Friday, October 30, 2009

Martha Berry, Georgia

Martha Berry (Oct. 7, 1886)

The daughter of wealthy Georgia planter, Martha Berry, went to a Baltimore finishing school, but returned to the Deep Southern and spent the rest of her days educating the poor. She began with her own novel approach, traveling by horse and wagon in the hill country near her Rome, Georgia home to teach Bible stories to isolated children. Known as the “Sunday School Lady of the Mountains,” her method came to be followed throughout the South.

In 1902, Berry pioneered a second educational method that also was emulated. She built a log cabin school on her father’s plantation and allowed her students to earn their tuition with work. Because publicly funded educations were a rarity in the Deep South, students quickly took advantage of the opportunity. In 1926, Berry College was added to the system, and by the time she died, Mount Berry Schools had 1300 students who lived, studied, and worked 35,000 acres of land.

Although she had no formal college education herself, by the 1920s, Berry was nationally recognized as an educational leader. Her work/study combination provided a model for both private and public colleges, and after World War II, southern students of both sexes and all races often worked on the college farm. She was honored with the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Medal “for services to the nation” in 1925, and in 1937, Georgia made her the first woman appointed to its Board of Regents. She died at age 86 in Atlanta, and the “Martha Berry highway” in western Georgia honors her.

(Source: the National Women’s History Museum, located at

No comments: