For me, discovering Berry College was the high point of my time in Rome, and I might not ever have gone if it hadn’t been a rainy day. I was simply looking for something to do indoors, which lead me to the Martha Berry Museum in Oak Hill.
Martha’s father came to this area in 1871 after serving as a Confederate general in the Civil War. He was originally from Virginia, but there was nothing there at the end of the war, so he came to what was still the frontier. Martha had been born in 1866, the second of 10 children. At that time there was much poverty in rural Georgia, and as Martha’s father prospered, he taught her the value of giving to others. The quote on the gate of the college is “Do all you can to leave this world a better place”.
As a young adult, Martha was searching for a way to lead a helpful life. She had set herself up a study in a log cabin near their home, and one Sunday afternoon she had a visit from 3 local boys. She asked them if they had been to Sunday School and they asked her what that was. She told them it was to learn about God and Jesus and the stories in the Bible. They were amazed to hear there was something as interesting as stories in the Bible. She invited them in, and spent several hours telling them Bible stories. The next Sunday afternoon they brought their friends, and the next there were even more people coming, and from this beginning Martha developed the idea of a school for the impoverished children of the area.
It began as an industrial school for boys in 1902, but with academics as well as practical courses. After a few years in 1909 a similar school for girls began. By 1926 she saw the need to help the children acquire a higher education, and began to develop Berry College.
Today Berry College is a beautiful campus with a full liberal arts curriculum. It still emphasizes practical work experience for its students. The three young people I met at the Martha Berry museum were all history students at the college, working in their field at the museum.
And I came away mightily impressed by Martha Berry, and all she accomplished in her life. She most certainly lived up to her father’s urging to do good in this world.