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Martha Berry Papers: Scope and Content

The Martha Berry papers contain office correspondence, subject files, a copy of Miss Berry's last will and testament, newspaper clippings about Miss Berry and the Berry Schools and several manuscripts and speeches. The oldest materials are letters dating back to the beginning of the schools in 1902. The bulk of the collection dates from 1922-1941. The largest volume of material is Miss Berry's office correspondence. Most of this collection was transferred from a dormitory attic on the Berry College Campus and from the Martha Berry Museum.

The five series in this collection are organized by type of material. The series are: Office Correspondence (1902-1941), Subject File Correspondence (1908 - 1941), Literary Productions, Legal Documents, and Printed Materials. Details on organization and contents for each series may be found in the series descriptions.

The largest series of these papers, Miss Berry's office correspondence, documents her efforts to raise the necessary funds to keep the Berry Schools in operation. The correspondence reflects the various methods she used to raise money, including direct mailings, special pamphlets designed to raise money for specific projects or buildings, exhibits and shows of Berry handicrafts, special speaking engagements and presentations in homes, churches, at various society meetings and in hotels throughout the country. Miss Berry, frequently accompanied by students and school staff, traveled extensively trying to raise funds for the schools. Materials in this series reveal the efforts and success of the Miss Berry's personal mission to teach life skills as well as book learning to poor southern mountain children during a period when good public education was not readily available to these students. References are made throughout the correspondence to the magazine Southern Highlander which Miss Berry published to promote the mission of the Schools and raise funds. She sent this magazine all over the country to individual subscribers and placed it on trains and in hotel lobbies. Copies of the Southern Highlander are located in the Berry Collection of serials in the Berry College Archives.

The office correspondence documents Miss Berry's relationship with several philanthropists of the period, including Emily Vanderbilt Hammond. Documents in these files describe elaborate arrangements made at Berry to entertain these special guests.

The office correspondence sheds some light on Miss Berry's role as director of the Schools through copies of letters sent to various faculty, staff and trustees. There are not very many such letters, but those available reveal some of her attitudes and values. For example, a number of letters reminding faculty of restrictions on visitors from Rome reflect her tendency, especially in the early years, to physically isolate the schools from Rome and the surrounding community. Other letters show her strictly enforcing various rules both for workers and for students.

There are two notable types of materials missing from the Martha Berry Papers. There are no records of Miss Berry's life before she founded the Schools and virtually no personal papers with the exception of a certified copy of her will. Any surviving papers or artifacts from her early life are located in either the Martha Berry Museum or at Oak Hill the family home. Some letters of a somewhat personal nature are located among the office correspondence. The Berry Schools defined Miss Berry's life. From the time she started the Schools until her death, it is difficult to separate any biographical information about Martha Berry from the history of the Schools. Therefore, it is not surprising that very little personal correspondence has been found dating from the founding of the Schools to her death. Some of the long-time donors to the Schools became Miss Berry's personal friends, including, Clara Ford, Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, and Kate Macy Ladd. Miss Berry's correspondence with these donors tends to be of a more personal nature than her other correspondence. With very few exceptions, these letters to donor friends are as personal as her exchanges with her sisters and their children. The office files reveal her nieces, Frances Wright Ball and Virginia Campbell Courts as her closest correspondents among family members.

Many politically and socially prominent people are counted among Miss Berry's correspondents. These include Henry and Clara Bryant Ford, Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, Kate Macy Ladd, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard B. Russell, John Sibley, Robert Woodruff, and Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson.

Series descriptions and a container listing of boxes and folders follows. Personal names and a few selected subjects appear in the index to the Martha Berry Papers.

Related materials housed in the Berry College Archives include correspondence files of Robert H. Adams, W. C. Atkins, J. L. Leggett, G. Leland Green, Elizabeth Brewster, Alice L. Wingo, Corinne Laney, Sophie Payne Alston, and Herman Hoge. The archives maintain copies of John Sibley's papers relating to his tenure on Berry's Board of Trustees, photographs and postcards during Miss Berry's lifetime, and several local serial publications. The archives has the office correspondence files of Inez Henry, which are donor files similar to those of Miss Berry's. The original papers of John Sibley are located in the Special Collections Department at Emory University. Additional printed matter and artifacts related to Martha Berry and the history of the Berry Schools are located in the Martha Berry Museum and at Oak Hill. 

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