LOTW 68: But to Minister

By Jordan Brannen

“Not to be ministered unto but to minister.” While everyone knows the rhetoric behind our schools founder’s personal mantra, it is always great to see this being carried out first hand. In a letter to Martha Berry, department store owner F.F. Hall shows how just one meeting with Miss Berry had inspired him in ways that she could have never imagined. Mr. Hall explains that he has just lost his wife in a tragic accident less than a year ago. He says that while he is very sad his kids and his ability to still help others keep him going. The main reason Mr. Hall writes to Miss Berry is to tell her that he sent clothes that his wife had owned to be donated to the Berry Schools. Upon reading this letter,I was utterly amazed how much of an impact that Martha Berry had on everyone she met. In this situation, the positive affect that she had on his man’s life in the wake of a horrible situation gives me an entirely new respect for Martha Berry.


LOTW 67: A Life’s Work

By Olivia Mund

Oftentimes when I am reading through archive documents, I notice a trend in the subject matter and tone of the letters. Most of the letters involve Martha Berry asking for donations or receiving them, and the letters that don’t usually involve other mundane subjects connected to the running of the School. However, this makes me more aware of the letters that are more personal and offer insights into Martha Berry and her love of the School.

In a letter to Martha Berry from Anna W. Hollenback, she sends a significant sum of money as a donation to the School. What makes this letter particularly interesting is that Miss Hollenback asks after Martha Berry on a more personal level, in addition to asking about the School. Her inquiry if Martha Berry was doing well was immediately followed by comments about the current condition of the School in light of the recent drought. Letters like this illustrate how Martha Berry’s well being was caught up in that of the School, and the fact this woman recognized that importance in her letter is encouraging to see.

The other letters that catch my eye are ones that show the extreme dedication of a person to the School. The Archive contains a number of letters to Martha Berry from Annie L. Vickery, but one in particular that got my attention was from May of 1926. In this letter she sent a donation for the rebuilding of the boy’s dormitory, which burnt down. However, in this letter she also mentioned being incapacitated by an illness for many weeks. This information stuck with me because of how she delivered it. Annie L. Vickery was not asking for prayers or sympathy, rather she was actually apologizing for being unable to do more to help. She knew how devastating the situation at the School would be for Martha Berry and was troubled she couldn’t make it all better.

In their letters, both of these women acknowledged interesting information about Martha Berry and her relationship with the School. They illustrated how important the School was to Martha Berry, not just as someone instrumental in its running, but for her own self. Berry College was Martha Berry’s life work, and being able to see women acknowledge the fact she would not be happy if the situation at the School was not well reminds me she wasn’t so alone as it might sometimes seem.

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LOTW 66: Berry Then and Now – Handicrafts

By Allison Moore

One of the essential goals of the early Berry Schools was to prepare its students to succeed in the rural life they had grown up in, and it is for this reason that practical skills were an essential part of a Berry education. Young men at the boy’s school were taught proper and more efficient agricultural and construction techniques. Many of the most famous buildings on campus, including the House O’ Dreams and Frost Chapel, were constructed by students. When the Martha Berry School for Girls opened in 1909, one of the main educational focuses was to teach the girls handicrafts that could eventually assist them in running a household. The Berry Girls began producing a variety of products for the school to sell and, when the Ford buildings were completed in 1931, a weaving center was established in what is now the Admissions Office.

An order form from a “Sunshine” handicrafts sale in 1930 shows some of the items the girls were taught to make, including baby blankets, towels, baskets, fans, scarves, bags, and rugs. In addition to holding sales on campus, the school found several stores across the east coast that would stock the Berry Schools’ merchandise. Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, a close friend of Martha Berry, sent a letter to Miss Berry in 1930 giving her names of some individuals who inquired about selling Berry handicrafts, including a few stores in New York City. Many admirers of Berry handicrafts sent in very specific requests of what they were looking for. A 1928 letter from Rachel Hammond contains an order for twin bed covers and pillow shams, along with a fabric sample to show the color scheme she wants for the room. She also specifies what that the pillow shams should be lined in “old rose” fabric, rather than “dead white.” Letters with instructions similar to these are strewn throughout the archive, in addition to many praises of the Berry girls’ work, so it’s clear that they were very skilled. Martha Berry wanted the girls to be the best at their craft, so in 1928 she invited Mrs. Erik Green to come teach weaving at the school. She asks that Mrs. Green show the girls how to “make what will sell.” By establishing a renowned handicraft center at the school, Miss Berry ensured that the Berry Girls would have the ability to successfully run a rural household, as well as raising much needed funds for her growing school.

