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Visionary Educators


By Chelsea Risley, Berry College and Rebecca Howells, Bloomsburg University

April 2012

On March 6, 1925 Martha Berry received a letter authored by Juliette Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year!). The correspondance illustrates a collaboration between two extraordinary educators in powerful positions, which was somewhat unusual because American women were not often well-known leaders during the early twentieth century.

The 1911 letter from Booker T. Washington reflects a similar theme. Washington writes to thank Berry for a donation of $5.00, sharing that the donation will help his school and his students. He also thanks Berry for her support and expresses gratitude for the time she and her teachers spent at his school.

Washington was born into slavery and eventually gained his freedom. He worked to pay for his studies and to further his education. After graduating, he taught school to children and adults and was eventually put in charge of the Normal School for Blacks at Tuskegee. He went on to do great things for The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute.

Washington believed strongly in education (especially for the African American community) and felt that one of the only ways to succeed would be to better one’s education. Martha Berry had a similar ideology. She thought so highly of education that she offered the opportunity of schooling to poor children who wouldn’t have had the chance otherwise. Like Washington, Berry also worked hard to gather donations and help to support her students and her school. As innovators in the world of education, both Martha Berry and Booker T. Washington paved the way for many scholars.

It’s interesting to see how educators like these two encouraged and supported each other. Many other school principals or founders visited Martha Berry and the Berry schools to commend her for her outstanding work. Sometimes they even brought donations collected by the students of their schools to give to the poor children at Berry. Actions like those really connected the students and schools of America.

It amazes us how much we can learn from watching the way other people live their lives or run their businesses. We’re sure the Berry teachers that visited Washington’s school had great conversations with the local teachers and were able to learn a lot from each other about how to educate in the most effective ways possible. They were also probably refreshed simply by being able to share their experiences and ideas with other teachers. This is another reminder of how wonderful it is to live in community with other people.


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