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.)

LOTW 29: Berry’s Orchard

This semester I had room in my schedule to take a class outside of my majors just for fun, so I decided to take an Environmental Anthropology class in the hopes that I would get to learn about plants (one of my favorite things on Earth). I have been learning so much about our environment and how to farm in a way that is healthy for it, but my main focus lately has been on a seed saving project for class. Part of my project includes researching historical records of plant growth and crops on Berry’s campus. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Berry College Archives lately digging through books and reports and correspondence relating to the plants grown in the area since the Berry Schools’ beginning. Unfortunately, these documents that I’ve been searching are not part of the Martha Berry Digital Archives yet, but I thought I would share my findings anyway because I find them fascinating.

It turns out that there aren’t very many records of specific varieties of plants grown on campus, so I won’t be able to find seeds of the same varieties to grow now, but it has been really interesting to see some of the work Martha Berry did to increase the size of the gardens at Oak Hill as well as the gardens on campus. The most interesting thing to me so far has been the fruit orchard.

I’d seen letters before from Martha Berry asking different nurseries for different plants, like this one about White Moon vine, and I’d seen letters from people thanking Miss Berry for her peaches, but I’d never seen one talking about the orchard on Berry’s campus. During my research I came across a letter to Martha Berry from Mr. William Pitkin Jr. at The Rochester Nurseries in Rochester New York on May 27, 1940.

In the letter, Mr. Pitkin sends Miss Berry 100 peach trees in four “new varieties” along with a few hundred raspberry bushes, asparagus plants and apple trees in “excellent varieties.” He also gives her instructions on growing the peach trees, saying there had been in cold storage but should grow out fine.

When I read this, I thought 100 peach trees were a lot and that the Berry Schools must have had a lot of peaches to eat and sell, which must have been great. Then I read a letter to The Coe Manufacturing Company in Painesville, Ohio from Martha Berry. In the letter she asks the company if they have any damaged or old equipment they would be willing to donate to the Schools for packing boxes of peaches. I thought that was a little strange because surely with only 100 trees they wouldn’t need machinery to pack boxes of peaches, the students could just do it. Then the letter also casually mentioned that the Berry orchard had 2,000 apple trees and 7,000 peach trees! No wonder they needed help packing peaches!

I had no idea there was an orchard of that size on campus at one time. Moments like this are one of the reasons I love my job at MBDA. I am constantly discovering new things about the Berry Schools, Martha Berry, her friends, and the world in the early twentieth century. Few of the things I learn are monumental discoveries, but they’re exciting all the same because I have the opportunity to bring back to light a piece of information that many people have forgotten or never knew, which is part of what makes studying history so fun.

LOTW 28: The Divide – Print vs. Digital

by Lindsey Purvis

As the newest addition to MBDA, I’ve spent my time as of late getting a feel for things.  I’m already well acquainted with Martha Berry’s correspondence because of my second job in the Berry College Archives, so my struggle was not in understanding the relevance or value of these myriad crumbling documents.  I’ve always stood behind tangible texts rather than their digitized counterparts, but working with MBDA has changed my perspective.  Where once I thought rendering pages meant to be touched, turned and smelled in the sterile prison of a computer screen was an abomination to the written word, I now realize that if words are being read and reread they have power, regardless of whether they’re read from a page or from a lighted screen.

My hope with MBDA is to help breathe life back into the letters that have so long been shut away in a dark closet of the Berry College Archives.  If someone—anyone—is reading Martha Berry’s thoughts, her sentiments, her wishes it is as though for a moment she is alive again.

This is why I long to become a writer.  Words are powerful and undeniably alive.  As humans whose lives are so entwined with our language, it is natural that the solidified form of this language holds great potency.  We cannot help but communicate with one another, sharing our hopes and desires, our woes, our needs.  Martha Berry’s correspondence is a shining example of this very human compulsion to reach out and come together.  Where once we used letters and telegrams to reach out to one another, we can now do that with just the click of a mouse. Without a digital means of conserving and sharing this correspondence, very few people would ever see it and moments in history—crucial and trivial alike—could disappear into the lost memories of a dark room.  This is why MBDA and everything that it is doing is so important. By sharing the correspondence of Martha Berry and the Berry Schools, MBDA is helping to keep their words and wishes alive in the seemingly inaccessible modern world of technology.

LOTW 27: Everyday History

by Adriana Spencer

You know, it’s kind of funny how we can all get sucked into our own little worlds and not think much about what’s going on around us. A person could be on their phone, listening to music, or locked up indoors, being none the wiser about the outside world. We tend to forget how the things that we have now were influenced by the past. And for us to influence our future, we must focus on what we are doing right now, in the present. But in order for us to change anything, we have to pay attention to what’s happening in our environment and surroundings; otherwise we might just miss something important. For instance, if I wasn’t paying attention, then I wouldn’t have known why this campus had been taken over by deer in the first place.

