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For the Cherokee bead artist, see Martha Berry (artist)
Martha Berry, the founder of Berry College. circa 1911
October 7, 1865|
Jackson County, Alabama, U.S.
|Died||February 27, 1942
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Occupation||Berry College Founder, Educator|
Martha McChesney Berry was the daughter of Capt. Thomas Berry, a veteran of the Mexican-American War and American Civil War, and Frances Margaret Rhea, a daughter of an Alabama planter. Berry was born on October 7, 1866, in Berry Cove in Jackson County, Alabama, but her family relocated to Rome, Georgia, when she was an infant. Thomas Berry was a partner in Berrys and Company, a wholesale grocery and cotton brokerage business in Rome.
In 1871, he purchased Oak Hill, a 116-acre (0.47 km2) working farm on the Oostanaula River, approximately one and one-half miles north of Rome. Miss Berry grew up in this home along with her five sisters, two brothers, and three orphaned cousins. Her early education was conducted through private tutors, and she attended the Edgeworth School, a finishing school in Baltimore, Maryland. This was the only formal education she received. Martha Berry lived at Oak Hill for the remainder of her life.
The Berry Schools
The founding of the Berry Schools was inspired by Berry’s desire to help the children of poor landowners and tenant farmers in Georgia who did not have access to quality education. As a consequence of this desire, Martha Berry never married, and she devoted her life to developing the schools that would eventually become Berry College.
In the late 1890s, she constructed a small, whitewashed school on eighty-three acres of land given to her by her father and began to teach Sunday school classes to local children. She also taught in an abandoned Possum Trot Church, which still stands on the Berry College campus.
Boys' and Girls' Schools
The Sunday school classes eventually turned into day school activities, and Berry opened a boarding facility for boys called Boys’ Industrial School on January 13, 1902. At the time, Berry had only five boarders, but the need was apparent and in 1909 she opened the Martha Berry School for Girls. Both schools offered high school-level education and were open to those willing to study hard and work for the school. Her teachings focused on the "hands, head, and hearts" of her students: The ability to learn, work and the will to do both well. Her motto was and still is the motto of the college, “Not to be ministered unto but to minister.”
In 1926, she established Berry Junior College, which in 1930 expanded into a four-year school. Martha Berry died in 1942 and the schools were faced with several years of transition. The Martha Berry School for Girls closed at the end of the 1955-1956 academic year. The boys’ high school was renamed Mount Berry School for Boys, and in 1962 it became Berry Academy, which was closed in 1983 when Berry College incorporated. The college has been reducing the number of student work opportunities and increasing tuition, and balancing the actions by offering 'scholarships' to those who apply. The reduced tuition still exceeds the state school's tuition by almost $1500 per semester for off-campus students, and $2500 more for on-campus students.
Martha Berry had many supporters during her lifetime, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, Ellen Louise Axson Wilson (wife of President Woodrow Wilson), and Henry Ford. Ford in particular was a generous benefactor to the schools and provided the funds necessary to build the “castle”-like dormitory complex found at the college. These dormitories are named after Ford's wife and mother, Clara and Mary.
Martha Berry is the subject of several biographies: Martha Berry the Sunday Lady of Possum Trot by Tracy Byers, and Miracle in the Mountains by Harnett Thomas Kane and Inez Henry. Also of note is Berry College, A History: The Legacy of Martha Berry by Ouida Dickey and Doyle Mathis. Another balanced biography of Berry is Evelyn Hoge Pendley's A Lady I Loved.
Educators have written that Martha Berry was responsible for the creation of work-study programs grounded in Christian faith that are found throughout the South. Miss Berry certainly put her unique touch upon her school, centering around the maxim that "prayer changes things".
- Media related to Martha Berry at Wikimedia Commons
- New Georgia Encyclopedia
- The Unofficial Berry Academy Website
- Berry Breakfast Club
- Official Site of Berry College Archives
- Martha Berry Digital Archive