Link to Ferris Homepage
Print this window
Address. (Delivered in Flint, Michigan. 26 September 1927.)

Mr. Chairman, former students of the Ferris Institute, and friends.

I have done considerable hard work in my lifetime and I'd rather go back to the old bank building in Big Rapids and again carry up coal for the old furnace, sweep out, and do the janitor work, hear the classes I was able to hear in those days than to do what I am asked to do now. I am doing the hardest work now that I have ever done. I don't like the work. I have been independent all my life- not because I had money. I have been independent in religions, independent in politics, and independent in education, asking no favors of anybody. My appearance here tonight, in Saginaw tomorrow, Bay City the next day, again in Lansing, and in Detroit would seem to indicate that at last I have changed my attitude and am about to ask favors. That is humiliating to me if that is the attitude people think I must assume. I in my teaching taught the doctrine of independence. I haven't any special use for people who are never doing anything except to follow and obey the dictates of others.

I wish to assure you in the beginning that whatever the results of this campaign for the Ferris Institute, even if they be more than the most sanguine hope for, not a penny goes into my pocket directly or indirectly. I don't like to make a statement of that kind but I want to be understood. The expense of this campaign is paid by the Trustees of the school. It doesn't come out of the money that is raised in the campaign. I pay my own traveling expenses and don't ask the Trustees to compensate me. I do that because of my independence.

I want to give a very brief history of the Ferris Institute. You have it in your hands, I presume. These sheets and questionnaires give you an abstract idea of the history of the school, but I think that I ought to say a little something from a personal standpoint.

In 1875 I organized a business school and academy at Freeport, Illinois. I had done public school work prior to this time. That was my first experience in private school work. If we can reason backwards, and we cannot very well and not with much accuracy, I ought to have remained at Freeport, Illinois, but there came a man from Dixon, Illinois, who was about to establish a wonderful institution. I went from Freeport. That is where my independence failed me. I was an employee of the Rockford University for a year. Then I organized a business school which I conducted for two years. I saw what must inevitably follow if I remained in the school, as the university had failed. I knew that it must go into the hands of some corporation that could go on with a great school. I then did public school work for five years at Pittsfield, Illinois, and was superintendent of schools there. In 1884 I came to Big Rapids. Now I haven't the time and you haven't the patience to listen to my reasons for selecting the City of Big Rapids. I was carrying on my campaign for a very different way from what most organisers carry on. I didn't go and ask the business men to get together and put up $5000 or $10,000 or to provide a building. I was independent so I rented two rooms in Big Rapids and started the Ferris Institute in the fall of 1884 with fifteen students. Don't get the idea that that continued for very long. It soon changed from 15 to 30, from 30 to 60, and by February, 1885 there were nearly 100 students, and you must bear in mind that no effort was made to gather those students from the City of Big Rapids. I set about trying to get hold of men and women who didn't care about any city in particular. I then labored in that capacity for nine years, almost ten. During the summer we had a very large number of teachers. There are those sitting in the room tonight who can probably remember when we were over the bank building. At that time, there was one normal school in Michigan and that was at Ypsilanti. None of the colleges conducted summer sessions and our sessions for teachers during the summer were attended by hundreds and hundreds. In fact we had a large enrollment then we have now. That is because we have four normal schools instead of one state normal college, conducting summer schools, also the university. So you can see that educational changes have been very rapid and rather extraordinary in Michigan. Our dues were trivial. At that time board and room was $2.50 a week. There was a large number who didn't pay but $2.25 a week. Students had clubs in which they were able to take care of their entire expenses for $2.00 or $1.75. These days are forever past and perhaps we should rejoice, I don't know.

We started, of course, with a well organized business department and that was accompanied by a normal department. Shorthand was aided later. Pharmacy was not placed in the curriculum until we went into the new building in 1894, ten years after the organization of Ferris Institute. It was then called the Ferris Industrial School.. I think I might make a remark. I labored under the delusion that something ought to be done for the education of the head, heart and hand. I was a most enthusiastic disciple of manual training. It didn't take me very long to find out that no farmer wanted his son to take manual training, or his daughter to take industrial arts. Business men didn't care to have their boys and girls use their hands. How under Heaven can we do anything without using our hands and feet? Should the good Lord give us a brain sufficiently sharp to control the head and hands of others! How could we take a boy or girl, clear him of manual labor and teach him to collect from others handwork what they actually earned. So I had to abandon that hope. I then carried that idea when we came up to the new building, tried to imitate Denmark, and today manual labor is carried on in our public schools for educational matter.

