BIO: In the September 5, 1931 issue of "The Literary Digest," there is a photo of Miss Martha McChesney Berry and a group of sturdy Georgia youths her schools were lifting out of illiteracy. The Berry homestead was in Possum Trot, Georgia, county not given. Here are some excerpts from that story:
Martha Berry was out in the mountain "hollers" with her pet horse, Roanie, when she became acutely aware that she needed to do something substantial about the less-fortunate people she saw - men and women old before their time, scratching hard land for a living. Log cabins, corn pone and bacon, health problems and their pride - that was about all they had. This Southern belle had a vision, and in a little log cabin across the road from the big house, circa 1900, she started a Sunday-school with ten little children whom she had persuaded to come out of the mountains. She taught them about a God who loved them, though they were hidden in the hollows where the shadows came early and stayed late, and she soon became known as the "Sunday Lady of Possum Trot." President Wilson had remarked at one time that the people of the Southern mountains were "seed-pods, stored away for the day when their country needs them," and per the story, Mrs. Berry opened those pods. She gave the land on which her school was started, and her family lawyer, who advised against it, became one of the first trustees. It was said that Miss Berry had her father's eloquence, and her soft voice opened the doors of wealth so she could minister to God's "chillun."
Additionally, Alice Booth wrote in "Good Housekeeping" - which carried a biographic series of America's 12 most distinguished women, "Five boys were the first class - earnest, eager - but the perfect organization of the Berry School today was not made in a single day, nor in a single decade. At the end of the first week came wash-day, but the boys refused to wash their clothes, their beds and table linen. Washing was women's work, they said. Men did not wash - and they were men. Regretfully, stubbornly, they held to it. The big tub was readied, the soiled clothes were gathered. Martha Berry, slim little aristocrat who had had Negro servants to anticipate her every wish from the time she was born, stepped up to the great tub of steaming soapsuds and rolled up her sleeves. The boys were soon miserable. They shifted from foot to foot. Finally one of them said, "I ain't ever seen men wash clothes, but sooner than have you do it, Miss Berry, I'll wash 'em." There was mountaineer pride to be reckoned with, as they would not accept charity; ways had to be found for the boys to earn money and to help out with what they could bring. One boy came driving a team of oxen to work for his year's tuition. Some brought chickens or rolls of coarse, hand-woven cloth. They made gardens and raised stock, planted fruit-trees. Miss Berry read of a sale of cots that had been used in the Spanish-American War, and she hurried into town and bought enough for her boys. Some friends donated old dishes, old chairs. Miss Berry took everything that she thought would not be missed from home. Someone gave them an old square piano, and the school had really begun.
Soon it was impossible to accommodate all the boys who came - and girls wanted to come, too. Miss Berry went to New York to raise money, spurred on only by her desperate desire to give these children, starving for learning, willing to work their fingers to the bone for it, their chance. She told her story to R. Fulton Cutting and he handed her a folded check for five hundred dollars. Ten boys went to school on that check the next year."
Thirty some years later a whole self-sustaining city had been built on that woodland farm, new acres had been bought. A mill had been built to grind the meal for the "best corn bread in the world." School buildings of granite from the hills, granite "the tawny shade of buckwheat honey" clung to the hillside, dormitories, and recitation-rooms. There were peach orchards and a herd of Angora goats for the yarn the girls wove into rugs. Down in the shops the boys made rustic furniture and reproductions of the priceless antique mahogany in Miss Berry's old home. They raised flax for the fine, soft hand-woven towels, and there was an automobile repair shop where the boys repaired and kept in order the trucks and tractors used in farm work, a bakery, a shoe-repair shop where 500 pairs of shoes were soled every two months. Everything the boys and girls did for themselves - cooking, laundry, household work. In all 20,000 acres there was not a hired servant. But only those who did their work could earn their education.
Miss Ida Tarbell listed Miss Berry among the fifty greatest women in America. The Georgia Legislature voted her the title of "Distinguished Citizen," in 1925. President Coolidge gave her the Roosevelt medal for distinguished social service. The University of Georgia awarded her the honorary degree of Doctor of Pedagogy (the art, profession, or science of teaching). She received the degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of North Carolina for her work for the South, and "The Pictorial Review" awarded Miss Berry $5,000 for distinguished service in 1927.
By 1931, the property had been increased to nearly 20,000 acres, which, with the buildings, were valued at several million dollars, and a thousand students, who paid for their tuition by their labor, were enrolled annually, with Ms. Berry's pleasure in watching her "chillun" grow up to be "fine, clear-thinking, educated men and women.