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Martha Berry inducted into Ag Hall of Fame

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Martha Berry, founder of the Berry Schools, now Berry College, is the 2002 inductee to the Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame. She is the 51st Georgian to be given the honor.

Berry, who founded the schools in 1902, used her 80-acre dowry to charter the Boys' Industrial School.

"This boarding school educated Southern Highlander mountain boys in practical farming and educational skills so they could improve their families' small, inefficient, tradition-bound farms," said Juli Fields, executive secretary to the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' alumni association.

"She also wanted the school to provide these boys with leadership and efficient Christian citizenship in country communities," Fields said.

Educational philosophy

Berry's approach to educating the boys and girls of Appalachia combined practical agriculture and domestic and mechanical applications with moral training. The Berry Schools' seal revealed her fourfold philosophy: "the Bible for prayer, the lamp for learning, the plow for labor and the cabin for simplicity."

Her model of combining agriculture and mechanical education led to a meeting of Georgia school superintendents in 1906. There Berry explained her educational paradigm. And Georgia based its newly formed agricultural and mechanical colleges on it.

Berry's vision of education transformed a one-room schoolhouse into a 28,000-acre campus. With supporters of the school like Henry Ford, she was able to fund new programs and encourage technology, efficiency and other advanced concepts.

Agricultural roots

While her school is now a liberal arts college, it still has an active animal and horticultural science department.

Berry College has a beef research station, a growing herd of performance-based, registered Angus cattle, an innovative new dairy facility with an award-winning Jersey herd, a large greenhouse and a growing equine facility.

"Martha Berry has certainly planted many seeds that have been cultivated and grown into noteworthy achievements in Georgia agriculture and beyond," Fields said.

Many honors

Berry was honored for her forward-thinking principles of leadership and education. She named a "Distinguished Citizen of Georgia" by the state legislature in 1924. She was presented the Roosevelt medal by President Coolidge. She was the first woman member of the Georgia Board of Regents. And she was also given eight honorary doctorates.

Berry's interest in better educating Appalachian farm children lasted until her death in 1942.

The Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame is sponsored by the UGA CAES. It's designed to recognize Georgians who have made outstanding contributions in agriculture, agribusiness, industry and service institutions.

The Hall of Fame interactive exhibit includes a portrait and biography of each member. It is in the CAES Activity Center on the UGA campus. It's open, free of charge, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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