Harriet Morehead Berry (1877-1940), champion of good roads, was born in Hillsborough to Dr. John and Mary (Strayhorn) Berry. Their house, still standing on West King Street, was what is today known at “Two Chimneys.” In 1883 the family moved two miles south of town to “Sunnyside,” the ancestral Berry plantation. Up to the age of twelve, young Harriet was tutored by her mother; she then attended the Nash-Kollock School in Hillsborough and the State Normal and Industrial School (present UNC-Greensboro). Following graduation in 1897, she taught for two years at the Oxford Orphanage.
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In 1901 Miss Berry began work in Chapel Hill with the North Carolina Geological and Economic Survey, led by Joseph Hyde Pratt. She rose from stenographer to secretary for the Survey to its acting head in 1917 when Pratt entered military service. During those years Miss Berry became active with the Good Roads Association and in 1919 led that organization in lobbying for legislation to create a state highway commission. The bill that was adopted, she believed, was inadequate and, over the next two years, she spoke in eighty-nine counties and flooded the state with news releases, petitions, and the like. In 1921 the General Assembly created a strong highway commission, thus setting the foundation for the modern highway system. The News and Observer called her “the best woman politician in the state.” Aside from her interest in good roads, she was also an active campaigner for equal suffrage laws.
In 1921 Harriet Berry left the Geological and Economic Survey and joined the Greensboro Daily News. In 1924 she became the secretary of the North Carolina Credit Union and, the following year, joined the State Department of Agriculture. In 1927 she became state superintendent of the savings and loan association, a post from which she retired in 1937. Miss Berry died in 1940 of heart disease at her home in Chapel Hill and was buried in the old town cemetery on the UNC campus. In 1986 the Board of Transportation named a section of Interstate 40 through Orange County the “Harriet Morehead Berry Freeway.”
Harriet M. Berry, The Development of a State Policy in Road Building in North Carolina (1921)
Harriet M. Berry Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina
Cecil K. Brown, The State Highway System of North Carolina (1931)Walter R. Turner, Paving Tobacco Road: A Century of Progress by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (2003)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 144-145—sketch by Harry McKown
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Notable American Women, I, 136-137—sketch by Hugh T. Lefler
Jeffrey J. Crow, “North Carolina’s Mother of Good Roads,” Tar Heel Junior Historian (Winter 1984), 15-17
Billy Arthur, “The Mother of Good Roads,” The State (January 1990), 12-14