Link to Ferris Homepage
Ferris Library for Information, Technology and Education
Did you know?

Portions of Woodbridge N. Ferris's library were purchased by Ferris Institute in the 1950s. Ferris had left his original library to his family and most of that was lost in a house fire in the 1930s. One section of the library had been in storage and was recovered through that purchase. Other books have been discovered and donated on an individual basis.

Chronology of Events

January 6, 1853

W.N. Ferris born in a log cabin four miles southeast of Spencer, Tioga County, New York. Son of John Ferris, Jr. and Stella Reed Ferris.

"Its a long time since I was a boy. No doubt memory does not justify the attempt to give many details."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 65.

September 7, 1853

Helen Frances Gillespie, first wife, born in New Haven, New York.

November 15, 1869

W.N. Ferris begins teaching at a country school. He makes what he later called the greatest speech of his life:

"I have come here to help you, boys and girls, if you will let me."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 90.

April 1870

W.N. Ferris begins attending the Owego Free Academy, Owego, New York during his school term break.

February 14, 1871

W.N. Ferris enters Oswego Normal and Training School, Oswego, New York.

"The instructor who had most to do with my learning to think a little, was Professor Herman Krusi, instructor in drawing and geometry. While under his tuition I did not fully grasp his educational philosophy...He illustrated and enforced method in thinking."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 99.

Autumn 1872

W.N. Ferris meets Helen Gillespie at Oswego.

"I probably met her at some one of the sessions of the Adelphi Debating Society, of which I was a charter member."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 104.

Fall 1873

W.N. Ferris enters the medical school at the University of Michigan for one years' series of lectures.

"I attended one course of lectures for which I received full credit. I did not pursue medicine anticipating that I would practice it. I hoped to make use of my medical knowledge in my chosen work, teaching. I made no mistake in this plan. I was an enthusiastic medical student."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 115-116.

April 1874

W.N. Ferris becomes principal of the Spencer Free Academy.

"Only a few years before, 1874, I was a bashful country student in this academy."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 119.

December 23, 1874

W.N. Ferris and Helen Frances Gillespie are married at her home in Fulton, New York.

"While teaching together at the academy we boarded at what was then known as Platt's Hotel. Those were indeed happy days."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 119.

September 1875

W.N. Ferris and N.B. Sherman open the Freeport Business College and Academy, operating it until April 1876.

"Freeport then was a thriving city of ten thousand people. Mr. Sherman and I did all of the teaching- conducting both day and night sessions. Since our patronage was generous, I can now see there were great possibilities connected with our enterprise."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 121.

April 1876

W.N. Ferris joins Dr. McKendrie Tooke's Rock River University as principal of the Normal Department.

"At the end of four weeks I discovered that Rock River University existed in the imagination of Dr. Tooke and to a limited extent on paper."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 122.

September 18, 1876

Carleton Gillespie Ferris born in Dixon, Illinois.

September 1877

W.N. Ferris organizes, with Professor J.L. Hartwell, the Dixon Business College and Academy.

"Our patronage from the beginning was liberal...I discovered that the [River Rock] University property would in all probability be sold to some school men or men who had capital. This meant a kind of competition that woudl ultimately drive me to the wall."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 123.

September 1879

W.N. Ferris begins work as superintendent of city schools of Pittsfield, Illinois, where he remains for five years.

"The interests of the pupils were subordinated to the wishes and limitations of the teachers and school board. At the end of five years I was asked to remain, but I declined. I then resolved I would never resume public school work."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 129.

June 3, 1881

Clifford Ferris born in Pittsfield, Illinois.

September 20, 1881

Clifford Ferris died in Pittsfield, Illinois.

May 14, 1883

W.N. Ferris visits Big Rapids en route to Traverse City, looking for a place to start a new school.

May 16, 1884

W.N. and Helen Ferris with son Carleton arrive in Big Rapids.

"On the sixteenth day of May, after a tedious journy from Pittsfield, Mrs. Ferris, our son Carleton and I arrived in Big Rapids. So far as I could then learn, I was generally regarded as a lunatic."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 131.

September 1, 1884

The Big Rapids Industrial School opens in temporary quarters in the Vandersluis Block on South Michigan Avenue.

"On the first day, I enrolled fifteen young people. Without advertising, the number increased rapidly. I now account for this growth from the viewpoint of novelty. All fo the teaching was done by Mrs. Ferris and myself. At first we offered training in common English branches and bookkeeping."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 132.

