LOTW 85: Poetry at Berry

By: Cassie LaJeunesse

Recently, I came across a letter to Martha Berry from Mr. Erwin A. Holt. In the letter, Mr. Holt included a portion of a letter from Grace Noll Crowell about a possible visit to Berry. Mrs. Crowell mentions reading her poems in front of an audience at the school. I was curious to know if Mrs. Crowell had any sort of fame in the literary world, so I began to research. I discovered that Mrs. Crowell authored 36 books of verse and 5,000 poems in her lifetime. She was awarded many honors for her poetry throughout her life, including being appointed the Poet Laureate of Texas in 1936. One of Mrs. Crowell’s most famous poems is “Because of Thy Great Bounty”, which was set to music by Philip Landgrave and included as a hymn in the Hymnbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Baptist Hymnal. Her work was so popular that her husband quit his job to manage her career.

I found it interesting that Martha Berry intended to bring Grace Noll Crowell to read poetry at Berry. One thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve been attending Berry is the frequency with which guest speakers give lectures or poetry readings. In this way, as well as in many other ways, Berry still upholds the same values and traditions that existed when Martha Berry was running the school.

LOTW 84: In Memory

By: Olivia Mund

While reviewing letters in MBDA’s database, I encountered an intriguing letter to Martha Berry. In this letter, James Hamilton responds to Martha Berry’s letter, which was addressed to Mr. Hamilton and his wife. However, James Hamilton informs Martha Berry in his response that his wife passed away nearly a year ago. What both impressed and touched me about this letter is how James Hamilton responded in light of this information. Instead of angrily correcting Martha Berry as a result of the grief he most likely still dealt with, he went on to share his experience learning about the good work of The Schools. James Hamilton was impressed by the work Martha Berry was doing to the degree that he was willing to make a donation on his wife’s behalf. He knew his wife would be moved by the work of The Schools and decided to make a donation in her memory.

In his letter he specified his donation would be “a modest contribution of five dollars.” I decided to look up a conversion to see what those five dollars would be worth now. Upon converting the amount, I discovered that five dollars in 1938 had the buying power of around $80 today. This letter was to me another example of people’s connection to The School and deep affection for the good work it has been doing for all these years.

LOTW 83: “The Rose Giver”

By: Jordan Brannen

While approving pending documents last week, I came across this very interesting poem called “The Rose Grower”. After several minutes of searching the web, I came to the conclusion that this is an original piece. The poem describes an older woman whose face is dried up “like a piece of mutton tallow” and whose “speech is blunt as her garden spade”. That being said, the author juxtaposes these harsh features of this older woman details about her heart. The first stanza ends with the two lines, “BUT SHE CAN RAISE SUCH ROSES, MY, OH, MY SUCH ROSES.” The second stanza goes on to describes how careful the woman is with the roses and how great care she takes of them. After reading this poem, one can only see the overarching resemblance that the older lady in the poem bears to Martha Berry. The roses are metaphors for the mountain children that she helped raise. It is documented that she had strict rules for the students at the Berry Schools, but that is because she loved for the students so much, and wanted them to turn out to be the best citizens of the world that they could be.

LOTW 82: A Chance at Learning

In 1929, the main dormitory, which housed seventy-five boys, of the Berry Schools burnt down. This letter, which was written in June, asks for money to be donated toward the rebuilding of the dormitory, which must be completed before the term starts on September 1st. By taking note of her signature, the reader can tell that Martha Berry knows the full gravity of the situation. Daily, she sees that these boys, most of whom came from an underprivileged background, are so eager to learn. Many of them made big sacrifices to go to school. Martha Berry is aware of how much it means to them. In fact, it is her mission. In this letter, she says “to fail these boys… would be a great calamity.” It is apparent that she wants her audience to feel the same way she does about the importance of a good education.

This says a lot about how Berry and education in general have changed over the years. Almost no one who goes to this school now makes such significant sacrifices compared to that of the students and their families in the past. Most students here are not impoverished like the original mountain children. If a dorm were to burn down, the people might expect it to be rebuilt before the next semester. People in first world countries treat education more as a right than a privilege. And while it is a wonderful thing to have such readily available resources, one must remember that not everyone is as fortunate. Appreciating the gifts you are given by giving to others is a way to honor those who have worked so hard to give you the education you have.

LOTW 81: House o’ Dreams

By Camille Hanner

In Martha Berry’s letter addressed to a “friend,” she talks of her plans to build a house at the top of Mount Berry. For this home, she hopes that this may be a place “to spend the weekends, taking with me the workers with whom I need to get in closer touch to plan future work. It would be a place where our friends could be entertained: a place where our workers convalescent from illness could go and recuperate and come back refreshed and strengthened. It would indeed fulfill a long felt want.”

This idea is instrumental to the attitude that Berry addressed towards its workers and community, re-instilling the desire for a campus of industrious work and personal development, but also one of spiritual growth and fulfillment with a satisfied and peaceful soul and life. A home to have such recuperating away time is definitely in line with the values that Berry has always intended to establish for everyone involved.

She goes on to mention the hopes for a potential fundraising for the home, and also a “shower” in order to furnish the little house. Martha concludes with the reaffirmation of her hopes for the completion of this project and fulfillment of her dream, saying “how wonderful it would be, after a hard week’s work, to steal away and sun my soul in this quiet spot, and how much it would mean to have such a place for tired workers to rest!”

Now Berry students weekly make the hike up to “The House of Dreams” in order to find the same solace and reflection that Martha envisioned for the Berry community. The home is situated at the top of Mount Berry, with beautiful gardens created around the home and a beautiful tower situated next to the home where one can climb the stairs to enjoy the full view of Rome, Georgia and beyond. Swings are scattered along the landscape for further peaceful experiences with the site, and every weekend, the home is hosting numerous students to a day of peaceful reflection and recharge from a long tedious week of hard work. Martha Berry would be proud to see her vision so fulfilled and appreciated.

LOTW 80: Look to the Stars

By: Cassie LaJeunesse

While editing last week, I came across a long letter with a signature that I couldn’t quite make out. I noticed, however, that it had been sent from the Harvard Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was pretty certain that the name was Annie J. Cannon, so I looked up that name and the observatory. I was immediately fascinated. Annie Jump Cannon was an astronomer in the early 20th century. In her time working at the Harvard Observatory, she discovered hundreds of stars. While working as an assistant to the observatory staff, she and other female astronomers were tasked with documenting and classifying stars. Cannon later combined two classification systems in to a new system, which was used as the universal standard for many years.

Cannon is considered a trailblazer for women in science. She was awarded honorary degrees from three American universities, and in 1925 became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford. She was also the first female officer in the American Astronomical Society. The Annie Jump Cannon Award that she established is still given to female astronomers today.

Annie Cannon and Martha Berry were both finalists for an award from the Pictorial Review for the American woman “who made the most valuable contribution to the advancement of human welfare in 1923.” They also both received honorary degrees from Oglethorpe University in 1935. It is not clear how the two women met, but we know from the letter that Cannon visited Berry in 1935 and enjoyed herself immensely. In the letter, she also offers to send some celestial photographs for the students at the school.

Annie J. Cannon was a fascinating woman and a great role model for women in science. I find it appropriate that she was acquainted with Martha Berry, who was another great role model for strong women.

LOTW 79: Auntee Martha

By: Olivia Mund

When I was reviewing documents one of our newest hires edited, I came across one letter in particular, which piqued my interest. This letter is only addressed to “Auntee.” This is clearly a term of endearment, however, there is nothing in the letter itself that points to a specific person. I had a hunch that the “Auntee” could potentially be Martha Berry and, knowing little to nothing of her family tree, I decided to look into it. I found a family tree for Martha Berry on Ancestry.com and went through the list of her sisters looking for one with a son named John Graham. According to Ancestry, Martha Berry had a younger sister named Lila who married a man named Samuel Graham. One of their children was a son named John. It is possible that this is the young man writing to “Auntee” in this letter. The use of the name “Auntee” is still a little unusual to me if this is the correct John Graham. This John was born in 1905 and would therefore be thirty-three at the time he wrote this letter. It seems like an unusual nickname to use as a grown man, however, the handwriting and tone of the rest of the letter seem more in line with that of a grown man. In the end, I am not entirely sure who this letter was written to, but it is interesting and enjoyable to research.