I am glad that it is in the public schools and I am hoping that sometime all schools will be organized so that every student will have a certain amount of manual labor to perform in order to save his soul from hell fire and damnation. There is no reason why all schools should not be organized with reference to the tremendous value of the hand and the brain. The reason why we have a civilization, and America has attained the progress she has is because through the brain and hand we transformed mankind and we stand head and shoulders above the lower animals. Think of an invention if you like which has not included the hands and the brain. So that was nothing but a dream and has nothing to do with our meeting tonight. But I should like to have you know what the "old man" is thinking of and if I had my way about it, if I were to enact any law and enforce it for the welfare of the American people, I should like to see the classes actually produce something really worthwhile with their hands. I am convinced that the waves of crime would subside. I am convinced that human progress would be indefinite and we would have reason to hope. So, you can see some o f the disappointments that came along with my work.

If my remarks should dampen your enthusiasm and you should not give anything, I should have no regrets because I am not dead sure that the Ferris Institute or Michigan University or any other institution of learning is to better this country. I am not sure but what if some of them were closed for a while but what we might get a new grip on life and that is what is necessary to do to get a new grip on civilization. I know too much of the story of civilization to delude myself with any such notion as that. So I have been disappointed as I traveled along the educational road.

We finally had distinct courses in business, in shorthand- they are not necessarily the same. We had the normal growing stronger until now we have had certain state privileges that are given to us. Then the Pharmacy and English have always been fundamental and if that can be pushed, it will shed a merciful influence not only in Michigan- but I am forbidden to tell you why. I am not going to offer any definite reason for the movement in this country for the teaching and practice in English- fundamental in my judgment. So I mention that as one of the departments. We have had as high as 23 nationalities in a single class in English.

We formerly had the kindergarten. When the World War came on we had to drop that on account of the mean and awful prejudice. I was perfectly willing to have the kindergarten conducted at a loss for I felt that the American people needed a kindergarten. But that went out, our musical department went out because of the World War. We have partly recovered and have a right to say that we have a department in instructional music and in vocal training so that we have twelve or fourteen departments. They overlap. They are not departments in a technical sense but in a practical sense, they are departments.

It would not interest you to go into the details of the awful struggle of the first twenty-five years of the Ferris Institute. The majority of you haven't seen anything but the last twenty-five years from forty-three. We have had actually forty-three years of experience and most of you are familiar with the Ferris Institute during the last twenty-five years.

Now, we don't deserve any charity on that account and there is no reason why you should give a dollar for the Ferris Institute because the man who is talking has given everything. If a man said to me, I wish you would outline your career of forty-three years, I wish to follow it. I would say, No, don't do it! That surprises you. There is a point to which you can carry personal sacrifice to an irrational extent and I am not sure but what I have done that.

Now, it would be a very easy matter to close the doors and no one would lose a dollar. We have had forty-four years of victory. Forty-four years of toil. We have rendered forty-four years of service to the State of Michigan and to the United States. There s nothing humiliating about that. Those first twenty-five years were indescribable and they will never be described because I am the only man and the only living person who can give any adequate description of the humiliation my institution has fought- fought politically, religiously; and the higher institutions hesitated to recognize us when we were head and shoulders above the public schools.

I must tell you one barrier we always run up against down at Michigan. There is the question- how long were you at Ferris Institute? That question maddens me- maddens me, and I am going to do what little I can to fight those things. They actually want to reject a young man from the University because he didn't spend as many months at Ferris Institute as he would spend in the ordinary public school and yet when they were tested, they had to admit that they never had any failures from the Ferris Institute. The high school had more failures in one year than we had in forty-three. Rather a remarkable statement, isn't it? But I stand ready to verify that- then ask, how long were you at the Ferris Institute? Putting premium on mediocrity.