January 1885

The Big Rapids Industrial School moves to a permanent home at the northwest corner of Michigan and Maple streets.

"I moved into my new quarters where I remained until January 1894. I afterward added to my floor space, the third floor of the Roof Block adn a considderable portion of the second floor and all of the third floor of the Wilcox Block."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 133.

April 16, 1889

Phelps Fitch Ferris born in Big Rapids, Michigan.

1890

W.N. Ferris begins giving lecture entitled "Making the World Better."

"This was the real beginning of my lecture work. This lecture, which is nothing more than a homely fireside talk, displayed in its delivery, no signs of what was commonly called oratory."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 176.

1892

Democrats of the Ninth Congressional District nominate W.N. Ferris for Congress; he is defeated by Dr. John Avery of Greenville.

"It was foregone conclusion that no Democrat would be elected."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 179.

Spring 1893

Work begins on a new building for the Ferris Industrial School on the southwest corner of Ives and Oak streets. The Northern National Bank of Big Rapids fails, taking money for the building with it. W.N. Ferris forced to borrow money to complete the building.

"No gifts were received and none were asked for. Through this help (stock purchases) I induced a building association of Detroit to furnish sufficient moneyt to enable me to complete the building."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 141.

January 1894

The new building is dedicated.

1894

Ferris Industrial School incorporated.

1896

W.N. Ferris adds a heating plant. The Mecosta County Savings Bank fails, taking the money for the plant and money deposited by Ferris students with it. W.N. Ferris forced to borrow money to complete building.

"Ever student except H.J. Wilson received one hundreed per cent of his deposit. He refused to accept a larger percentage than regular creditors received."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 142.

1898

The name of Ferris Industrial School changed to Ferris Institute.
(Note: Re. Page 141, the Annual Report signed by W.N. Ferris June 30, 1898 states that the name was changed in 1898. The Big Rapids Pioneer of October 20, 1898 stated We like the new name "Institute." Incorporation occured in 1894.)

1901

Work begins on a pharmacy building. Helen Gillespie Ferris retires from teaching at Ferris Institute.

"Plans [in 1898] were prepared for a three story structure South of the original building. The declaration of war against Spain made postponement necessary. Nearly all of the Ferris Institute boys who were eligible, enlilsted."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 142.

May 1, 1902

W.N. Ferris becomes president of the Big Rapids Savings Bank.

1904

W.N. Ferris nominated for Governor; he is defeated by Fred M. Warner of Farmington.

"My greatest asset was the loyal and militant support of twenty thousand ex-Ferris students scattered about the state. They were under the supervision and direction of Frank A. Reed of Detroit. Since the majority of these students were Republican, their support was invaluable."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 185.

1908

W.N. Ferris refuses Democratic nomination for governor.

1912

Received honorary Master of Pedagogy, Michigan State Normal College/Eastern Michigan University.

November 5, 1912

W.N. Ferris elected Governor of Michigan.

In the primary I was nominated for governor. The campaign was strenuous to the last degree. I had practically the same support I had in 1904."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 186.

January 1, 1913

W.N. Ferris inaugurated Governor of Michigan.

June 1913

Received honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Michigan.

November 3, 1914

W.N. Ferris reelected Governor of Michigan.

January 1, 1915

W.N. Ferris inaugurated Governor of Michigan for a second term.

March 23, 1917

Helen Gillespie Ferris dies

See In Memoriam of Mrs. Nellie G. Ferris for more information.

1920

W.N. Ferris nominated for Governor by the Democrats; he is defeated by Alex Groesbeck of Detroit.

August 14, 1921

W.N. Ferris marries Mary Ethel McCloud of Indianapolis, Indiana.

November 7, 1922

W.N. Ferris elected United States Senator from Michigan, defeating incumbent Charles Townsend of Jackson.

"I entered upon my campaign- making Newberryism the dominating issue. For me, it was a moral experiment in determining the value of a moral issue in politics. I did not, at any time in the campagin, entertain hope in election."
Ferris, Woodbridge N. Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Big Rapids, Michigan: n.p., 1995), 187.

June 15, 1924

Received honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Notre Dame.

March 23, 1928

W.N. Ferris dies in Washington, D.C.

March 28, 1928

W.N. Ferris interred, Ferris Mausoleum, Highland View Cemetery, Big Rapids, Michigan.

See Death of Woodbridge Ferris for further details.


studio shot of Ferris


Rick Bearden
Library Web Coordinator
Email Form
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307-2279
Questions/Comments
FLITE Mission
Library Telephone
Directory