LOTW 60: Knitting and Hooked Rugs

by Rachel Renaud

I began knitting at the end of my junior year of high school. It was definitely an experience learning how use the needles and how to knit patterns, and at times it was very difficult. But since learning to knit, I have gained an appreciation for all things crafty. I enjoy looking at quilts and other projects like that because I understand the hard work that goes into them. While I have never tried my hand at weaving before, I can imagine the hard work the girls at the Berry Schools had to go through to make hook rugs. Going through documents on the site, I have encountered a lot of letters that ask Miss Berry for a rug, or thank her for the rug that they received.

The girls had to work very hard on these rugs and especially given that they were in school at the time, I cannot imagine that they had a lot of free time between school work and weaving. Learning the skills and becoming good at weaving also takes time, as shown in this letter where Miss Berry explains she cannot fulfill an order for hooked rugs due to the girls’ inexperience at making them. Teaching the girls to weave must have been a time-consuming ordeal, and given how pressed for money the Berry Schools were during this time, to be unable to fulfill an order would have been very unfortunate.

It would be interesting to see how the Berry Schools taught the girls to weave during this time and if there are any documents that go into more detail about the process. I do know that the weaving took place in the Sunshine Room at Sunshine Cottage. The room has been closed down by this point, but the looms have been relocated to another area on campus, the Hoge Building. The equipment is not used often, but during the Alumni Work Week, some alumni work the looms to produce blankets and other items.

You can see other letters relating to weaving and crafts in our Handicrafts and Weaving collection on the website.


LOTW 59: A Creative Writer’s Perspective

by Daniel Warner
(Introduction by Meg Ratliff)

It is always nice to have new perspectives added to the MBDA team. Recently, we have hired two new members to the team that incorporate the ideas and visions of the creative writing major. For those of us in the humanities that deal with facts and monographs, this is a territory unknown to us. One new member, Daniel Warner, began scanning a few weeks ago and we have figured out that different letters and topics catch our interests. For example, I, Meg, find documents more interesting if they relate to time periods or important figures in American history, while Daniel enjoys reading every letter and trying to look into the minds of the people who wrote them.

This letter in particular caught my attention both due to the neat penmanship and the singular voice of its writer. On the first page, Mr. Misskelley, the letter’s author, writes “I am lonely not for the lack of friends, for I have these. But there is something I can’t explain and don’t know how,” and that he has “missed the old friendship, for Berry is the only place where you will find it.” The idea of being lonely while having plenty of company is something that I think any college student can understand, and it is something that speaks of a deeper emptiness than being alone. Furthermore, the thought of exiting the world of Berry with its huge pool of peers and social possibilities to enter the much more exclusive real world is daunting and no doubt would cause one to feel this sort of longing for the ease and familiarity of Berry. It seems that the loneliness he feels is a result of this separation from Berry.

Misskelley tells that he has been all the way to Montana searching for a sort of satisfaction that he apparently never found because he still doesn’t feel satisfied. Later in the letter Misskelley touches on this, seemingly seeking to fill that earlier void with the resolve of a new direction, talking about God’s plan and how he feels called to go back to school. His tone is eager and direct in addressing Martha Berry and the act of sending a letter alone obviously requires some forethought. However, in various parts of the letter (where he discusses God’s calling, how Montana wasn’t enough, how he misses Berry and the Berry boys and feels lonely being away from them) he indirectly acknowledges the yearning that he has to come back to Berry. Perhaps this is the implicit request or hint that he wants to give Miss Berry, but when faced with such an influential figure—the very woman he would have to humble himself in the presence of in order to try and revisit his education at Berry—he cannot clearly put forward this desire. For whatever his reason, in the end Misskelley chooses to ultimately exist outside of the bubble without directly re-entering it, requesting to be sent the Southern Highlander so that he may keep up with Berry and sending his best wishes and prayers from a distance.

Perhaps the letter speaks of the limitations of the rhetoric of a partial education, and could serve as a message that students should take their education as seriously as possible. Perhaps we have to take away from Misskelley’s letter that it is never too late to try and make amends with kind words, even if we are unable to take action. I am not sure if Martha Berry ever responded to him, but there is a courage in Misskelley’s action of writing the letter in the first place and a sincerity in his words that make his letter an especially engaging read.



LOTW 58: Little Martha

by Adriana Spencer

One thing that’s cool about this job is that you learn how patient you can be when it comes to trying to decipher age-old handwriting. Just imagine sitting in a cold room, staring at a crumbling letter, trying to figure out what the writer was trying to say before the paper gets turned into ash. It can be pretty depressing.

But after a while, you somehow gain the abnormal skill of being able to read some of the distorted lettering and then you feel like a pro. Especially when you can read some of the letters better than the Archivist can. That’s a feeling of pride right there.

So imagine how I felt when I was able to read a nine page hand-written letter. I was pretty proud of myself. Sure the letter wasn’t so long, but it took a while to understand what words were being used and whatnot, so I did a little happy dance once I figured everything out. And after I let the message sink into my mind, I realized that Martha Berry has done a lot more than I thought when it came to children.

The letter I read was written by Edna Adams, a past student of the Berry Schools, asking a favor from Martha Berry. Ms. Adams opens her letter discussing her mission work with Unitized Charities for the past three years. She mentions how she has resigned from her work and is soon planning on returning home and then marrying a Chattanooga man named Walter Morris.

After explaining her future plans, Ms. Adams then goes on to talk about a baby girl that has been in her care. The girl’s name is Martha Francis Davis and has been in the care of Ms. Adams since she was about a month old. The child was left by her parents but supposedly, they took her twin sibling with them. From the letter, Ms. Adams states that the girl is currently two years old.

Even though Ms. Adams seems to be very attached to the young girl, she tells Ms. Berry that she is no longer able to take care of her. Her future husband is opposed to the idea of helping the little girl and Ms. Adams is desperately trying to find a good home for her. That is when she asks Ms. Berry if she could take in little Martha at her school. Ms. Adams explains that she is does not want to put her in a private home because she wants to see the little girl as she grows up and she wants to help her in any way, shape, or form possible. She thinks that leaving the girl at the Berry Schools would be a good fit for her and is unwilling to let her be raised any place else. She believes God spared little Martha for some greater purpose in life and with the training that she would receive at Berry, she would be able to live out that purpose in the most beautiful of ways.

Below is an excerpt from Ms. Adams’ letter and Martha Berry’s reply.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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“Mother Love” by Charles Naegele