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The Beginnings of a Friendly Rivalry

By John Holland, Berry College

November 2012


Well, the semester is quickly approaching its conclusion and classes have become more hectic than ever as the due dates for term papers and projects loom ever closer. I am looking at graduate schools and applying for internships, knowing that my next step into the future is almost here. It is nice however to take a second here and there to reflect on the more interesting aspects of life, moments that working in the digital archive often presents. The continuous insight on Ms. Berry’s life presents a relieving distraction from the toil of schoolwork and once again brings to mind the wonder of how she could have been such a powerful person.

Martha Berry’s unique character can be seen quite clearly in the relationships she builds with people beyond what is necessary to achieve those invaluable monetary donations. I recently discovered a letter that offered a different perspective on Ms. Berry’s personality, taking a look instead at the iron will that made her so steadfast even in the face of slights against her and her school. Interestingly and somewhat amusingly, I can also see some of the earliest beginnings of the rivalry that would build to define the relationship between the Berry Schools and Shorter College.

In this letter, Martha Berry is writing to a Miss Cora Neal in New York City. Miss Berry is clearly very upset about how Shorter College seemed to have somehow captured the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation and secured money she believed would have been better suited for the Berry schools. In particular, she seems to have taken a great deal of offense to the idea that her schools would be called “extravagant” and is very determined to right the perceived wrong, even if she must go to New York herself to correct it. Perhaps even more remarkably, she seems to be planning to take advantage of the trip to do some work to obtain younger trustees for Berry, effectively planning to turn a negative image of her life work into a positive gain for it instead.

Again we see the strong, iron will of Martha Berry, but in a different light. She is clearly affronted by the Rockefellers' decision to donate the close, rival school with a sum of money that could have gone to her schools if it was not for some misreport of “extravagant” behavior on the campus. She is clearly a woman of action, not able to be placated with strongly worded letters demanding explanations and apologies; she appears to have every intention of righting the wrong in person if she must. She quite obviously takes the character of her school to be a very personal thing and will not tolerate anyone besmirching it.

We can see this attitude in Berry College even today. As students, we are told that even outside of campus grounds we are to act in a way that honors the college image as we are representing not only ourselves, but the school as a home. In fact, to live in an apartment off campus, an individual must first be approved by meeting a set of requirements that rule out any possibility of misconduct on their record; only those who personify the character of Berry College are allowed to act as representatives to the community.

The amusing aspect I mentioned earlier arrives in some of the first evidence we see of our school’s rivalry with Shorter College. The biggest games on campus are always the ones against Shorter and it is not uncommon for students and teachers alike to make jokes at the expense of our neighboring college. Though I’m certain Miss Berry’s reaction would have been just as powerful regardless of whom the Rockefeller Foundation decided to donate their money to in lieu of the Berry Schools, I can’t help but feel that it was almost like salt in the wound that it was Shorter College who was the recipient of the gift. It would seem that even our dear Miss Berry had a bit of a competitive streak in her.

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