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Martha Berry as a Real Person


By Olivia Mund, Berry College

April 2015

On my first ever official day spent editing documents for MBDA, I came across a letter that literally brought me to tears. Martha Berry wrote a letter to her friend Lula King, which contained the information that her mother had passed away two weeks before. In the letter, Miss Berry described her loneliness and grief at losing her mother. She said it was hard not having anyone to call “mother.”

In a letter Martha Berry wrote to Clayton Henson after her mother’s death, she thanked him for his words of sympathy and explained that outside the Berry schools, her mother was all she had. I can’t imagine how it must feel to believe you are that alone in the world, even though it wasn’t true. Miss Berry had many close friends and relationships that she relied on, like the strong friendship she had with Ellen Chase. In a letter Martha Berry wrote to her she described her fond thoughts towards her and the love she had shown to Miss Berry. However, Martha Berry’s claims of loneliness despite having treasured friends reveal her more flawed and humanistic traits, reminding us that she was an ordinary woman who accomplished greatness in the face of many hardships. Reading her descriptions of her isolation remind me that even a person surrounded by smiling children and loving friends can feel utterly alone.

This letter was so impactful to me because I think Berry students can have a tendency to forget Martha Berry was a real person. For those of us who do not have any immediate connection to her writings or work, it can be easy to see her as merely the Berry College mascot, in a twisted sense. Before joining MBDA I had no real sense of who Miss Berry was as a person and more specifically in her personal life. Reading this letter, among others, opened my eyes to the reality of who Martha Berry was. I was able to understand her on a more intimate level than the average Berry student is able. I can see the love Martha Berry felt towards others, like that which is expressed in her letter to Frances Ballexplaining her willingness to help their family even though she was still recovering from bronchitis. I also see her devotion to the students in every letter she wrote on their behalf, asking and praying for donations to give the young boys and girls better lives.

Stories like these reveal Martha Berry’s great strength of character, which I greatly admire. While I don’t know the pain of losing a parent, I have lost a number of people I loved in my life. I know enough about loss to respect Miss Berry’s ability to move on and continue fighting for her cause after dealing with such an intense time of grief. The ability to overcome is one of the qualities I find most admirable in Martha Berry, and I am so glad for my early exposure to that side of her. This letter was perfect to read as one of the first documents I have edited and I could not be more excited to continue working with MBDA.


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