LOTW 75: Good Til the Last Drop

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.

LOTW 74: Grief and Friendship

By: Olivia Mund

In reading through letters in the Archives, I come across many mentions of the passing of Frances Rhea Berry, Martha Berry’s mother. However, this letter Martha Berry wrote to Kate Macy Ladd specifically stood out to me. The first aspect of the letter that caught my attention was the description provided of France Rhea at the time of her death. Her refusal to take morphine paints a picture of her strength and determination. I was surprised to see that all eight of her children were with her when she passed away, especially since many young people these days do not have a strong connection and commitment to their families like that.

The main part of Martha Berry’s letter that intrigued me was the portrayal of friendship between herself and Kate Macy Ladd. I think everyone should have friends they can count on for committed love and care, like Martha Berry says is true of Kate Ladd. At the same time, I believe it speaks to Martha Berry’s character that she was willing to wait to reach out to this close friend in her time of grief because she knew Kate Ladd was unwell at the time. It seems like such a small act to simply wait a little while to write a letter, but by doing so Martha Berry was setting the tone and standard for how friends should act and the selfless respect they should pay one another.

LOTW 73: Berry Royalty

By Olivia Mund

In working with MBDA, I get a glimpse into the history of the school and a picture of who Martha Berry was. In addition to this, I often learn other historical facts when editing letters in the archive’s database. Recently when I was editing, I came across a letter that revealed the information that Martha Berry’s niece married a prince in Italy. I was surprised by this and decided to look in the database for more details. After more searching I learned that Martha Berry’s sister was a princess, and that her niece’s wedding was attended by a number of cardinals and blessed by the Pope. I couldn’t believe I never knew about any of this. I’m sure many Berry students are not aware of these royal connections and would be amazed to learn about it.

I thought it was interesting in one of the letters I found in my search for more information how Martha Berry’s sister asked her to give ten thousand dollars as a wedding present to her niece. Martha Berry replied to that request by commenting that she didn’t have that kind of money. She said if she did she would give it to the School and not foreigners, however, she only had herself to give to the School, which she gave without restraint. Even though Martha Berry had royal connections and family members blessed by the Pope, she didn’t lose sight of what truly mattered to her. Martha Berry cared about her work with the School, and that is what she kept her focus on.

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LOTW 72: Personal Solicitation

By Jordan Brannen

While editing  a few weeks ago, I came across a letter from Charles Swift from the Union Stockyards in Chicago. In this letter, Swift was replying to an appeal from Martha Berry, saying that he appreciates Miss Berry carrying on personal correspondence rather than personal solicitation. After reading this line I had to pause. From the modern day reader, one look at an appeal letter that Martha Berry sent and it immediately looks like personal solicitation. Then, as a historian, I tried to look at the letter with the context of a 1926 mindset. After thinking this way for just a short time, it was easy to see that while today Martha Berry’s letters look impersonal, at the time she was alive these letters were revolutionary.  In an age where people could not hear about the struggles of the mountain kids from northwest Georgia on social media or television, letters in the mail were how people got their information. Receiving a personalized letter in the mail asking for help would have been much more powerful then, and this is largely why Martha Berry and the Berry schools were so successful. At the end of the letter Charles Swift promises to increase his one hundred dollars per year promise to one hundred and fifty dollars for the Berry.


LOTW 71: Golden Anniversary

By Olivia Mund

One letter in the Martha Berry Digital Archive’s database that captured my attention during recent editing was from Martha Berry to Mr. and Mrs. J. Howard Keep. In the letter Martha Berry thanks the couple for their donation to the school. If this was the extent of the letter, there would be nothing truly extraordinary about the contents, however, the amount of the donation had a specific reasoning behind it, which I found unusual. Mr. and Mrs. J. Howard Keep had just recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and decided to donate to the Berry Schools a dollar for every year they had been married.

I found this so intriguing because fifty dollars was not a small sum of money in 1930. When I read this letter I was moved by the fact this couple, who were probably about seventy years old, believed so strongly in the work of Martha Berry and her school that they were willing to sacrifice this considerable amount for her sake. Donating this money may have even meant they could not afford gifts for each other. On the other hand, it is altogether possible this amount was not a sacrifice at all for Mr. and Mrs. J. Howard Keep to provide. While I do not know the financial situation of this couple, I can see the power of such a gift as theirs. To celebrate a mile-marker moment in one’s life by giving to a cause one believes in is a beautiful gesture.


LOTW 70: McCray Refridgeration

By Rachel Renaud

Besides my work in editing documents on MBDA, I work for Dr. Snider of the Berry History Department. One of my many tasks for her includes updating the bulletin board outside her office. Each semester there is a new theme that is researched and developed into a board display. This past semester I’ve been researching the names engraved on the classroom and office doors in Evans Hall. Most of these names represent a child who donated to the Berry Schools in honor of their mother, whose name appears on a door. While researching these names, I used the MBDA site to see if I could find any interesting relationship between the donor and the Berry Schools.

While researching Sarah Orr and her daughter Lena McCray, I found a letter from Robert C. Alston. In the letter Mr. Alston giving names of possible donors, one of which is Mrs. McCray. The letter mentions how Mrs. McCray’s husband owns the McCray Refrigeration Company, but further research found that there is so much more to that.

The McCray Refrigeration Company established a new standard of refrigeration, and produced some of the first modern, sanitary refrigerators. It seems like such a trivial matter, but I find it interesting to see how many people Martha Berry interacted with and the unique roles those people played in history. There’s no telling how many other letters in MBDA have gone to people with small, but important parts in history.

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LOTW 69: Confederate Flag Rumors

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.69-1 69-2 69-3

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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