LOTW 42: Standard Oil

by Jordan Brannen

While I have only been working on the MBDA project for a few short weeks, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time thus far. Since I am a history major, reading first-hand documents from Martha Berry to some of the most powerful and influential people in the world during the twentieth century is very interesting to me. In a letter I scanned this week a direct relative of Henry Ford wrote Martha Berry saying that he bought her stock in Standard Oil Company. Immediately a red flag went off in my head. Standard Oil Company was one of the biggest monopolies in American history. Owned by John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil controlled the market of oil and natural gas in America during this time period. This stock would definitely be worth a lot if Martha Berry sold it at the right time, and I find it very cool to think that the school I attend could be funded by Standard Oil.

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LOTW 41: The Search Continues…

by Rachel Renaud

Some of you may recall my previous LOTW in which I investigated Martha Berry’s peafowls that resided on the campus. As a historian (an aspiring historian really), we are often limited by the sources we have available but now going back to the peafowl tag more documents have been tagged which allows us to paint a full picture of this story. Of interesting note, I have discovered four new documents dating before 1927. When I had written my LOTW back in April, I had wondered from where Martha Berry’s peafowls had originated, and I think I am getting closer to the answer. While most of the documents in the tag date to the 1930s, where it seems a bulk of peafowl buying happened, these new documents paint an better story about where some of the peafowl might have come from.

The earliest letter I found was sent to Howard Coffin dated June 29, as Martha Berry was asking for a two peahens to be sent. As she explains, she already has three peacocks and cannot find a peahen anywhere in the state. While I do not have a letter with his response, assuming he did respond, I believe Mr. Coffin never did send her peahens. My main reasoning for this is from these documents dated later in 1926 coming back and forth to Miss Lilian Carter. Her letter is a sad one, as she writes how her peacock was killed by her neighbor when she was out of town. She asks if she may send her peahen to the Berry Schools, she believes it is lonely now without its mate. Martha Berry gladly accepted Miss Carter’s peahen because she had “three peacocks and have been unable to get any pea-hens”. She also goes on to state that one of her three peacocks had wandered away and she is now down to two. In the remaining letters, the peahen gets sent to the Berry Schools safely and arrived sometime between November 22 to 27.

I am led to believe the peahen arrived exactly on November 24, 1926 due to this letter that was sent to H.G. Hamrick. Martha Berry mentions she is sending up a peafowl to the Foundation School and it needs to be looked after carefully. I think it is a safe bet to assume the peafowl she is speaking about is Miss Carter’s peahen. After this exchange, I have not found any more letters concerning the pea hen. But the last document dated in 1926 comes from the Sapeloe Plantation, in which Martha Berry is sent some peafowl through express mail.

I hope that as the Martha Berry Digital Archives continue to grow, more and more interesting stories like the peafowls will be showcased and explored.

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LOTW 40: Taking Chances with Paramount Pictures

by Adriana E. Spencer

I may work in a library, but I do have a social life outside of these cold and calculating walls. Ok…not really. But I do have a goal to reach by going to school, working in a freezing cold library and babysitting for chump change on the side, and that goal is to work with movies! Exciting and sadly impossible you say? I think not! Ever since I was a little kid, I was always fascinated with film. The way a person could take over a role so easily, how the lighting and setting can give off so many different emotions, and how a story can unfold by just the smallest of actions; these little things are what made me think of being of part of the big picture. When I found out that it was possible to actually get a job in this field, I jumped at the chance to make it there. But first, one must deal with side jobs before they can get to their dream job. And that’s how I found out that Paramount Pictures was interested in making a film over Martha Berry’s life. Cool right?

It was just an ordinary day, with me only having two hours of sleep and scanning papers in the Archives section of the library. It was during this task that I found the most interesting set of letters. The first letter was sent by a Clark Howell from the Atlanta Constitution to Mrs. Inez Henry, the secretary of the Mount Berry Schools. The letter states that he enclosed a correspondence between Mr. William K. Jenkins, from Lukas & Jenkins Theatre Company, and Mr. Y. F. Freeman, vice president of Paramount Pictures Inc. The letter is not specific to what the correspondence says (as the correspondence is found in the following two letters), however it is assumed that they were discussing the possibility of creating a motion picture based on Martha Berry’s life and her work with the Berry Schools. Mr. Howell continues by saying that Miss Berry’s cooperation can help aid the school from a “publicity standpoint” and that various newspaper publications from the southeast would also benefit from the film if she agrees to the proposal. He asks Mrs. Henry to please relay this information to Miss Berry and to advise him as to what actions he should take regarding this information.

