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Martha Berry
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Born:Rome, Georgia, October 7, 1866
Died:Atlanta, Georgia, February 27, 1942

Martha Berry is alive and living today in the hearts and minds of the students of Berry College. While on her estate, Oak Hill, a student guide spoke of her great admiration for the late college founder and she(the guide) wanted to "be like her." Her legacy lives not only at the institution but throughout Northwest Georgia.

Martha Berry
Martha Berry
Photo courtesy Oak Hill &
The Martha Berry Museum
Born shortly after the Civil War to wealthy parents, Berry began her career as an educator teaching classes on Sunday to the poor children of Possum Trot. Berry decided to start a school at Lavender Mountain for these children. The county agreed to hire 2 teachers for the new school. Realizing that would not be enough she paid for a third herself and contributed her own time and money, frequently supplementing the school's meager budget. The school showed immediate results and steadily increased in students.

In 1902, against the advice of her family and attorneys she deeded land to found the Boys Industrial School. At this time public schools were not common in Georgia. The student body and school grew rapidly. To meet community needs, expansion and money became essential. Ms. Berry traveled extensively to raise cash. Among the largest donors were Andrew Carnegie and, later, Henry Ford. President Theodore Roosevelt, who held a dinner in the White House to raise money, encouraged her to build a girls school as well. On Thanksgiving Day in 1909 The Berry Schools opened with a coeducational program.

Praise came quickly for the work of The Berry Schools. President Woodrow Wilson, himself an educator, marveled at the accomplishments of the schools. World War I presented opportunities for her students to demonstrate the skills they acquired. One frequently told story involves a letter she received from an officer who was impressed that Berry students under his command could read, cook, wash clothes, build a house and perform a religious service.

From the inception of the Boys Industrial School to the post-War expansion of 1920's a dramatic change had swept across North Georgia. Public schools, once rare, became common. A true visionary, Ms. Berry adopted her goals to a changing world. The need for secondary education was being successfully met by state government so she started Berry College in 1926. Originally a junior college, the school expanded to a full curriculum in 1928 and Martha Berry personally gave the first graduates their diplomas in 1932. At 65, the matriarch of the college was advised to "slow down" by her doctors. But the depression had left her fledgling college short of funds. Over the next seven years the tireless Ms. Berry continued her work, only occasionally slowed by physical ailments.

A devout Episcopalian she believed that "prayers change things." Towards the end of her life a heart condition complicated matters. Berry was frequently rushed to Atlanta in a black sedan given to her by her old friend and benefactor Henry Ford. It was on one of these trips that Ms. Berry died. In the midst of World War II a nation paused and said goodbye.

The litany that is the history of our nation pays homage to few people like Martha Berry. Personal sacrifice to achieve lofty goals. An ability to stay focused on the task at hand. Identifying a problem and correcting it. Today the concern and care she showed unselfishly for her fellow man is mandated in a government program. Bureaucrats distribute where she gave. But her hope and faith cannot be legislated. On the face of a student guide, in that guide's distant look and words of hope, a portion of the dream that inspired Martha Berry lives today.

The story of Martha Berry is as dramatic as it is inspirational. This biography only relates a small portion of her saga. We encourage you to visit the Berry College web site, and the next time you are in Rome, Georgia, stop and see Oak Hill and The Martha Berry Museum.

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