Friday, 20 March 2015

Thoroughly Mineralogical Millie

Have I mentioned before that my only academic qualification in a science subject is in geology? I’ve a large mineral collection at home which is mostly hidden away in boxes. One day I’ll have more space to put them all out of display, a hope that has been fuelled over the fast few weeks by one of those fortnightly publications that goes on sale every year or so that gives a different mineral with a magazine with each issue.

That also got me thinking about a mineralogist I researched a couple of years ago for my Ology of the Month series. I didn’t have time to write about her then so I’ll write about her now. She was, like myself, an enthusiastic collector rather than a proper scientist, and she was called Mildred Berryman (1901-1972).

Mildred Jessie Berryman was born in Salt Lake City, the youngest of the three children of English-born Richard Berryman. She was named after her mother, Richard’s actress wife Mildred “Millie” Stokes. Richard was working as a bartender but had spent some time as a miner in Colorado. Perhaps this is where he became interested in minerals, a passion his daughter shared, though his birthplace back in England, Cornwall, is also a rich source of minerals and he could have worked in one of the famous tin mines.

Mildred’s first academic interest when she was teenager at Westminster College in Salt Lake City was controversial to say the least. She wanted to do a study on lesbianism. The College was appalled. Mildred had also just come out as a lesbian to her future sister-in-law and became very distressed by the attitude of the college, and the families of some of her classmates who objected to her presence in class.

In order to get away from the pressure Mildred ran away and got married. The physical nature of the relationship repulsed her so much that she left her husband and returned to Westminster College to finish her education. In his biographical article on Mildred last year for the “Mineralogical Record” Wendell E. Wilson suggests that she may have taken introductory courses in geology and mineralogy on her return to college.

Mildred joined the Mineralogical Society of Utah, formed at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, before the autumn of 1940. In that year two reports indicate she was active in mineral collection. First is a report in the “Salt Lake Tribune” of 2nd October which includes an account of Mildred giving details to the society of their next field trip. The second, in the specialist magazine “The Mineralogist”, was the first advert for “The Berryman Menage”.

This Berryman Menage was a mineral showroom and shop which also offered gem stones for jewellery. It was located in the family home in Salt Lake City and was run by Mildred and her father Richard. Mildred had had several jobs before the Menage opened, including those of stenographer and photographer, and she carried on with her photography for another year or so. Her studio was located on the upper floor of her home, and doubtless the photos she displayed to the Minerological Society at the University of Utah when she gave details of the field trip mentioned above were taken by herself. Another report in the “Salt Lake Tribune” in January 1941 describes her as “historian and photographer for the Mineralogical Society of Utah”. Although Mildred didn’t seem to hold any official position within the society it is clear she was highly regarded and led some of their meetings.

During World War II Mildred worked in a factory making small arms. It was there that she met her partner for the rest of her life, Mrs. Ruth Usherman Dempsey. By this time Mildred’s father was becoming ill and he died in 1945. Mildred, preferring to be called Barrie (a diminutive form of her surname, no doubt) and Ruth began a jewellery-making business called Berryman Novelty Manufacturing and the Berryman Menage seems to have ceased trading.

Mildred died in 1972 aged 71. Ruth died in 1979. Mildred had achieved some social standing in Salt Lake City. As well as being a successful businesswoman she was a President of the Business and Professional Women’s Organisation. She wrote several articles for “The Mineralogist” magazine, the last one being published in 1943. Other work was published after her death.

You remember that thesis on lesbianism that Westminster College stopped her from writing? Well, Mildred began writing it after leaving college and completed it in 1939. It was titled “The Psychological Phenomena of the Homosexual” though it remained unpublished. On Mildred’s death Ruth hid the manuscript from Mildred’s family when they descended on her home to take away anything they could. Fortunately the jewellery business was in Ruth’s name so that was safe and at least she had an income. In the late 1970s Ruth passed the manuscript on to her daughter in the hope that she would have it published. Some of Mildred’s thesis was reached publication in “Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society” in 1978.

As a passionate photographer and mineralogist Mildred Berryman provided Utah with a wealth of visual and physical material, some of which still survives in the archives at the University of Utah. But it is probably her thesis on lesbianism, a snapshot of the lives of women during the middle of the 20th century, which is more likely to be studied more closely.

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