The second letter was sent from Paramount Pictures studios by Vice President Y. F. Freeman to Mr. William K. Jenkins, of the Lucas & Jenkins Theatres. This is where the correspondence begins. Mr. Freeman tells Mr. Jenkins that the company is interested in further considering a film based on Martha Berry’s life. He then goes on to ask Jenkins what Miss Berry’s opinion on the film might be and how they would go about shooting the picture. Freeman suggested that if they make the film, it would “prove to be very dramatic and interesting to the public at large.” But in order to start production, he would need full cooperation from Miss Berry. He asks Jenkins if he could look into her decision so those at Paramount can look into further matters at their studio.

The third and final letter was sent from William K. Jenkins of the Lucas & Jenkins Theatres to Major Clark Howell of the Atlanta Constitution. It seems as if this letter is out of place chronologically, as Jenkins mentions to Howell how he and Freeman are interested in created a film about Martha Berry (on the 27th of November), and Howell contacts Mrs. Henry about the situation (on the 28th of November). But then I realized that the letters were placed in order after the first letter mentioned the correspondence. The purpose of the third letter was for Mr. Jenkins to ask Major Howell if it were possible to create a picture about Miss Berry’s life and her work. His interest in Miss Berry came after he learned of her nomination as a candidate for the Variety Club Humanitarian Plaque. He felt as if it would be an interesting piece, like the film that was “done in Boy’s Town around Father Flanagan’s activities” (Flanagan was a Catholic Priest who founded the orphanage known as Boys Town, located in Boys Town, Douglas County, Nebraska). He expressed how both he and Mr. Freeman of Paramount Pictures were attracted to this idea and asked Howell to send these letters to Martha Berry and to send word of her reaction to this possible production.

After researching these letters and trying to dig up any information about this production, I have, sadly, found no leads as to whether this film was ever produced. I’ve Googled, I’ve fine-tuned my search engines, I even asked the archivist at our school, and nothing! Which leads me to believe that Martha Berry shot down Paramount Pictures and the chance to give the school a boost in recognition with no explanation whatsoever. All I have to ask is…why? Why would you shoot down the biggest opportunity to not only give recognition to your school, but also to fund it with any, and possibly all, profits you would have made by filming your life’s work?

Now I understand that at this point in time, she was older and more vulnerable to illnesses, but she still travelled. She still worked. She made every opportunity possible to help her school come together and grow. Yet, she turned away one of the greatest opportunities to aid her school financially. Paramount wasn’t just a bourgeoning production company; they were one of the big leagues. The company was on the rise and making money like crazy. Not to mention, with Paramount being such a big name, many people would have come to know about her work through the film, and maybe people would be kind enough to give donations or to send their children there to get a great education. She would have had more than enough money to help her kids with their tuition problems. She wouldn’t have to ask for donations as often as she did. She wouldn’t have had to turn away so many kids from an education because money was an issue. And people from around the USA would know about her school and her goal. She was given a gift and she wasted it.

I don’t mean to sound brash, but I just can’t wrap my head around this issue. Maybe she had her reasons as to why she didn’t want to work on the film. Maybe she was worried about what might come after the film was produced. Maybe she didn’t want her values to be lost because of the sudden popularity of her school. I will never know her reasons and I suppose that’s for the best, because everybody has a reason for doing what they do.

If there is one thing that these letters have taught me, it’s that I’ll never turn away any opportunity that comes my way. I’m a strong believer in both fate and chance, and I feel that if anything that seems even remotely like a chance that can lead me towards success I should take it. Working with movies, creating fictional worlds, developing stories, bringing characters to life; those are my dreams. And even if I end up being a paper pusher for some independent film company or a coffee girl for some snooty know-it-all directors, it doesn’t matter. It just means that I’m one step closer to getting where I want to be. Every chance I’m given, I’ll take. And that’s one thing that people shouldn’t take for granted.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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