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Bertha Elizabeth Sadler Means was born in Rock Springs, a community located five miles northeast of Valley Mills, Texas. The Rock Springs community (often referred to as "The Colony" was founded by her grandfather, the Reverend James B. Sadler. At the age of four her father died, and Bertha moved from the Rock Springs community wither her mother and 5 siblings to Waco, Texas. She attended public schools in Waco and graduated from A.J. Moore High School, where she served on the newspaper staff, lettered in athletics, and graduated in 1939.

Since 1939, she has lived and worked in Austin, Texas. She earned her B.A. degree in Education and English from Tillotson College, now Huston-Tillotson University; and a Master of Education degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin. Additional courses were taken in the areas of curriculum and instruction, administration and supervision at The University of Texas at Austin.