Martha Berry at her desk

Our Rich History

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The seeds of Berry College were planted in 1902 with the opening of the Boys Industrial School, a boarding school for boys located approximately three miles north of Rome, Ga. The school's creation was the result of the vision and devoted efforts of Martha Berry, the daughter of a prosperous local business owner, who had come to believe that education could provide a path from poverty for local children.

Miss Berry first became sensitive to the impoverished condition of many of the people who lived in the area's mountains when some young boys stumbled upon the private cabin retreat where she had gone to read her Bible. She was shocked to learn that the children attended neither church nor school and that they were unfamiliar with basic Bible stories. Her willingness to offer them rudimentary instruction soon developed into a Sunday school that attracted numerous children from neighboring families. She then established four day schools, but after these schools appeared ineffective Miss Berry decided in 1902 to use the 83 acres that she had inherited from her father to found the Boys Industrial School.

Historic Dates

  • 1902 - Boys Industrial School was founded.
  • 1909 - Martha Berry School for Girls was added.

  • 1914 - Work became an integral component of the Berry education with students working eight hours on two days of the week and attending class for the remaining four. The work program kept operating and maintenance costs low and helped to offset the students' tuition and expenses.

  • 1926 – The school became a junior college and soon after a senior college.

  • 1930's - The college owned 30,000 acres, made possible through Miss Berry’s relentless fundraising efforts that resulted in substantial contributions from the nation's political and social elite. 

  • 1930 - Miss Berry gained national renown for her educational efforts including being named by Good Housekeeping magazine as one of the nation's 12 most influential women. 

  • 1932 – Berry College graduated its first class.
  • 1942 - Miss Berry's death deprived the schools of their central figure as the institution entered a difficult period.

  • 1955 - The Martha Berry School for Girls was closed due to declining contributions and a proliferation of public education alternatives after World War II.

  • 1956 - John R. Bertrand was appointed president, resulting in a concentrated development of the college's liberal arts and professional program offerings.

  • 1957 - Berry College was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Admission efforts were expanded to include urban areas, non-traditional students and commuters.

  • 1960's/70's - Reforms were enacted including paying student workers instead of crediting accounts, modifying the strict code on student behavior, abandoning uniform dress and mandatory religious services and holding national searches for faculty members.

  • 1963-64 - Student work was made voluntary. 

  • 1964 - The Boys Industrial School was renamed Berry Academy. 

  • 1971 - Berry Academy was made coeducational.

  • 1980 - Gloria M. Shatto succeeded Bertrand as president and continued to work toward securing the institution's financial stability.

  • 1983 - Berry Academy was closed in 1983 due to struggles with high cost and low enrollment.

  • 1990's - Berry College annually enrolled approximately 1,800 undergraduates and 200 graduate students.

  • 1998 - John Scott Colley assumed the presidency with goals of improving the college's national academic reputation, increasing diversity within the faculty and student body, and improving classroom, laboratory and student life facilities. 

  • 1999 - From land sales, local development and sound investment, Berry's endowment had grown to approximately 185th among educational institutions nationally.

  • 2002-2006: The “Century Campaign” generated $107 million in gifts to support construction of a state-of-the-art science center (now called McAllister Hall), restoration of the historic Ford Complex (with a new alumni center), and renovation of the Cook Building as a teacher education facility, among other advances

  • 2006 - Colley retired after realizing his goals through Berry's largest and most successful fundraising campaign to date.

  • July 2006 - Stephen R. Briggs became Berry's eighth president. 

  • 2008 - The $32.5 million Steven J. Cage Athletic and Recreation Center opened providing a 131,000-square-foot home for intercollegiate athletics and established a new focal point for student life on the Berry campus.
    • Berry joins the Annapolis Group, an organization of leading national independent liberal arts colleges.
    • The institution began its transition to NCAA Division III, eventually becoming a founding member of the Southern Athletic Association of academically excellent residential liberal arts colleges across the region.
    • The Gate of Opportunity Scholarship was created, offering highly motivated students with a strong work ethic the opportunity to experience the Berry education and graduate debt free.
  • 2014-present: The “LifeReady Campaign” raises more than $113 million (to date) supporting growth of the innovative Gate of Opportunity Scholarship Program, establishment of academic centers for integrity in leadership and entrepreneurship and construction of a campus Welcome Center, Sisters Theatre, Valhalla Stadium, animal science laboratory and, most recently, the Christopher Browning Pavilion at Oak Hill.
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