An Appreciation for Ford
By Meg Ratliff, Berry College
Henry Ford’s impact on Berry College and its success during the early 20th century is obvious. It is hard for a Berry student not to notice the Ford complex or the Clara Bowl as they drive around or walk to classes. While the Ford auditorium and the women’s dorms are beautiful to look at, no one really understands just how much work and money went into their construction. I have a special appreciation for the Ford complex since I lived in the West Mary dorm for two years and I continue to take classes in the Music Department and auditorium. Now that my younger sister is living in West Mary, I still visit frequently.
I visited my sister the other day, and as I walked through the parking lot and around the Ford dining hall, I wondered just how much these buildings cost Mr. Ford. It is something I never really thought about considering. I was always distracted by the beauty of the buildings or by the amount of homework waiting for me in my room. Since I work on the MBDA project I know there is an entire tag filled with documents associated with Henry Ford, so I decided to search through the documents to see if they could provide me with the answer.
First off, I knew that the tag did not contain all information regarding Henry Ford’s payments for the construction of the Ford complex since the archive is still in process of editing and finalizing documents. I did remember from previous explorations into the Ford tag, however, that some monetary values were mentioned, so I returned to these documents. I found one letter written in 1929 from L. J. Thompson, a clerk in the office of Henry Ford, enclosing $20,648.35 to Mr. Hoge of the Berry Schools and another letter written in 1928 from E. G. Liebold, general secretary for Henry Ford, sending a check in the amount of $13,170.13 for Coolidge and Carson, the architects of the Ford buildings. Although $33,818.48 does not seem like much considering our yearly college tuitions bills, I decided to put this amount in an inflation rate calculator to determine just how much this converts to in today’s money.
The calculator showed that $33,818.46 in 1928-1929 comes out to $462,535.95 today. This is an incredibly large sum of money, but it is important to remember that this is only a fraction of what Mr. Ford donated towards the construction of the Ford buildings. It is bewildering to consider this amount of funds going towards the Ford Buildings that students use for academics and housing.
The Ford complex is such an important piece of Berry’s history, and thanks to the Martha Berry Digital Archive and the information contained there, it can be appreciated on a deeper level than just for beauty or utility. Now when I visit my sister at her dorm or when I go to a flute lesson or Wind Ensemble rehearsal, I will find myself admiring the work of Henry Ford and Martha Berry in a more profound and significant way.