Although young women today are no longer expected to be skilled in household handicrafts, Berry College has upheld this tradition through student work groups such as Viking Creations and Viking Furniture. Vikings Creations, located in the Hoge Building, includes a group of students working to continue the dying art of weaving in the manner originally taught by Martha Berry. They hand-make a range of woven products, including coasters, table runners, place mats, and book marks. Viking Creation products are available for purchase online and in the Oak Hill Gift Shop. Viking Furniture, another student enterprise, is also working to preserve the tradition of quality handmade goods on campus. All of the Adirondack chairs scattered across campus were handcrafted in their workshop, located in the barns behind Morgan and Deerfield. The chairs are also available for purchase online through Berry College Student Enterprises. While the classes taught at Berry College have now far surpassed how to run an early 20th century household, the school’s focus on tradition allows Berry students to continue practicing these unique arts.

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LOTW 65: Berry Then and Now – Student Work

By Olivia Mund

Berry College was built on student work, literally and metaphorically. A number of the buildings on campus today were constructed by students, and one cannot ignore the significance of that integral sense of dedication and perseverance on the development of the school. This belief in the importance of hard, honest work has not been forgotten on Berry’s campus as nearly ninety-five percent of students work during their college careers. However, student work on Berry’s campus has evolved over the course of its history in more ways than one.

In 1930, a man named O.C. Skinner wrote to the Executive Committee of the Berry Schools in regards to the need for more student workers. In his letter he claims the students already working for the School are not distributed efficiently. He also informs the Committee that the School needs at least twenty-five more student workers for its daily operation. Skinner’s letter highlights the importance of student workers to the School in the early twentieth century. In order to run properly, the School had to be well staffed with student workers. This perception of work is distinctly different from the modern mentality where student work is primarily for the benefit of the student and the student’s future, as opposed to a necessary mechanism of the School’s operation.

Oliver Brooks is an example of a dedicated student worker from this same time in Berry’s history. In 1928, Brooks wrote a letter to E.H. Hoge in which he discussed his desire to tithe his wages from student work back to the Berry School. This proposal displays two important facets of the School’s student work. First, it shows the commitment of the school’s workers. Student workers, like Brooks, worked for the School to pay their expenses and believed it honorable to labor diligently at the work set before them. Second, this letter illustrates Brooks perception of the work being done by the School for the community and students like him. He says, “I believe that in tithing to the work of the Schools I am tithing to the God of all good works, for in what other way can we give to God? I believe that God honors this one small good that I have done just as he honor(s) the many great things that Miss Berry through the Schools has brought about…” Brooks regards the work of the School to support the community and students like himself as equivalent to the very work of God. This respect for the School’s work is one of the main contributors to the institution’s success over the past hundred years.

The School’s work program has transformed from this original function as a component of the School’s everyday running into a flourishing program intended to equip students for their futures. Berry students currently have the option to work a number of on-campus jobs ranging from housekeeping to resident assistants to secretaries. In addition, Berry has over fifteen student-run enterprises in a wide range of fields where students can have experience working for a semi-independent organization and have a job title as advanced as General Manager.

One particular document in the Digital Archive by Mott R. Sawyers details his views of the importance of honorable work. Near the conclusion of his letter, he says, “It is through work that men have removed mountains, cured the sick, wrought righteousness, ushered in reforms, brought blessings to the race, [built] monuments, and made their names immortal.” While the student work program has changed in dramatic ways over the years, the goal is still true to Martha Berry’s wishes. Berry College teaches young people the importance of honorable work, and Martha Berry’s name has been made immortal in the hearts and lives of many.

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LOTW 64: Berry Then and Now – Famous Visitors

by Jordan Brannen

For being such a small private liberal arts college in the foothills of north Georgia, Berry has had some pretty important guests come visit. This is largely due to the school’s founder, Martha Berry, and her never ending work ethic, which turned the school into what it is today. Even in the earliest years of the school, Martha Berry had some of the most influential people in America on our beautiful campus. For starters, the twenty-sixth president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first of many politicians to see what lies beyond the Gate of Opportunity. Roosevelt was a huge supporter of Martha Berry and the schools and he did everything he could to help Miss Berry accomplish her dream of educating all of the mountain children possible. Henry Ford, another visitor and personal friend of Martha Berry’s, was a huge donor to the schools. Mr. Ford, the man who invented the Model T and literally wrote the book on assembly line factories, built the picturesque castle that we all know and love today as the Ford Buildings. Finally, one of Martha Berry’s closest friends happened to be a Vanderbilt. Emily Vanderbilt Hammond was instrumental in drumming up support for the Berry Schools, monetary and otherwise. She often visited campus and was very good at giving tours to potential donors.

