by Lindsey Irvin and Chelsea Risley
I am always amazed by the amount of money people have sent to the Berry Schools. I recently read many documents from 1928 recording $150 donations. Considering that these were made over 80 years ago and that it then cost nearly that much to go to Berry for a year, $150 is an impressive contribution.
I’ve read letters from individuals who gave as much as $250, which is a generous sum in the year before the Great Depression. But, for the most part, the donations I’ve seen were in the $100 -$150 range, and Berry was always very grateful for that support.
Recently I ran across a December 1928 donation of $1,000 from Albert Shaw and his family. This generous contribution paid for almost 7 students to go to school for a year. Out of curiosity, I decided to determine what the Shaw family’s donation would be worth today. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1 in 1928 had about the same buying power as $13.68 today. That means the Shaw family’s donation would be worth about $13,677.02 in 2013. Even more curious, I looked at Berry’s tuition for a student in 2013. One year’s tuition is $29,090, and that is just tuition. It does not include board and food plans, which, depending on what year you are, can be close to $13,000. So that generous donation that the Shaw Family gave in 1928 is worth less than a semester here at Berry College now.
Then I began thinking about other differences between The Berry Schools during Martha Berry’s time and Berry College today. One huge difference is the work program. During the early twentieth century, students at The Berry Schools worked because they had to – now the work program is optional (but highly encouraged). Back then, students worked on the farm in the fields or with the animals, at the dairy, in the kitchens, making handicrafts and weaving in Sunshine Cottage, and doing construction on campus. Students could also be employed by faculty as domestic help for the same rate that they would be paid if they were employed by the school. Today, Berry has tons of work options. Some students still work at the dairy, but there are jobs like teacher assistants, working at the Berry College Elementary & Middle School, working and doing research in all the departments on campus, plumbing, masonry, library, computer labs, Berry Information Technology Students – the list goes on and on and on.
Students at Berry College in 2013 wake up (or don’t) whenever they choose, they go to classes that they choose and can even select the time of their classes and for the most part are able to choose their work times. They also choose what to do in their free time and when their free time is, as well as when they go to bed at night. Under Martha Berry’s time as founder of The Berry Schools, the students had a rigid schedule. Their wake-up bells were at 5:45 am, and the whole campus had scheduled meal times. The student body was divided into three parts that rotated duties. Each day two-thirds of the students would go to classes while the other third worked. They also had a specified block of “free time,” a bed time and “Silent Time” at 9:10 pm.
It’s fascinating to see how much Berry has changed over the years, and how much has stayed the same. There’s still a fantastic and very unique work program. The faculty and staff are still interested in giving the students the best educational and living experience they can offer. They are also still interested in the student as an individual human being. The school’s motto of an education of the “head heard and hands” as phrased by Martha Berry herself is still very much in place, and her desire to grow children into well-rounded, experienced, hard-working and intelligent human beings is still being accomplished.