Arielle Fischer, Campus Carrier features editor

José Reyes, Campus Carrier asst. features editor

Every March is considered National Women’s History Month in the US, honoring the contributions of women in history and modern society. At Berry, women continue to play significant roles in the school’s founding, development and preservation. This month, those women deserve recognition for their lasting contribution. In her time, Berry’s founder, Martha Berry, was one of the few women in history to have founded a college. Martha Berry, the daughter of a prosperous businessman, saw the poverty in the Appalachian Mountains and desired to give children a meaningful education in exchange for work, according to Berry College’s website. To illustrate the poverty level during the early 1900s, research was conducted by the Appalachian Regional Commission, entitled “Development and Progress of the Appalachian Higher Education Network,” in Appalachia, 8% of the population completed high school. In 1902, Martha Berry established the Boys Industrial School, adding the Martha Berry School for Girls seven years later, depicted on Berry’s website. In 1926, Berry became a junior college then eventually a senior college, holding the same work ethic and ideals established by Martha Berry over a century prior. Today, Berry reflects on its own women’s history and the contributions women have brought to the college. 

Notable Female Contributors and Supporters:

  • Clara Ford: 
    • Clara Ford and her husband, Henry Ford, supported Berry College by donating large sums of money, construction equipment and the Ford Buildings. 
  • Emily Vanderbilt Hammond: 
    • Emily Vanderbilt Hammond was the founder of the Parents League of New York and friend to Martha Berry. The league continues today and is a source to parents of children who attend independent and private schools. 
  • Ellen Axson Wilson: 
    • Ellen Axson Wilson, a friend of Berry, was the First Lady of the United States. Following the death of Wilson’s brother, Edward Axson, a scholarship was created at Berry College in his honor. 
  • Isabella Blackstone:
    • Isabella Blackstone donated funds for Blackstone Hall on Berry’s campus. Blackstone hall was originally a dining hall and library for campus but was later renovated to be a theater. 
  • Audrey Morgan:
    • Audrey Morgan donated $1 million to the renovations of what is now the Sister’s Theater. Morgan later donated another $1 million from her sister’s foundation.

Berry’s success:

            Martha Berry’s vision has persevered and grown over the past 120 years; however, much of that success can be attributed to the initial efforts of the founder and other influential women. 

            Susan Bandy (70C), author, and member and co-chair of the Daughters of Berry programs committee, spoke on how Martha’s dreams endured over time and acknowledged how Berry’s achievement was accomplished largely through women’s efforts.

 “The school was founded by a woman, and that notion still exists here,” Bandy mentioned. “[Martha] started from nothing, and from a woman who couldn’t vote, Martha Berry started this place. I think that matters subconsciously here.”

Bandy said the subconscious idea that such a distinguished and long-lasting school was founded by a woman exists in some of the practices, organizations and employment Berry has today. She mentioned specifically that 51% of top administration leadership positions at the college are filled by women, in addition to Berry’s involvement in opening the doors to women’s sports and championships. 

“Achievement is inherent in this school because of Martha Berry,” Bandy said. “How could you not accept women in these positions when the school was started by one?”

Bandy said it was not easy for a woman in rural Georgia to gain support and awareness for her vision. A strategy Martha upheld was to write letters to philanthropist wives, gaining their support for her school, according to Bandy. Then, the wives informed their husbands, encouraging donations to Martha’s cause. Bandy also said that with philanthropic support, Berry began to attract the attention of artists, politicians and inventors, gaining popularity and praise. 

Martha Berry School for Girls:

            The Martha Berry School for Girls began in 1909, just seven years after the girl’s school’s official opening. According to member and co-chair of the Daughters of Berry, Susan Bandy (70C), only five girls were admitted, but that number grew to several dozen within a few years. 

            “In 1909, Martha Berry said she ‘bootlegged’ the girl’s school by not telling anybody on the Board of Trustees what she was doing,” Bandy said. “They started by building the log cabins; the boy’s school built the log cabin campus. The curriculum was very practical at first. It was the domestic sciences, gardening, cooking and weaving to preserve the traditional arts of the region. Then after a while, Martha began to put together a curriculum that was comparable to the high school curriculum for public schools.”

            Bandy took inspiration from a former Berry scholar who wrote a book on the boys’ school, to write a book of her own that focused on the Martha Berry School for Girls. To write this novel, Bandy found historical information from the archives and interviewed 23 former girls’ school graduates about their lives and the impact the school had on them. Bandy’s book is titled, “The Martha Berry School for Girls: The Extraordinary Lives of ‘Ordinary Women’” and it highlights how Martha Berry’s school took in young girls from poverty and helped them become professional, successful women.  

Daughters of Berry:

This past Thursday, the Daughters of Berry celebrated their 14th annual Founder’s Legacy Dinner and 83 years of service, commemorating women in leadership. At the dinner, the organization honored four seniors for their dedication and hard work. Haley Ewald, Allison Ivey, Maggie Owen and Grace Snell received scholarships and recognition for their commitment to Martha Berry’s fundamentals and hopes, being leaders for themselves and their peers. 

Lori Frederick (93C, 11G), Director of Berry College Elementary & Middle Schools (BCEMS), and a member of the Daughters of Berry, detailed the organization’s history at the dinner. 

“The legacy of this group began in the fall of 1939 when Miss Berry called for a gathering of her closest colleagues,” Frederick said. “Martha proposed, ‘We’ll meet in Roosevelt cabin and make plans for the preservation of this school’s story.’ [Daughters of Berry’s] purpose was inspired by Miss Berry’s enthusiasm for the school and their own motivation and dedication, which became distinct characters of the nature of Berry College. They named the group the Daughters of Berry and set forth a mission to build a museum dedicated to preserving the history and story of Berry and its founder. Miss Berry knew that the study and preservation of the past, both traditions and history, woven with the ideals of progress, would benefit future generations.”

Member and co-chair of the Daughters of Berry programs committee, Susan Bandy (70C) reflected on the organization’s history and how the Daughters of Berry have lived up to Martha Berry’s legacy. 

“It was a direct wish and statement of Martha’s that the history and the traditions of this school would be preserved, and it would be in the hands of women,” Bandy said. “Martha might have put men on the board as the donors or businessmen of the college, but it was always women she entrusted to do the work and preserve the school’s legacy and mission. Women were the stewards of the history and traditions of this place.”

Today, the Daughters of Berry remains a community for alumna to connect and foster Martha’s vision and Berry College’s history. 

At Berry, women are credited with much of the college’s success and growth. Without women’s influence on campus through labor, and off-campus through donations, Berry might have remained only a vision in Martha’s mind. Today, because of the efforts of Berry’s resilient women who reflect Martha’s motto, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister,” the legacy of Berry’s founder is upheld and preserved. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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