Elizabeth Williams Berry
Elizabeth Williams Berry
Elizabeth Williams Berry in 1967.
Birth: 21 June 1854?
Melbourne, Australia
Death: 26 March 1969
Helena, Montana, USA
Age: 114 years, 278 days?
Country: AustraliaAUSUnited StatesUSA
Unvalidated

Elizabeth Williams Berry (21 June 1854? – 26 March 1969), known as Mother Berry, was an Australian-American supercentenarian claimant.

Biography

Berry's family were Welsh and had settled in Australia. She was born in Melbourne on 21 June 1854. Berry started racing horses at age six. Her father provided tutors to come to her home twice a week to provide for Berry's education. Her first racing win was at age 10, when she placed first on the Moonee Valley Racecourse. She started racing professionally under the name of Jack Williams when she was 13 years old. In order to look the part of a boy, she wore traditional racing silks on the track, and off the track donned a Bowler derby and smoked cigars. She went on to race, disguised as a man, for more than 24 years as a jockey in Australia, England, France, Italy, New Zealand and South Africa. She told the Independent-Record that she won around 4,200 races during her career.

American career

Berry arrived in the United States about 1900, and initially rode races in Northern California. She met her future husband, veterinarian J.B. "Doc" Berry, in Seattle, and they married six weeks later on 21 June 1903.[1] A judge in Colorado gave her the nickname "Mother" when awarding her legal custody of a runaway boy she had taken in and taught horse racing skills. Berry retired from riding horses in 1911. After her jockeying career was over, she continued to work with racehorses as a trainer.

The Berrys moved to Helena, Montana, in 1913 and made the town their permanent residence. Berry raced horses on the Montana racing circuit and named several of them after her husband. Doc Berry died in 1927. In Helena, Mother Berry lived in a house at the Montana State Fairgrounds until 27 April 1937, when her home was destroyed by a fire. After the fire, she lived in a house on the local cemetery grounds for a few years. In 1956, she moved into the Stewart Homes project in Helena, where she lived for the remainder of her life, remaining independent well after her 100th birthday. In 1965, at age 111, she was declared the oldest person in Montana. In 1966, she was made an honorary member of the Capital City Horse Racing Association.

In February 1969, a few days before the groundbreaking ride of Diane Crump as the first woman in America to ride openly as a licensed female jockey in a parimutuel race, the Lexington Herald-Leader reviewed the history of women riding as jockeys, describing Berry as "probably the only lady jockey to compete successfully against men for any length of time." Berry died in her home in Helena on 26 March 1969 at the age of 114 years, 278 days. She was buried in Resurrection Cemetery.[2] In Helena, a horse race named in her honor, The Mother Berry Memorial, ran during the 1970s.[3]

References

  1. "Mother Berry Dies at 114". The Independent-Record. 26 March 1969. Retrieved 9 July 2019 – via Newspapers.com. 
  2. "Services Set Friday for Mother Berry". The Independent-Record. 27 March 1969. Retrieved 9 July 2019 – via Newspapers.com.  and "Services". The Independent-Record. 27 March 1969. p. 2. Retrieved 9 July 2019 – via Newspapers.com. 
  3. "Three Feature Races This Evening". The Independent-Record. 5 July 1974. Retrieved 12 July 2019 – via Newspapers.com. 
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