By: Allison Moore
Having worked for MBDA for three years, I have come across hundreds of donation pamphlets. They are probably the most common item in our collections, and often cause the editor some chagrin. Do I list it as being from “The Berry Schools,” since it is an excerpt from a pamphlet dispersed by the school, or from the donor? How do I title it, especially since it’s not a letter? Is there any interesting information I can put in the summary rather than “donation of… from…”? They are nobody’s favorite document, but sometimes you may come across one with an interesting story.
While editing this donation slip from 1939, I noticed a small note at the bottom in Martha Berry’s unmistakable scrawl: “Owns Coca Cola Atlanta.” As born and bred Atlantan, I am very familiar with the Coca-Cola Company, its story, and have visited The World of Coke on multiple occasions. Because of this, I was very interested to learn of the connection between Berry College and this staple of Atlanta life. A quick internet search revealed that Mrs. Arthur K. Evans of Hot Springs, VA is better known as Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans, who is considered to be first woman leader in the Coca-Cola Company. She gained this role mostly by happenstance, when her husband purchased the rights to bottle Coca-Cola for international distribution in 1899. He died a few years later, leaving the quickly growing Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company to his wife. Even after re-marrying, Whitehead Evans maintained control of the company for the next few decades, including overseeing the opening of a bottling center in England. Although women did not commonly hold such positions in the early 20th century, she was a widely respected business leader in the Atlanta community. She retired to Virginia in 1934 after selling her company to Coca-Cola.
In 2015, the Coca-Cola corporate offices named a board room after her, but that is far from her only legacy. Here at Berry, the Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation funds a need-based scholarship that allows students to gain financial aid in exchange for community service. Although the relationship, if there was any, between Lettie Pate Whitehead and Martha Berry is unclear, it is easy to see the similarities between these two women. Both were fiercely independent, and unwilling to accept the role society established for them. It is no wonder that Mrs. Whitehead Evans so generously supported Martha Berry’s mission.