I am aware of telling the truth along these lines but whenever I speak on education, I am going to try to tell the truth and so today Ferris is not doing as good work from the standpoint of scholarship as it did twenty-five years ago because they won't let us. We must cover so much ground and put in so much time- those are the requirements now. We are in a regular association, our credits are recognized in all the higher schools of learning. I tell you these plain things so that you may understand the situation.

My interests were turned over to Mr. Masselink and Mr. Travis a few years ago. This property is worth $350,000. $250,000 for the buildings and $100,000 for the equipment which will be turned over to the trustees. All dictation from them passes and the school is to be managed as a university. Mr. Masselink wants to work there on a salary, Mr. Travis works there under a salary, if I work there, I work under a salary and the Board of fifteen directors control the policy of that school. Although if they are first class business men they will select their managers and representatives from those now in charge. That somebody is going to be rewarded is not the object of this campaign. I have probably spoken altogether too long on the early history of the school.

In 1893, handicapped and down and out, the former students came to the rescue then. Will they come now? I don't know. I am not an optimist. Some people say I am a pessimist. I am inclined to think that I look at facts.

My hair went silver in the autumn of 1893, noticeable at the end of two weeks. I had my older son with me and the though came to me- perhaps I can save myself from bankruptcy, perhaps I can save Mr. Edwards from losing every dollar he has put into the building. I will just try a few letters to the former students. We got a hearty response. It was the former students in 1893 who saved the Ferris Institute from absolute bankruptcy. I ought not to say that because I had the wisdom to take out a $30,000 life insurance policy so that I could pay any man I owed a dollar to, if I died in the meantime. Not a cent would be lost by Mr. Edwards or anybody else. I take a little pride in my ideals. It doesn't matter so much to me if I left $10 or $30,000. I could give you scores and scores of struggles down to the power house, just finished in 1896.

I was not alone then. Mrs. Ferris, the mother of my children, was alive and fighting the battle with me loyally. In 1896, I had just gotten where I could handle the debt when the Big Rapids National Bank failed. Then, we had only one bank which were the student funds for which I had vouched the payment. I paid every dollar excepting to Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson refused to take his money when I offered it to him. Outside of Mr. H.J. Wilson every dollar was paid that I knew about. There was another struggle here. I immediately called a faculty meeting and told the teachers if they wanted to quit, quit now. Don't begin to pry around and get jobs. If you stay by me, I can pay you one half of your next months salary, one half of the following months salary, and so on. Tell me now, this minute, if you are going to stand by me or if you are going to leave me in the lurch. Without any hesitation they stood by me. So that took care of that difficulty.

The Ferris Institute has been given only a thousand dollars and a few dollars that have been contributed by different organizations and perhaps that came from the Ferris Cooperative Association. We never asked for gifts. We never wanted them. If I had any money when I started this school, if I had been financed, I could have made enough money off the earnings off the school so that it could have been carried on. Then came the World War. Our overhead expenses were increased fourfold.

We are now using a few thousands dollars of last year's earnings to carry on this campaign. If the campaign fails that money is gone. That gives you a brief outline.

Now, then, I come to the main question.

What right has Mr. Ferris to come to Flint or anywhere else? Mr. Masselink, or Mr. Cuthbertson, to ask anything of you along the line of an endowment? It all depends on whether the thing is worthwhile. You are not to consider Ferris, Masselink, or Travis. It is a cold business venture. Has the Ferris Institute in training 75,000 people, has it rendered Michigan and the United States a service worthwhile. If you are talking about a new institution in Flint, the question is, is it worthwhile? Not perhaps to me individually but is it well worthwhile for the city of Flint? So I shall ask you to look at this proposition not in anything but a cold-blooded manner. We have trained 75,000 men and women in a summer session or a full course in business, in shorthand, in pharmacy or for teaching, in kindergarten, in days gone by. The question is, has the service been worthwhile? Well, that isn't the only question to answer. Couldn't this group of people who attended the Ferris Institute have gone to the public schools? My answer is, no. Can't the next 75,000, if the school could be perpetuated, just as well patronize the schools that exist? No, is the answer. Stop and think a minute. No student has ever been asked to take an entrance academic examination. Not a student from Ferris Institute, as long as I live, will be subjected to entrance requirements. We live in a democracy. We say we do. We tax the state for education of American youth yet to some of them the doors are open and to some of them, eternally closed. Think it over.

