Heart for Service


By Kasey Haessler, Berry College

October 2012

I find it hard to believe that we are already in our sixth week of classes here at Berry.  Much of my time this semester has been devoted to my position as a Freshmen Mentor, and though it can be exhausting to keep up with sixteen students and make sure they are acclimating well, it has also been wonderful to rediscover Berry through their eyes. I appreciate these reminders as I enter into my last year in this unique, beautiful place.

This semester has also been exciting because those of us working on the project at Berry have had the opportunity to move into roles with the project in file joining, tagging, and editing the documents we have been scanning. I am enjoying the opportunity to take a closer look at the correspondence in new contexts. As I have been working through the correspondence, I am reminded of just how many of Martha Berry’s letters (I could throw out some completely inaccurate scientific guess, but suffice to say it’s a lot) are appeals she sent out (and the subsequent thank you letters) as she attempted to build and sustain her schools. Through this process Martha Berry made many loyal friends, but she also stepped on the toes of many people who believed she asked too much, too often. I can’t imagine receiving some of the curt, scathing replies I have seen in response to Berry’s requests for aid. As the span and frequency of such correspondence suggests, however, Martha Berry was persistent and rarely disheartened.

This is not to say that Martha Berry never received appeals herself. The appeals Martha Berry did receive seem, most often, to have been requests from potential students or employers who were eager to acquire a position at the Berry Schools. While file joining, I have recently stumbled across a series of letters between Martha Berry and Rosa Davenport, a teacher who was trying to start her own small school in Augusta, Georgia. I have included the final letter, but the whole sequence may be viewed by searching for items 7226-7229. Davenport, who had heard of the success of the Berry Schools, sent Berry a letter requesting any support or advice that she could give. Berry replied that she was not able to assist in any monetary way, because of her own financial needs, but as Davenport’s reply indicates, she was able to send a box of items including photographs of the Berry Schools which seems to have been intended to supply inspiration to Ms. Davenport’s young students.

It is not necessarily surprising to find that Berry offered support and aid to others when she was so in need of it herself, but for me it is exciting since it very directly offers an example of the importance Martha Berry placed on the education of the heart, in her three-fold education structure of the head, the heart and the hands.

The concept of service is still very much alive today at Berry. We have an on-campus volunteer services office that constantly coordinates service programs and events in and around campus. Also, fairly unique to Berry is First Year Service Day, a day at the beginning of every academic year in which all incoming freshmen are sent out into the community to work on service projects. This letter offers a strong example of the unique and gifted leader Martha Berry was and of how her influence is still very much prevalent at Berry College today.