Collection Title: Woodbridge N. Ferris Papers
Creator: Ferris State University. Office of the President.
Abstract: Woodbridge N. Ferris (1853-1928) was the founder of Ferris Industrial School in 1884 which later became Ferris State University. He also served as Governor of Michigan (1913-1916) and a United States Senator (1922-1928). A strong proponent of vocational education, Ferris believed in modifying education to meet the current needs of the people. The papers consist of correspondence, writings and subject files primarily relating to his involvement with his school.
Quantity: 10.5 cubic feet; 7 records center boxes
Identification: UA 1.1
Repository: Ferris State University Archives and Records Management Program
Woodbridge Nathan Ferris was born in Spencer, New York on 6 January 1853. His father John Ferris owned a hemlock forest which he transformed into a farm. Ferris and his six siblings, five sisters and one brother, were sent to the district school and expected to contribute to the work of the farm as well.
Ferris's early education was obtained in schools in Spencer, Candor, and Oswego, New York. He began his teaching career at the age of 16. After teaching for a few years, Ferris spent three years at the Oswego Normal and Training School in Oswego, New York where he met Helen Frances Gillespie. He next west to the University of Michigan where between 1873-1874, he studied medicine. This would conclude Ferris's formal education.
From 1874 to 1875, he was the principal of Spencer Academy in New York, one of his alma maters. He was next appointed principal of Business College and Academy, Freeport, Illinois, (1875-1876); a professor in Rock River University, Dixon, Illinois (1876-1877); principal of Dixon Business College and Academy in the same town (1877-1879); and superintendent of schools in Pittsfield, Illinois (1879-1884).
In 1884 he founded the Ferris Industrial School in Big Rapids, Michigan. The original class had fifteen students and occurred in a few rented rooms in downtown Big Rapids. The school was later known as Ferris Institute (incorporated 1900) and is presently called Ferris State University (renamed 1987). Ferris believed that practical training should be given to students to enable them to earn a living, but the arts and culture should not be neglected. This combination of practical vocational training and classical studies rapidly drew growing numbers of students. Ferris was president of the school until his death.
The growing reputation and influence of the Ferris Industrial School brought recognition to its president. Ferris was a lecturer much in demand in Michigan and surrounding states on educational topics. Ferris was also influential in community activities. He became the president of the Big Rapids Savings Bank in 1901. Ferris was also increasingly active with the Democratic Party. Ferris ran his first political campaign as an unsuccessful congressional candidate. He later ran twice and lost as a candidate for superintendent of public instruction. However, he was elected Governor of Michigan serving from 1913-16. The people of Michigan nicknamed him the "Good Grey Governor." In 1922, Ferris became the first Democratic United States Senator elected from Michigan in 62 years. While in political office he worked for school and bank reform as well as prohibition. Ferris served as senator until his death on 23 March 1928 but retained his position of President for Ferris Institute. In Washington D.C. , Ferris died of bronchial pneumonia. He was interred at Highland View Cemetery in Big Rapids (Mich.).
Ferris had the assistance of his wife Helen F. Gillespie of Fulton, New York, a former classmate and experienced teacher-in his endeavor to form a school. Married in December 1874, the pair taught together in the various schools they were stationed at until Mrs. Ferris's declining heath forced her to retire. Three sons were born to the couple: Carleton (1876-1961), Clifford (died in infancy in 1881), and Phelps (1889-1935). Helen Ferris died 23 March 1917. Ferris married his second wife, Mary Ethel McCloud, a music teacher from Indianapolis, Indiana in 1921. They had no children.
Woodbridge Nathan Ferris was the founder of Ferris Institute and the visionary of vocational education that has guided the university mission since 1884. Woodbridge Ferris began work on an autobiography which best illustrates his ideals and dreams in the early 1920s. Drafts of the autobiography and correspondence concerning a possible publication immediately after his death are available within the papers. One draft has appendices of further writings of Ferris. This and the biographical files provide background on his life. Additionally, a nearprint file consisting of articles written about him and articles relating to his death are part of the general series.
Much of the collection consists of correspondence in both letterpress books and as loose correspondence. The letterpress books detail the workings of Ferris Industrial School from 1891-1900. A typical year will have letters to prospective students, job references, job applicants and bills. Later years have separate volumes for incoming student correspondence and Summer Institutes. Approximately half of the loose correspondence filed by correspondent name is typescript copies of correspondence also filed in the letterpress books. Much of the family correspondence has been copied from collections held by the Bentley Historical Library. Other pieces have been donated to the archives as a single letter.