Now let’s turn to a more recent history. Just two years ago, Temple Grandin, who is the revolutionary leader in animal health and safety in the livestock business, came to Berry College for a talk. Not only is Grandin the best in her field, she also has been battling autism her whole life.  She claims that her disease has given her insight into her field that nobody else has, and is an inspiration to those affected by autism everywhere. In 2010, surgeon Ben Carson came to Berry to speak. Carson is famous for a risky surgery that he successfully completed on conjoined twins and is currently doing very well in the polls for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee. From the days of Martha Berry, all the way up until today, Berry College has had some pretty amazing people visit its twenty-seven thousand acres, this is largely due to the precedent set by Martha Berry, and continued by those who follow in her footsteps.

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LOTW 63: Silver Rolling for the Berry Schools

by Dr. Ouida Dickey

The arrival of the Pilgrimage entourage, led by Mrs. Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, impressed me tremendously during my years as a student at Berry  I have thought often of this stately, sophisticated, and wealthy woman who, with her friends, sought to help the boys and girls at the school of her friend Martha Berry—and did so in unique ways.  The pilgrims were known for their ritual of the silver roll, which was made of silver paper with dollar bills attached as a gift to the school.  On the last day of the group’s visit, Mrs. Hammond took great delight in unrolling the object from the chancel to the steps of the Berry College Chapel–and often beyond.  Campus anticipation grew daily toward this event.

Joy overcame me when, while helping with the Martha Berry Digital Archive during Work Week 2015, I came upon a 1926 draft of an article by Mrs. Hammond entitled “Silver Rolling for the Berry Schools.”  Her notes were meant to help with a later article for Southern Highlander.  In her article, Mrs. Hammond recalls her and her husband’s silver wedding anniversary in 1924 and the silver roll presented to her by a friend for the Berry Schools.  The roll, made “of silver paper procured from the Dennison Manufacturing Company and cut the width of a dollar bill,” carried 166 one-dollar bills from as many friends, fastened to the paper with clips, and “extended from the chancel nearly to the door.”

Mrs. Hammond envisioned much greater things to be accomplished with her friends through the silver roll.  Following Martha Berry’s expressed hope that the silver anniversary roll for Berry might reach from Mount Berry to New York, Mrs. Hammond set about asking each of the forty-five pilgrims to build a roll for the 1927 visit to Berry.  As a result, the pilgrims’ roll that year reached from the chancel to the end of the lawn in front of the chapel.  One can imagine how overcome with joy Martha Berry might have been at that sight.

This article bears historical significance as it fills an important gap in the story of the silver roll and the tradition of a group of generous benefactors who came with Mrs. Hammond over several decades.  It was enlightening and rewarding to have learned the rest of the story behind an important event that I watched unfold over many years as both a student and an employee of Berry College. It has also set more firmly my recollections of Mrs. Hammond and other benevolent friends of my Alma Mater.

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LOTW 62: Martha Berry as a Real Person

by Olivia Mund

On my first ever official day spent editing documents for MBDA, I came across a letter that literally brought me to tears. Martha Berry wrote a letter to her friend Lula King, which contained the information that her mother had passed away two weeks before. In the letter, Miss Berry described her loneliness and grief at losing her mother. She said it was hard not having anyone to call “mother.”

In a letter Martha Berry wrote to Clayton Henson after her mother’s death, she thanked him for his words of sympathy and explained that outside the Berry schools, her mother was all she had. I can’t imagine how it must feel to believe you are that alone in the world, even though it wasn’t true. Miss Berry had many close friends and relationships that she relied on, like the strong friendship she had with Ellen Chase. In a letter Martha Berry wrote to her she described her fond thoughts towards her and the love she had shown to Miss Berry. However, Martha Berry’s claims of loneliness despite having treasured friends reveal her more flawed and humanistic traits, reminding us that she was an ordinary woman who accomplished greatness in the face of many hardships. Reading her descriptions of her isolation remind me that even a person surrounded by smiling children and loving friends can feel utterly alone.

