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Retiring Message of Governor Woodbridge N. Ferris.(31 December 1916.)


In accordance with Section V, of Article VI of the Constitution of the State of Michigan, relating to the duties of the Governor, I offer the following:


Every State in the Union needs more business efficiency and less partisan politics. The State of Michigan is not owned by any political party. All of the people of Michigan are entitled to just consideration. This function relates to the welfare of all of the people all of the time. Michigan Legislatures have already made many of our state Boards bipartisan. Why not make our Educational Boards bipartisan? Why not make our Supreme Court bipartisan? Why not make all of the state Boards bipartisan?


One of the most important problems that can confront any State Legislature is the problem of conservation of natural resources. The inexcusable waste that has gone on for years needs only to be mentioned in order that the present generation may have a full realization of its duty. I am, therefore, in full sympathy with the work that is being done by the Public Domain Commission. Reforesting the non-agricultural lands and protecting growing timber from fire, constitutes a part of the great work of this Commission. The plan of this Commission for encouraging the settlement of the good agricultural lands by actual home seekers and the prevention, so far as possible, of the settlement of these lands which are not suitable for agricultural purposes, is imperative. I recommend that a continuous appropriation be made so that the splendid work of this Commission may be protected and carried to a successful conclusion.


The State Geologist says that fully 40 per cent of the land area of this State is agriculturally unoccupied. Of this amount, approximately 9,000,000 acres of good agricultural land is now, or soon will be, available for settlement. Much has been done and is being done by cooperative effort in the development and settlement of these lands. I refer to the work of the various development bureaus, the Public Domain Commission, the Geological Survey, many corporations and individuals. There are some corporations and individuals, however, who are interested in the sale of Michigan lands solely for profit, and who chose to conduct their operations with utter disregard of business ethics and ordinary decency. These operators deal almost entirely in very poor and worthless land which is sold to intelligent, as well as more credulous persons through persistent misrepresentations. These operators, as well as their victims, are mainly residents of other states. Few of us realize the extent of these operations in Michigan or the irreparable damage which is done to them by the peopling and settling of the good unoccupied agricultural lands. How can we prevent the sale of agriculturally worthless lands for agricultural purposes? If in the future, the State is going to exert any important directive influence in the settlement and development of its unoccupied lands it goes without saying that it should acquire adequate and accurate information concerning them. It should know how much unoccupied land there is, where it is, how much is good, how much is fair, how much is poor and how much is agriculturally worthless. It should know how much is now available for settlement and how much of the timbered area will eventually make farms. Of the swamp areas, it should know how much can be drained and how much would be fit for farming were drainage accomplished. This information is needed not only by the State but by everybody in any way concerned with these lands. It is needed for the guidance of prospective settlers, land dealers, county boards, banks, loan associations, development bureaus, commercial organizations, experiment stations, the Agricultural College, county agricultural agents and railroads. It should be the basis of all cooperative efforts in directing the development into the most feasible channels. This information can be obtained only through an actual examination and soil survey of those parts of the State which contain the unoccupied lands. A scientific soil survey means a greater and better Michigan. I recommend to your favorable consideration immediate action along these lines.


All of the citizens of Michigan are enthusiastic over good roads. In the past ten years a little less than a revolution has taken place in the attitude of our taxpayers. While they sometimes find fault with the total amount of taxes that they have to pay, they rarely complain of taxes that contribute to the building of good roads. Now that the Federal Aid Road Law, which was passed by the last Congress, will bring to Michigan during the next five years, $2,186,755, which must be matched dollar for dollar by the State, this movement must inevitably go forward. No one thing is more important for the further progress of our farming communities than good roads. Even our schools and churches depend for their success, in no small degree, upon good roads. I bespeak for this important feature liberal provisions and the kind of legislation that will promote rather than retard this great movement.


The Legislature of 1915 made an appropriate of one hundred thousand dollars for the purpose of ultimately stamping out tuberculosis in the State. The expenditure of this money has been under the direction of the State Board of Health. As a result of this expenditure there has been a general awakening in the State to the possibility of practically eliminating the White Plague. The bi-products of this campaign are not second in value to its primary object. When people are awakened to an appreciation of the application of the methods that are necessary to stamp out tuberculosis they are of necessity compelled to recognize the general laws of health. Consequently the people have been enlightened in relation to the importance of adequate protection from the terrors of all other communicable diseases. Beyond this, they have come to recognize that there are laws of health quite as worthy of observance as are the laws of the State or as are the Ten Commandments.


The children of Michigan will never have adequate protection until a system of medical inspection is provided. Every child has the civil right, if not the divine right, to enter our public schools with as good eyes, as good ears, as good teeth, as clean a throat, as good a body, as modern science can give him. In order to secure this, adequate legislation and adequate appropriations must be made. The initial expenditure may seem costly, but industrially and socially, the end more than justifies the expenditure.