Material in the other series supplements the letterpress correspondence to document the activities of the school. While some individual reference letters are found in the correspondence series, a group of surveys and references written for the class of 1919 are found in the writings series in a file marked student testimonials. Also in the writings series are general reports, and specific classroom instructions on penmanship and summer reading lists. In the general series, a whole series of property records from 1883-1931 show the expansion and movement of campus within the Big Rapids area. Of special note is the rental contract for an early location of the school in the Roof Building from 1888. There are also other various business papers including contracts, stock certificates and incorporation papers.
There is some material relating to Ferris's attempt to start a business school in Muskegon, Michigan. Material can be found in correspondence with E.E. Bisson and Henry W. Rathburn. There is also a folder of contracts located in the general file.
The papers contain very limited documentation that does not concern his involvement with Ferris Industrial School / Ferris Institute. There are a few folders relating to his activities as governor of Michigan such as the campaign material, addresses, proclamations and a few newspaper articles. Additionally, some folders of later correspondence with individuals such as Albert Parnell and Clyde Karshner deal with non-Ferris issues.
Materials in this collection have been donated over an extended period of time. Some have been withdrawn and placed on display in the Timme Center for Student Services. There was an attempt made to catalog materials in 1969, some of which were no longer with the collection when fully processed in 2003. In the general series is the original card citations.
The papers are divided into a three series:
Series 1. Correspondence
Series 2. Writings; Publications
Series 3. General Files.
Conditions of Access
The Woodbridge N. Ferris Papers are open for research to all users in accordance with University Archives and Records Management access policies. It is available in the reading room of the Ferris State University Archives.
Conditions of Use
Requests for permission to publish material should be directed to the University Archivist. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.
Copyright interests for this collection have been transferred to Ferris State University. For more information, contact the University Archivist.
Below are a list of names, organizations and subjects relating to the collection. Names have been taken from Library of Congress Authority headings whenever possible.
Big Rapids (Mich.)
Democratic Party- Michigan
Education, Higher-1880-1928- Michigan
Ferris, Helen Gillespie. 1853-1917
Ferris, Mary McCloud
Ferris, Woodbridge N. 1853-1928
Ferris, Woodbridge N.-Governor- Michigan
Ferris, Woodbridge N.-Senator-United States
Ferris Industrial School (Big Rapids, Mich.)
Ferris Institute (Big Rapids, Mich.)
Ferris State University-Office of the President - 1884-1928
Ferris State University- Administration- 1884-1928
Masselink, Gerrit. d. 1929
Phrenology- United States
Vocational education- 1880-1928-Michigan
Footnotes and bibliographic references should use the following format:
[Item], Folder, Box. Woodbridge N. Ferris Papers. Ferris State University Archives. Big Rapids, Michigan.
Provenance (Acquisition Information)
The Woodbridge N. Ferris Papers were partially located in various parts of the Ferris State University campus. Other materials were gathered through appeals to alumni for Ferris memorabilia.
The Woodbridge N. Ferris Papers were processed by Josephine Kaiser and Melinda McMartin Isler in August 2003. Some correspondence and other items had previously been organized by Lillian Masselink Wright in 1968 and later by archivist Larry Martin. A finding aid was prepared in a word processing format and converted to EAD 1.0. It was revised in December 2007. A collection level MARC-format record was prepared and placed in the library online public access catalog. Description was based on Describing Archives: A Content Standard (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2004).
This collection consists of both handwritten and typed papers. No specialized software or hardware is required.
Series 1. Correspondence. 1880-1929.
This series consists of approximately 5.6 linear feet of letters to and written by Woodbridge N. Ferris. Woodbridge Ferris had wide-ranging interests, from politics to phrenology and education and his correspondence reflects those interests. The majority of correspondence relates to Ferris Industrial School/ Institute either relating to student issues or the administration of the school.
The subseries are arranged by format (book or loose correspondence)
This subseries consists of 5 linear feet of letterpress books. Some books have been given volume numbers in the past that have been listed on the box/folder list, which do not necessarily reflect strict chronological order.
