What a job.

“most womanliest” 

The Berry Schools write to Miss Fanny Norris asking if she still wishes to send money for the two prizes awarded at the end of the year. I expected a prize similar to those at many different high schools, like Most Likely to Succeed or Principal’s Award, but these awards at Berry were for the Manliest Senior Boy and the Womanliest Senior Girl. How exactly did they judge who was the most manly? Who cold lift the most tractor tires? Who could plow a field the fastest? What about the women? Which girl could weave the prettiest blanket? Who would become the best mother? The best part is that the tagger of this letter added the “most” on the beginning of the prize title, which makes for one very special prize!

“Dead Vault”

While searching through the tags I found this one and immediately thought I’d stumbled upon a letter about a secret vault on Berry’s campus. Unfortunately it was only the very epic name for the file that denoted all the donors that had died so they would stop receiving mail.

“Bad Nauheim”

I chose this tag because I had no idea what it could possibly refer to. It turns out to be on the post mark from mail sent during Miss Berry’s trip to Germany. In this postcard Miss Berry expresses her wish that Alice Wingo were there to try out the mud baths. Although I realize that mud baths are a fairly normal occurrence at spas, my inner five-year-old popped out again and I imagined our beloved Miss Berry playing in a mud puddle in the grass, and it was a wonderful image.

“Ammonium Sulphate”

The last tag for today is this one, which caught my eye because it was so specific. Henry Ford sent the Berry Schools a train carload of ammonium sulphate. I know very little about chemistry or cars, so I cannot imagine what they did with a whole carload of the stuff, but it sounds dangerous! (It’s not really, I discovered in a quick Google search that it’s used for fertilizer and water purification, but it’s more fun to imagine something crazy use for the supply of chemicals.)