The last Legislature attempted to enact a Housing Bill. No such bill was passed but a Housing Commission was appointed to make such investigation and offer such suggestions as their best judgment dictated. The men on this Commission have worked diligently and without compensation to bring to this Legislature valuable information. Such a bill is in perfect harmony with an effort to improve the general health of the people of Michigan. It is absolutely impossible in the larger cities to successfully combat tuberculosis and many other diseases under present living conditions. It is absolutely impossible to over-estimate the importance of enacting a wholesome, workable, conservative Housing bill.


During my first administration I did not become thoroughly familiar with the needs of the Industrial School for Boys and the Industrial School for Girls. During my second administration I made a more careful study of these two institutions. No two institutions in the State of Michigan are in greater need of reorganization and regeneration. It is not necessary in this report to go into details. The Industrial School for Boys has a regular attendance of about eight hundred. These boys are the wards of the State and are entitled to the best possible care and training that the State can offer. It is possible, under proper management, to make this Institution semi- self-supporting. It cannot be done, however, without the necessary expenditure of considerable money. Michigan is under solemn obligation to train these eight hundred boys for loyal citizenship. During the past year this Institution has undergone a tremendous change for the better, but it is impossible to give these boys the training that they deserve without a further expenditure of considerable money. The educational features of this School have been until recently, twenty-five years behind the times. On actual examination we have found that fifty boys belonged to the mentally defective class and should be sent to the Michigan Home and Training School at Lapeer. According to a statement made by Dr. Haynes, Superintendent of the Michigan Home and Training School, the number of mental defectives that should be sent to Lapeer annually is two hundred. On that basis, we would have two thousand more commitments in ten years. This ought to awaken the Legislature to a realization of the problem that confronts the State. We now have the machinery for doing something in the way of preventing this increase of mental defectives. These fifty mental defective boys at the Industrial School should not be allowed to go out in the State to propagate their kind. It is hoped that provision is being made for transferring all of these seriously mentally defective boys from the Industrial School to Lapeer. The State of Michigan should make every possible effort to place the Industrial School for Boys on a sound basis, such a basis as the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf now occupy.


The Industrial School for Girls contains three unfortunate classes- a few that are criminal in their habits and tendencies, a considerable number that are mental defectives, fifty-four by actual count, and the larger number who are delinquents proper. What I have already said about the defectives in the Industrial School for Boys applies to the mental defectives in the Industrial School for Girls, who when they reach a certain age, go out of the Institution automatically, only to propagate their kind. Months ago I recommended that fifty-four mentally defective girls of the Industrial School be sent to the Michigan Home and Training School. If Michigan, or any other State, hopes to accomplish anything about the line of overcoming this social menace, it must rigidly carry out the provisions we now have, and such other Legislation should be provided, especially for the Industrial School for Girls, whereby the criminal element can be eliminated or segregated and the delinquents receive the training and attention that they deserve. These two Institutions are deserving of careful study and investigation. Michigan cannot afford, under any circumstances, to be careless in dealing with this social problem.


The prisons are worthy of careful study and consideration at the hands of this Legislature. It has been demonstrated in the past five or six years that the prisons can approximate a self-supporting basis and at the same time regenerate the largest possible number of their inmates. Work is the great reforming and regenerating agency. Furthermore, through work, the inmates of our prison have an opportunity to demonstrate their eligibility for parole. I have had over five hundred personal interviews with the inmates of our prisons during the past four years. The majority of my paroles have been made on the basis of personal interviews together with the information gathered from the carefully compiled records of the executive office. I feel safe in saying that no state in the Union surpasses the State of Michigan in the number of paroled prisoners who have "made good."


Michigan has tens of thousands of adult foreigners who do not speak the English language. They know little or nothing of the real meaning of American citizenship. In our larger cities night schools are being conducted from four to six months of the year, whereas these classes for adult foreigners should be conducted every night in every week throughout the entire year. Our cities need to make larger appropriations in order that these men may be prepared for citizenship in the shortest possible time. Michigan should awaken to a realization of the importance and necessity of this work.


The Michigan Historical Commission, organized in 1913, has been very successful in collecting and preserving important historical data. It cooperates with all of our educational agencies in fostering a deeper interest in Michigan history and Michigan government. The members of this Commission are men of broad vision- men who give freely of their time without monetary compensation because they desire to see Michigan occupy her true place in the history of the making of a great nation. This history furnishes a foundation for enduring patriotism and better government. The State of Michigan should make an ample appropriation for carrying on the splendid work of this Commission.


The different departments of the State during my administration have been conducted with a marked degree of harmony and efficiency.

In this report I am not inclined to trespass upon the field of my successor. I have made a vigorous effort to emphasize the human side of State Government. Michigan will continue to try to practice economy in all of her affairs, but never at the sacrifice of efficiency and progress. The citizens of Michigan are loyal to good government. By virtue of her great accomplishments, Michigan is in the front rank with the other great states in the Union. That doesn't mean that we are satisfied. It means that our obligation to make further progress is great. The business of the State is the building of loyal, patriotic men and women.

Source: Retiring Message to the Legislature of Woodbridge N. Ferris. (Lansing, Mich: Wynkoop, Halenbeck, Crawford Co., 1916).