This letter was so impactful to me because I think Berry students can have a tendency to forget Martha Berry was a real person. For those of us who do not have any immediate connection to her writings or work, it can be easy to see her as merely the Berry College mascot, in a twisted sense. Before joining MBDA I had no real sense of who Miss Berry was as a person and more specifically in her personal life. Reading this letter, among others, opened my eyes to the reality of who Martha Berry was. I was able to understand her on a more intimate level than the average Berry student is able. I can see the love Martha Berry felt towards others, like that which is expressed in her letter to Frances Ball explaining her willingness to help their family even though she was still recovering from bronchitis. I also see her devotion to the students in every letter she wrote on their behalf, asking and praying for donations to give the young boys and girls better lives.

Stories like these reveal Martha Berry’s great strength of character, which I greatly admire. While I don’t know the pain of losing a parent, I have lost a number of people I loved in my life. I know enough about loss to respect Miss Berry’s ability to move on and continue fighting for her cause after dealing with such an intense time of grief. The ability to overcome is one of the qualities I find most admirable in Martha Berry, and I am so glad for my early exposure to that side of her. This letter was perfect to read as one of the first documents I have edited and I could not be more excited to continue working with MBDA.

Letter to Mrs. King

LOTW 61: Virginia’s Scholarship

by Daniel Warner

It has always been interesting to me how the identities of the quiet lives of scholarship recipients are represented to donors. Having been a scholarship recipient, like most Berry students, I have had to go through the process of taking pictures and giving biographic information for the Alumni Center so that donors can put a face and a story to the person whose education their money is funding. Most of the time, this information has a positive, success-oriented slant. In this particular letter from Russell Sargent to Martha Berry, it is a little different. I feel that it makes an especially interesting type of personal appeal through biographical account.

Martha Berry sent many letters in her days at the Berry Schools seeking to solicit funding for particular students’ continued educations. She sent out these letters so prolifically that much of my reading in the MBDA has been of her donation solicitations. But in this letter, we see a bit of a different scenario from the typical perspective of Miss Berry writing to a potential benefactor, and instead the letter is addressed to Miss Berry with the intent of convincing her to take on a new student. This is significant because, instead of raising money for the schools, taking on a new student would naturally cost the school money. And with Miss Berry’s characteristic prudence, this would not appear an easy task. However, the presence alone of letters such as this shows another characteristic of Miss Berry, equal in vigor, which drove the Berry Schools toward their success: passion for opening up opportunities for people of otherwise limited means.

Sargent, in the letter, begins by talking fondly of the Berry Schools, and how he hopes to one day be able to contribute financially to the schools. He speaks of how he has seen the Schools grow and expand their influence, and how it delights him that they are touching more and more lives. He then goes on to talk of a little girl in the mountains of Georgia who wants to get to know the Schools named Virginia Gowen. The story he tells is that a certain Miss Allen found this girl at a Fresh Air Camp in the mountains, adopted her, and wants to give her an education specifically at the Berry School for girls.

He tells that she is a small child in the fourth grade who is bright, eager to learn, and very sweet. The only problem he can foresee that would prevent someone from immediately falling for Virginia is that she is rather small and cannot yet obtain her health certificate. But, he explains, this is because she has only recently started getting over the flu, which might be a contributing factor to her diminutive size. He ends the letter thanking Miss Berry for everything she has offered to him, and requests that she let him know of anything he can do to ensure Virginia’s enrollment in the Berry School for girls.

We think so frequently of Berry as a college, but there is such a rich history of teaching and learning at Berry for younger ages as well. Sargent’s earnest desire to enroll Virginia, this girl who he had only known for a few weeks, shows his view of the importance of education early on. We can also draw from the appeal he gives to Miss Berry that he feels she will hold the same view, which surely has been substantiated over Berry’s history, and with the current existence of the Child Development Center and Berry elementary and middle schools. It is a very personal, emotion-based appeal that he gives to Miss Berry, a targeted entreaty to the generous and empathetic side of her that I feel we sometimes lose track of in considering her meticulously cultivated image of stalwart strength.

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LOTW 60: Knitting and Hooked Rugs

by Rachel Renaud

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

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

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

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


LOTW 59: A Creative Writer’s Perspective

by Daniel Warner
(Introduction by Meg Ratliff)

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

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

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

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