The Korean Martha Berry

By Dr. Ellen Johnson
Associate Professor of English, Rhetoric and Writing

We all thought Martha Berry was one of a kind. Last summer, I discovered that she has a Korean counterpart, Hwang Kyung Koh.

Dr. Koh founded Seoul Women’s University in 1961 to provide more educational opportunities to those who otherwise would not be able to go to college. Like Miss Berry, she never married but devoted her life to developing her school and traveling to speak about her native land, raising money and aid for SWU and for Korea.

On top of the hill where SWU is located — in a green island amid the South Korean capital of Seoul — is the home of Dr. Koh, her own “House of Dreams.” It is surrounded by a beautiful formal garden. Her personal and professional life is chronicled there in a small museum. The woman who takes care of the home is Kwang-Sin Park, a former student of Dr. Koh. Her work is more than a job; it is a labor of love to memorialize the teacher she loved.

I learned about Hwang Kyung Koh while accompanying Berry students to Seoul for the Bahrom International Program. Thanks to the generosity of Berry College Board of Trustees member Sunny K. Park, our students pay just a small application fee to learn about Korean culture firsthand. Through the BIP scholarship, they are able to visit fantastic palaces and ancient temples; learn from top experts in religion, language, sociology, politics and history; and broaden their cultural understanding while trying traditional musical instruments, tae kwon do, classical dance and Korean cooking. 

In exchange, Korean students from SWU come to Berry for a year. Thus, we continue the work to which Dr. Koh and Miss Berry devoted their lives. There were so many parallels between their lives. Among the artifacts on display in Dr. Koh’s home are:

It was like seeing Oak Hill and Miss Berry’s office redecorated and set down halfway around the world. One can only hope that we and our students might follow in the footsteps of these remarkable women.