I am proud of that one fact, that any normal human being can walk into the Ferris Institute, and he doesn't have to explain that he is from Hawaii, Mexico, Cuba. I am not saying those things at random. In fact we have a very considerable number every year from the other countries of the world and from the forty-eight states. Never a question as to his race, as to his religion, as to his politics, but if he will do the work that he elects satisfactorily, he is my brother and I am his helper. That means a good deal to me- not much to you.

I suppose some of you are wondering what Mr. Ferris would do about the higher institutions. I'd cut off their iron gates and I would say that any American student who could do the work satisfactorily is entitled to the privileges of that institution and especially if it is a state institution. Now you don't agree with that, You haven't thought about it. You just wonder why Mr. Ferris has so much pride in the career of the Ferris Institute. It is democratic. It doesn't shut of the man of fifty-six. He comes in there. He has two sons who are engaged in banking and he can't read a word of English. While at the Institute, he wrote the first letter he had ever written to his wife. We were even so democratic we supplied him with a cuspidor. Chewing tobacco is no worse than chewing gum. Each is only a device to get rid of energy.

I think of the man who sat there. A physician who wanted some training in pharmacy. There was his son who wanted to become a pharmacist, there was his daughter who wanted to teach, and there was his wife who wanted to know something more of the great world in which she lived. She was there just for the joy of going into classes, learning something about the world she lived in. I am proud of the school that barred neither father, mother, sister, nor son.

I wish Poulson were here tonight. He came back from time to time. He came into that school from a lumber camp and came repeatedly. The last time he was there his boy sat there. Others came from the lumber woods. Many of the girls came from the silk milks, or from humble quarters, and found a welcome in the Ferris Institute. Ferris Institute can die and have an epitaph written even if it doesn't get its endowment. We are not going to be deprived of the victories. We are not going to blame anybody if they don't contribute. I don't know whether it will be nil or it won't be nil, but I do know that if my old students knew as my old students in 1893 knew, we wouldn't have to ask a millionaire for a dollar. One half of the students of the Ferris Institute could make the million and a half without any tremendous sacrifice if they saw fit and they certainly ought not to do it if they don't feel that they want to.

The Ferris Institute has always been noted as standing for scholarship. Scholarship! Doing things thoroughly. 85% is our minimum requirement. It has always been our minimum requirement. That is why the credits of Ferris Institute don't fall down in the University of Wisconsin. Don't fall down even in Cornell. We have to use a special red tape to get students into Cornell. They don't fall down at Harvard.

Wayne Musgrave, who was reared on a farm in Mecosta County was sent out of the business department long years ago. He stands as one of the finest representatives of Harvard University. Of course, his profession is the law. He is now situated in New York City. There are those people like W.D. Henderson, Sellers, Chipman, and so I could go on. They would not have found the inspiration if they had not attended the Ferris Institute.

Now, we have two points. Ferris-Democratic. Open to everyone. Could one of you found just the training you did get in the ordinary high school. You can't blame, can you, a man who is 20 or 30 years old and is a sixth grader, for not walking into a high school. Is it strange that he won't go there?

One night in Onaway, after I finished speaking, a man, Mr. Morris, said, "Come over to my store tomorrow, I want to talk to you." I went over. He said, "What do you think of this store?" "Fine," I said, "everything is lovely. How much in debt are you?" "None." "How much money did you make last year?" He told me. He had a wife and two children. He said, "I hate merchandising." "Now," he said, "in your lecture last night you said, do what you love to do if you have the brains to do it. Now, do you advise me to sell this store and come to your school and prepare for law?" I said, "If you have told me 100% truth, sell."

I never dreamed that Morris would enroll, but he did. His wife and children were there with him. He had brains enough to bring them. It is a wise man that does that. Because we have had men there who left their wives and children at home and then outgrew wife and children. I could give you their names. While Morris was in Big Rapids, another child was born. Morris finished at Ferris, graduated from Michigan, became prosecuting attorney. Years have passed. He is now in Canada where he can give full swing to his ability and so far as I can learn, he has only twelve children. He is an all around American success.

