By Olivia Mund
In reading through various letters in the archives, one in particular caught my eye: a letter from Mrs. Lillian Kimball Stewart to Martha Berry. This letter from a member of the Oshkosh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution expressed the concerns of the chapter over a rumor they heard stating that Martha Berry hoisted a Confederate flag over the School without also raising an American flag. The rumor also claimed that because of this action, half the students left the School. Mrs. Stewart and the Oshkosh Chapter were immensely concerned about this rumor since they so wholeheartedly supported Martha Berry and the work of her school. In the letter, Mrs. Stewart expressed the seriousness of this claim, which could not be quickly dismissed, and asked for an answer as to the truthfulness of the information since the chapter did not want to discontinue their support of the School.
Martha Berry replied to this letter almost two weeks later, astonished by the falsehoods someone was spreading about the School. According to Martha Berry, her response was so delayed because she had been sick with influenza when the letter arrived. In her response, Martha Berry stated she was completely unaware of the rumor and had no idea how it even started. Her only thought about the origin of the rumor was that someone who wished to harm the School and Martha Berry’s reputations started it. In the response letter, Martha Berry thanked Mrs. Stewart and the rest of the chapter for their confidence in her character and support of her work with the School.
Coming across these two letters was an eye-opening experience for me. As a Berry student, one constantly hears the praises of Martha Berry and her great work. I myself am extremely grateful for her life’s work and the dedication to such a noble cause. Without her commitment, many young people would not have received a quality education and the chance to better themselves in the world. When I read these letters, I was suddenly aware that people were not unanimously supportive of Martha Berry’s work. Although this thought may have always been present in my mind, such an outright act of spite shocked me with its implications for the School and Martha Berry’s reputations. I am curious who would have been so set against Martha Berry’s efforts as to start such a malicious rumor, but in the end it does not matter. Martha Berry’s School lives on today, continuing to spread her mission of educating young people to become better citizens of the world, and it is all thanks to people like the members of the Oshkosh Chapter of the D.A.R. who supported Martha Berry every step of the way.