LOTW 47: Student Work Becomes Alumni Work

by Lindsey Purvis

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.


LOTW 46: Herbert Hoover and Martha Berry

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.

LOTW 45: Martha Berry’s Far-Reaching Influence

by Rachel Renaud

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.

war dept

LOTW 44: 100th Anniversary of Mountain Day

by Allison Moore

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.


LOTW 43: Howard Ball and Auntie Martha

In reading Martha Berry’s letters I’ve noticed Martha Berry’s particular interest in her nephew, Howard Ball. She takes great interest in him from the time of his birth throughout his education. Although I think we’ve all already realized how important education was to Miss Berry through her work at the Berry Schools and with the mountain children, but it’s somehow different to see her values at work within her own family.

She was very concerned that Howard go to school and, once there, stay until he graduated. She wrote to him on his twelfth birthday expressing her joy that he was learning to dance, ride and make things with his hands. She compares him with the Berry boys and girls who love learning to use their hands and asks him to let her know what he’s making. She says that she would rather have a letter from him than from anyone in the whole world, and she finally gets one in the fall of that year.

She was in the hospital when she wrote him back, expressing several times that she was encouraged and could get better faster because he wrote to her about how much he was enjoying school. She tells him that when he gets discouraged, “just think of the postage stamp and keep on sticking and you will get there.”

Martha Berry was so invested in her nephew’s education that she went to great lengths to make sure he stayed in school, including writing to his teachers to ask about him, paying his tuition, and recruiting friends to check on him, like Mrs. Raymond Hanson.

In a letter dated October 14, 1941, she asks Mrs. Hanson to invite Howard to visit her for Thanksgiving because she’s afraid that if he comes home he’ll not want to return to school. She also asks several times that Mrs. Hanson not mention Miss Berry’s request to Frances, Howard’s mother, presumably because Frances would be distressed that Miss Berry didn’t encourage him to come home to visit.

It’s fascinating to me that Martha Berry went to such great lengths to make sure her nephew, as well as all the children with whom she came in contact, had access to good education. Learning about her relationship with Howard solidifies in my mind her commitment to education and her values in general. She was certainly a determined woman who enriched the lives of those around her.

She told Howard that “It has always been a great dream and hope that you would get all the education possible and that some day you would have a big place in the Berry Schools. I need you to help me so study hard and learn all you can.” I think this dream also applies to her students at The Berry Schools throughout history.

Letter to Howard Ball from Martha Berry

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.




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.


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.





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