Where could Morris have gone? Where could he have gotten that training? And would you bear in mind that we are still bidding for the man who is 25 or 35?

We have had the grandmother there. One woman came there- 60 years of age. How do I know? She said so, and no woman ever exaggerates her age that I have ever ran across yet. Her cousin said, "Mr. Ferris may I see you out in the hall?" I said, "yes." He said, "Don't enroll this good woman. Her relatives are all lumberman. Her husband was wealthy and lost all and now she thinks she must go to school. I wish you wouldn't enroll her. Please save us from the humiliation."

"I'll do nothing of the kind. I am going to enroll her and I am going to give her a new vision."

She is now teaching in Lake County. I was there giving a lecture. At the close, she came up to me and said, "Mr. Ferris, this is the happiest year of my life. I have never had anything to do. I have never been of any account. I am sixty-one years of age. I am just beginning to live. I have just opened the door into the anteroom of heaven."

Where are you schools that are bidding for these hungry men and women? Are you aware of the fact that if this class of men and women knew what he are doing we would turn them away before January 1928, by the hundreds. Some of you say, let the colleges do that work. They can't do that work. They can't do it.

First-Ferris is democratic.

Second-Stands for scholarship.

Third-It is not a college and is not going to be a college. The minute it is a college its great mission is gone.

So, my friends, just please think of these peculiar characteristics.

I am going to close and allow you to ask questions if you will. You will probably hesitate about the matter. I will repeat though.

The question is, has the Ferris Institute in forty-three years demonstrated that it has a mission? That is for you to answer. You are the one who is giving the money for the perpetuity of the institution.

Second-Looking at the number of times of the year 1927 with high schools having increased nine times as fast as the population of America since 1900, is there still a place for Ferris Institute?

One interesting question is, what per cent of the Ferris Institute are now high school graduates. Well, in my two classes in English in each over 1000, 75% are from high schools. Of course this doesn't touch the English of foreigners. This might be called professional English. Will you silently answer the question? Why are 75% of 200 student graduates of high school taking English? Just answer that in your own mind and there is only one answer. Of course, the majority of our students are not high school graduates. We are a secondary school. The minute you raise it to a College your overhead increases. Ferris Institute is not the place for men and women who are seeking degrees just because grandfather had one. Degrees don't constitute education. Degrees are no indication of education. They are very valuable if you are going to teach in the public schools. If the man has a degree in the Ferris Institute, he can be at the head of the Pharmacy Department even though there may be a far better teacher there. We have to employ him to take charge of that department but the man who should have had it by experience and by practice, ruled out and he will have to go next summer and another summer to get his degree. Just as if putting a label on a tank changed the quality of the contents. I do not blame you. You can't be a superintendent of a large city school unless you are a Ph.D.

My brother in law is recognized as a leader in education but he hasn't a Ph.D. Now he must deprive his wife and family of their summer vacation and get a Ph.D.

If this is what you are furthering by an endowment for the Ferris Institute, don't give a cent and if you see anything else giving a cent, paralyse him.

Now I have come to the end of my talk. If you have questions to ask, I am willing that you should. I don't think Mr. Travis and Mr. Masselink should have sent me out because I will tell the truth about the matter and I won't squirt perfume on the people who are worshipping false gods.

If you don't believe that the United States of America needs Ferris Institute, that settles it. If you do believe it doesn't, then do as you do for all other institutions. Masselink can't do it, he hasn't the wealth. Ferris can't do it, he hasn't any wealth. And it isn't best for the Ferris Institute that he should do it. If W.N. Ferris had five million dollars and no one dependent upon him, it would be unwise for him to put up the buildings and make the endowment. If we get only a few thousand F.I.'s and they give until possibly it hurts to give, their interest is worth more than the one person gives. It is sure to vibrate. Already more students are coming in because of this campaign being carried on.

There was a man named Brick Pomeroy in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who was going to be mobbed. He wanted to give the people an idea of the power of money. The people made up their minds to throw his printing into the river. He started out, he had a fine standing with the business men, he had a wonderful business. He went to one businessman and said, "Brother, can you loan me a little money for a few days?" He got it, and so on down the street. When the mob got ready, the businessmen said, "For God's sake, don't mob Brick Pomeroy." They all had an investment. This is one of the finest illustrations I have ever heard.