As I was perusing through the various letters and postcards that I had left to scan, I came across an interesting news page that was ripped out of The Atlanta Constitution. It was a page from the “Gravure Pictorial Section” dated Sunday, August 9, 1936. At first I didn’t think much of it until I noticed the almost excessive number of deer on the front side of the page. I learned that this spread focused on the reporter’s visit to America’s largest fawn farm and what the farm intended to do with all the deer.

At around this time, wildlife in the US was being depleted due to over-hunting, causing many animals to be endangered and extinct. What’s more, land was also being cleared for new developing towns and cities, so many of these plants and animals were losing their homes. This was the era where thoughts of preserving wildlife were being pursued by establishing national parks like Yellowstone as wildlife refuges in but there was still more to be done to save the threatened animals.

The fawn farm, as the newspaper calls it, was part of a project created by the United States Forest Service in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Around 160 fawns were being “bottle-raised” in this establishment, and when they were grown, they would be freed in the mountains of North Georgia. The deer were definitely taken care of as the pictures show how the animals were fed, the type of equipment used to raise the deer, and the type of environment that the animals were confined to. It was really interesting to see how all this care and effort for such a tiny group of fawns would eventually create a massive herd of deer in northern Georgia and possibly even in present day Rome that could have contributed to the deer population on Berry’s campus. Needless to say, this is an important part of not only Berry College’s history, but of America’s history as well when focusing on the conservation of wildlife.

It’s really unbelievable that one can find a little bit of history, even if it seems insignificant, in everything they see, hear, or even touch. The buildings we pass by every day, that one tree we like to lounge by when we’re studying or reading for fun, maybe even that toilet stall on the second floor of Evans has some history behind it. Now, I’m not a hypocrite. I zone out and live in my own fantasy world as much as the next kid. I rock out to my music, pretend I’m a zombie slayer, and get sucked into virtual reality way too much for it to be healthy. But I realize how important it is to take off the headphones, take my eyes off the computer screen, and just take in the natural world that I’m surrounded by. And it’s a little sad but funny at the same time that a news article about a bunch of deer had to remind me to do so. We won’t know how important things around us are if we continue to ignore them or just zone out into our own little universes. Maybe it’s time to put down the phone and see what little piece of history you can find outside.


LOTW 26: The Continued Search

Since I have last written, not much has changed.  I have dropped my Chemistry major, realizing two majors that are both quite challenging independently are extremely difficult done at the same time.  There are now two more articles with the tag Christian Science Monitor, which I discovered is a news organization founded by Mary Baker Eddy.  She started it as an international newspaper in 1908.  The CSM has received seven Pulitzer Prizes to date.  Unfortunately this information did not lead me closer to the discovery of the beginning of the Science program at Berry.  So what have I done in spite of this?

This semester we have applied the economic idea of specialization.  The idea behind specialization is having people focus on doing what they are most efficient at.  For example, say America can produce 20 tons of cotton or 5 tons of wheat, and Spain can produce 20 tons of wheat or 5 tons of cotton.  It is a lot more beneficial for America to just produce cotton and for Spain to just produce wheat, because then they are working as efficiently as possible so they can produce more and trade for what they need.  This principle applies to MBDA in that some of us are able to scan more documents in a couple hours than others are, and some of us are better at editing documents than others. Because of this, we have given people specific assignments for them to do during their work time, so that we can be as efficient as possible with our work.

My main job at MBDA now is to scan as many documents as possible.  While doing this I find some really interesting things that one would not find on the website.  When someone pulls up a document on the website, it is already in order and ready to be read straight through, but we do not typically find them this way.  The order of the pages in the early twentieth century is pretty obscure compared to how we do it today.  Whenever we write a card to someone today, we usually start on the left and go right, but it apparently was not always this way.  Whenever I find a document that is folded like a book, I have to take a few seconds to find the order in which to scan it.  Sometimes this can be easy.  When there are only one to three pages, I just have to look for the heading and the signature, but when there is a fourth page this becomes more of a challenge, especially when I come upon some of the unique handwriting of this time.  Sometimes I will find cards that when you open them up, you start on the right page and then go to the left page.  Sometimes you start on the front, go to the back, and then open up the card.  There are many different variations that these cards come in, which can be very interesting.

The handwriting is probably the most interesting aspect of the documents.  In a world where technology is becoming the norm, having to read someone’s handwriting is something that is not as common.  Unfortunately it is a skill that we are losing.  The handwriting in these documents is so sophisticated that I wonder how anyone could read these documents or ever was able to read them.  I wish I was able to read these documents more easily, because if I could then I could learn more about the history of this great school.  And if you don’t believe me about the problem with the handwriting, go to the website and search Emily Vanderbilt Hammond and then you’ll understand.  She has such unique handwriting and yet most people can’t read it.  Miss Berry loved her handwriting, but we just struggle to read it.

I hope you enjoy the material that is continuously being added to the website.  I will be working on getting more documents ready to be uploaded.