LOTW 78: Harbin’s Helping Hands

By: Jordan Brannen

This letter stood out to me for a few reasons. While it is well known and documented that the current Harbin Clinic in Rome, GA is named for Dr. W.P. Harbin because of his hard work in the Rome community, Dr. Harbin’s contribution to the Berry schools is much less known. The rhetoric is endless from Martha Berry about how the students had little to no money for schools, but one rarely thinks about how this also means that the students had little to no money for anything, including health care procedures. This letter shows how he was kind enough to operate on countless Berry students with no intentions of being paid for his invaluable time and services. It also shows how appreciative he was of Dr. Frank Wright, former Berry student and patient of Dr. Harbin, for trying to pay him the money he owed for his surgery. Instead of accepting the money, Dr. Harbin suggests that Dr. Wright donate the money to the Berry schools. After reading this letter, I gained a new respect for Dr. Harbin that surpassed my previous high opinion of him.

LOTW 77: Berry at the World’s Fair

By: Chloe Lombard

Recently, I was editing documents online when I came across a postcard that caught my eye. I was thrilled to see that it was one about the World’s Fair, one of my favorite historical topics. In it, a woman named Mrs. Enck tells Martha Berry all about her experience at the exhibitions. My interest piqued, I just had to research more about it. It turns out that the 1939 New York World’s Fair was the start of a new technological era.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a rural woman in 1939; a friend of Martha Berry’s. You’ve seen her work come to fruition and it’s inspired you. While in New York, you visit the World’s Fair. What you see their promises future technology beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. A Tele-type machine, an early model of television, plays a live video of the Golden Gate International Exhibition in San Francisco. There’s a diorama of many of the world’s most promising laboratories, factories, and office buildings from around the world compressed into one idyllic fictional city.

What’s possibly most impressive though, is the Futurama exhibit sponsored by General Motors. This is a demonstration, complete with moving seats demonstrates motorcars as a reliable mode of transportation over virtually any terrain. You’re proud to be a friend of Martha Berry, who is such good friends with Henry Ford.

In the Court of States, the Georgia building’s colonial architecture evokes a feeling of the traditions of the Deep South. There are exhibits displaying Georgia’s natural resources which claim to provide a wealthier future, something which a person living at the end of the 1930s desperately wanted. At this time, the paper industry was picking up speed. Not only were there natural resources, but new businesses as well. A booth with students from the Berry Schools is there explaining some of Martha Berry’s most notable achievements. Certainly, Martha Berry’s students, the mountain children whom she raised up from poverty and educated could be compared to the rise of modern technology after the Great Depression.

LOTW 76: Foundation of Servitude

By: Camille Hanner

In a letter addressed to Martha Berry, a representative from State Normal School in Athens, Ga, D. L. Earnest, contacts Martha in hopes of finding support of a poor girl that has come into his association. He writes telling Martha of an eighteen year old girl who has sadly come into a rough patch of her life, finding herself in jail because her very own brother brought her there for vagrancy, or homelessness. It seemed that she had been ill for a while, and on her discovery in prison, Earnest and his workers took her to the hospital where she was able to be administered the care she needed. On her recovery, she spoke to her new friends of her desire to become a teacher and made a respectable situation for herself in life. It is here that Earnest is encouraged to reach out to Martha on the hope that she may be able to assist in this.

Earnest describes this young woman as a girl of a “bright face, really pretty and attractive” with also the “making of a fine woman.” He speaks of her high words of respect upon meeting graduates of Martha Berry’s school for woman, and her respect for how refined and proper these women were in this poor girl’s eyes.

It is with good reason that Earnest trusts in Martha Berry’s goodwill and the fact that her generosity with find good reason to take in this girl and support her. He points out her destitution, but almost unnecessarily so, for Martha Berry is known for her generous soul and willingness to befriend and adopt those in need.

This foundation of servitude is the establishing base of Berry’s fundamental goals and hopes for its students and their impending futures on leaving Berry. Through Berry’s self-maintenance through the work program and rigorous curriculum, future employers see the true value of a Berry student and the strength of character that Berry produces, all because of Martha Berry and the fine example she set for all of her students: past, present, and future. These upright codes of morale that Martha built into her institution has continued to effect each and every student and inspired these young adults to hold true to their best possible self and encouraged each individual to answer their own personal life calling no matter the difficulty or arduous journey involved.

Every student on entering Berry’s program is faced with the difficulty of the rigor that Martha Berry established into her work, but also the reward that such hard work will yield if one is dedicated to the process and finds success after completing their four remarkable years at Berry College.

As a freshman at Berry, I am too faced with the hard toil that Berry requires and the difficult adjustment to such a lifestyle, but it is easy to see the value that these experiences will be bring myself and my classmates through the experiences we will have these next few years, and the skills and networks that will development out of our dedication to the program.