If we are to have this endowment, I don't want it from one or two. I am going to take from one man $25,000 but why shouldn't he give it? I furnished him with a wonderful wife. I trained, and educated her. I don't apologize from taking this. I told him we didn't want his $25,000 until we found out if the F.I.'s believed in its perpetuity. If you take an interest in the Ferris Institute, it will last for one hundred years.

Lastly, I say it trains men and women for the highest type of Americanism. I am talking about Americans- that type of Americanism that makes any person ashamed not to be self-supporting, ashamed not to own his own final resting place.

I knew an officeholder whose dead body was taken to his native state. The people debated on whether they should take up a collection on account of the services he had rendered the government or not. I haven't any comment to make on the people. I simply say when a man has been given one of the highest in American positions and failed to regulate his habits and dies a pauper, he is a failure. I stand for Americans who are proud to pay their own way and who are proud be worthy of the positions they occupy, who are willing to sacrifice for a really worthwhile project; and that in my judgement is one of the highest marks of the Ferris Institute.

The Ferris Institute is not local. Not one of our catalogues is circulated in the City of Big Rapids. We want the public school of Big Rapids to be prosperous. We have men and women who have failed in the Detroit High School, in the Battle Creek High School, not because of the high school having fallen down, but because they have no father or mothers to direct them. Of course they fall down in the public schools and then they have heard of the Ferris Institute where they could take punk and make it into hickory or walnut. If we get hold of hickory we try to polish it and make it useful. This is the function of the Ferris Institute. Would to God we could get some more lumberjacks!

We have over a hundred students at Washington in civil service, and 75% of those would have to turn tramps if they should lose their jobs. One of them cuts coupons. Think of the brains it takes to cut coupons. Others are sorting things- rubber bands, pins, lead pencils, for the United States senators. They are the most helpless, pitiful, lot of F.I.'s I ever saw and they look at me and grin a helpless way and say, we can't live any other way. Some of them come in and say, "Mr. Ferris, can't you do this and that?" I spend 50% of my time in trying to help n'ear-do-wells live when I ought to call them in and chloroform them. We don't want any more students to Washington in the Civil Service Department.

There is one man, Robert Furniss, we gave him shorthand, business English, and so on. He came into the office and said he wanted to study law. I asked him if he was sure. He was. When he had had his shorthand, I said, "I am going to send you to Washington in the Civil Service, but you are not going to stay there any longer than necessary. After you get there you are going to take your course in law." He got married. He married a Michigan girl. Bought a home, had sense enough to buy a home out six miles where he could get it for a much lesser price. He has three children and a good start in life. Just graduated from law and now the fight is on. What does the old man want to do? Get him out of that department. I am trying to get him to resign and get outside and be a man. If he doesn't do it, then I am sorry I sent him to Washington.

If the Ferris Institute exists, why doesn't Big Rapids take care of it. That is what some of you are thinking. I want one thousand, or two thousand who were there twenty, thirty, or forty years ago and who got something out of it. I am going to see that every man who wants something, every woman who wants something, everyone who is hungry for a new life, I am going to see that he has a chance there. I don't want an endowment from a handful.

There are more here tonight than I anticipated and yet if all the F.I.'s who ever attended the Ferris Institute from Flint were here, they would fill this room.

I hope you understand what I want. What Masselink says, I don't know. I suppose he is fully as radical as I am.

Finally, what we stand for:

1. Democracy.

2. The highest scholarship.

3. The highest ideals in living and it is a great secondary school doing the work that no other school is doing and lastly, it is preparing men and women to become splendid American citizens.

We want at least the spiritual support of the 15,000. I will take care of the rest of it from the millionaires. Ferris will be forgotten. No reason why he should be remembered. Masselink will be forgotten. But the spiritualizing and putting of new life into the thousands of men and women will live forever.

Source: Flint address. Addresses and Writings, Box 6. Woodbridge N. Ferris Papers. University Archives. Ferris State University.