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The Martha Berry Collection

The Martha Berry Collection comprises over 200 file boxes which contain between two and more than fifteen folders of documents each. Documents are filed by year, and, within each year, cataloged alphabetically by correspondent. While some few documents (contained in Filebox 1) date from 1885 and 1902-1911, the majority span a twenty-nine year period dating from 1912 through 1941.

During the early years of the Berry Schools (today Berry College), which was founded in 1902, fewer documents were written, filling just one or two file boxes per year. As the school grew, so too did the number of file boxes required to house the related documents. Thus, documents from 1926, for instance, one of the most active and important years in Berry history, fill ten file boxes.

Martha Berry Collection, Berry College Archives

While we cannot yet describe the documents in detail, preliminary research suggests that much of the collection centers on correspondence between Martha Berry and a wide array of benefactors and potential benefactors, friends, and family members, as well as individual and organizational-level communications about the school.

Letters from well-known early twentieth-century educators, entrepreneurs, politicians, and authors figure prominently in the collection, including writings to and from Emily Vanderbilt Hammond, Henry and Clara Ford, Margaret Sanger, Presidents of the United States, and Corra Harris. Yet, it is in letters bearing the perspective of individuals from across the United States that the rich social and historical significance of the collection is revealed.

Some of the collection was lost during an early renovation of the Martha Berry Museum, when boxes of documents were unintentionally auctioned off and sold. Buyers, unaware of the potential importance of their purchases, threw some away. Although buyers were later contacted during the effort to recoup the losses, very few documents were recovered, and the collection remains incomplete.

Due to the large scale of the collection, much of its contents have yet to be studied. Cataloging is insufficient and unreliable. And many of the original documents were composed on tissue-thin paper which today is in very fragile condition. For these reasons, we especially value the opportunity to create access to the Martha Berry Collection via the Martha Berry Digital Archive (MBDA) and to seek community support as we work to describe and understand it.

A boy is better unborn than untaught.

Martha Berry

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