Martha Berry (1866-1942)
Martha Berry was the founder of the Berry Schools
Martha McChesney Berry was born on October 7, 1866, in Alabama, to Frances Margaret Rhea and Thomas Berry. Her Scots-Irish ancestors came to the British colonies in North America in the first half of the eighteenth century. Her father was a lieutenant in the Mexican War (1846-48), a Forty-niner in the California gold rush, and a captain for the Confederacy in the Civil War (1861-65). Her mother was a daughter of an Alabama planter.
Founding of the Schools
Martha Berry was very devoted to her father, and she rode horseback along with him into the nearby hills and mountain areas, visiting with poorer landowners and tenant farmers. Her father often assisted these families with their needs, and Martha developed a desire to help them also. She never married; she made this desire her life's work.
In the late 1890s Berry met three young boys crossing the family's property near Oak Hill on a Sunday afternoon. She learned they did not go to school or Sunday school.
Berry concluded that, in order to have sufficient impact on the children, she needed to keep them at the schools rather than have them live at home. She had a dormitory built, and on January 13, 1902, she opened the Boys' Industrial School with five boarding students on the land near her home. After the school was incorporated the next year with a board of trustees, she deeded the eighty-three-acre tract to the corporation. This school later became known as the Mount Berry School for Boys, and on Thanksgiving Day in 1909 she opened the Martha Berry School for Girls approximately a mile from the boys' school. These were high schools also offering lower-level studies in the early years. The Berry schools became models for vocational, agricultural, and mechanical schools throughout the world because they showed how the needs of people in poor rural areas could be met. Through her schools Berry blazed a trail for the establishment of an agricultural and mechanical school in each congressional district of Georgia.
In 1926 she established Berry Junior College, which in 1930 expanded into a four-year school. The high schools were closed in later years following Berry's death in 1942. The college has continued its founder's focus on the education of the head, the heart, and the hands of its students and on the motto she had chosen: "Not to be ministered unto but to minister."
Berry traveled widely, seeking support for her schools, and became an accomplished fund-raiser.
Although she was never a college student, Berry was awarded honorary doctorates by eight colleges and universities:
Berry continued to be honored after her death on February 27, 1942. Her grave site near the Berry College Chapel is marked by the Atlanta Gas Light Company's first posthumous Shining Light Award. The Georgia segment of U.S. Highway 27 was designated as the Martha Berry Highway, her portrait was hung in the state capitol's Gallery of Distinguished Georgians, she was included among the inaugural inductees into Georgia Women of Achievement, and she was selected for induction into the Agricultural Hall of Fame at the University of Georgia.
Jonathan M. Atkins, "Philanthropy in the Mountains: Martha Berry and the Early Years of the Berry Schools," Georgia Historical Quarterly 82 (winter 1998).
Tracy Byers, Martha Berry: The Sunday Lady of Possum Trot (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1932).
Ouida Dickey and Doyle Mathis, Berry College: A History (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005).
Doyle Mathis and Ouida Dickey, Martha Berry: Sketches of Her Schools and College (Atlanta: Wings, 2001).
Evelyn Hoge Pendley, A Lady I Loved (Mount Berry, Ga.: Berry College, 1966).
Jennifer Lund Smith, "Lucy Craft Laney and Martha Berry: Lighting Fires of Knowledge," in Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, vol. 1., ed. Ann Short Chirhart and Betty Wood (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).
Doyle Mathis, Berry College
Ouida W. Dickey, Berry College
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