These are bound copies of outgoing correspondence arranged chronologically by start date of book.
|1||1||Letterpress volume 1. 26 September 1891-2 November 1891.|
|2||Letterpress volume 2. 3 November 1891-9 December 1891.|
|3||Letterpress volume 3. 10 December 1891-26 January 1892.|
|4||Letterpress volume 5. 27 January 1892-1 March 1892.|
|5||Letterpress volume 6. 2 March 1892- 31 March 1892.|
|6||Letterpress volume 4. 15 August 1892-2 October 1892.|
|7||Letterpress volume 7. 9 September 1892-26 October 1892.|
|8||Letterpress volume 8. 26 October 1892-15 December 1893..|
|9||Letterpress volume 9. 18 December 1893-16 February 1894.|
|10||Letterpress volume 10. 16 February 1894-7 April 1894.|
|2||1||Letterpress volume 11. 7 April 1894- 24 June 1894.|
|2||Letterpress volume 12. 25 June 1894-4 October 1894.|
|3||Letterpress volume 13. 5 October 1894-5 November 1894.|
|4||Letterpress volume 14. 15 November 1894-13 March 1895.|
|5||Letterpress volume 15. 14 March 1895- 15 June 1895.|
|6||Letterpress volume 16. 15 June 1895-2 October 1895.|
|7||Letterpress volume 18. 28 August 1896-6 June 1896.|
|8||Letterpress volume 17. 2 October 1895-23 October 1895.|
|3||1||Letterpress volume 19. 23 October 1895-7 February 1896.|
|2||Letterpress volume 20. 7 February 1896-29 February 1896.|
|3||Letterpress volume 21. 2 March 1896-3 June 1896.|
|4||Letterpress volume 22. 3 June 1896-29 September 1896.|
|5||Letterpress volume 23. 9 June 1896-30 March 1897.|
|6||Letterpress volume 24. 28 January 1897-7 May 1897.|
|4||1||Letterpress volume 25. 30 March 1897-25 May 1897. Prospectives.|
|2||Letterpress volume 26. 6 May 1897-3 September 1897.|
|3||Letterpress volume 27. 4 September 1897-11 January 1898.|
|4||Letterpress volume 28. 12 Otober 1897- 1 September 1899.|
|5||Unidentified Letterpress volume. Compiled by W.R. Smith. 20 October 1897-11 September 1897.|
|5b||Letterpress volume 30. 20 October 1897-11 September 1897.|
|6||Letterpress volume 29. 18 January 1898-20 April 1898.|
|8||Summer Institute volume. 1 February 1898-4 May 1899.|
|5||1||Letterpress volume 33. 15 December 1894-28 April 1899.|
|2||Letterpress volume 31. 17 April 1899- 27 May 1899.|
|3||Letterpress volume 32. 20 January 1899-14 April 1899.|
|4||Unidentified Letterpress volume. Compiled by W.R. Smith. January 1900-May 1900.|
The records include all loose correspondence. It includes both outgoing and incoming correspondence.
The records are arranged alphabetically by correspondent name.
|2||Armitage, Cecil E. 1911-1927.|
|4||Automobile repairs. 1924-1926.|
|6||Barr, Floyd. 1908-1927.|
|7||Bisson, E.E. 1891-1896.|
|8||Brown, Allen. 1891-1897.|
|9||Byam, Frank. 1891-1894.|
|11||Cargill, D.F. 1891-1892.|
|12||Carlisle, Charles. 1891-1893.|
|13||Crans, Anna. [sister] 1891; 1895.|
|15||Devine, Rocena. 1891.|
|17||Ferris, Andrew. [uncle] 1896.|
|18||Ferris, Carleton. [son] 1892-1895.|
|19||Ferris, Helen Frances Gillespie (Nellie). [wife] 1880-1883.|
|20||Ferris, John and Stella. [parents] 1878-1892.|
|21||Ferris, Mary Ethel McCloud. [wife] 1920.|
|22||Ferris, Nellie Richter. [sister-in-law] 1883.|
|23||Ferris, Olive. [sister] 1889-1917.|
|24||Ferris, Seymour. [brother] 1891-1896.|
|25||Ferris, Mrs. Seymour. [sister-in-law] 1898.|
|26||Ferris, Stella Reed. [mother] 1882; 1895-1913.|
|27||Ferris Industrial School catalog. 1894.|
|28||Ferris Industrial School. Promotional letters. 1890-1896.|
|30||Gerholz, Robert P. 1916-1920.|
|31||Gillespie, Martha. [mother-in-law] 1882-1897.|
|32||Goodell, Ellen. 1894-1899.|
|34||Henderson, William D. 1894-1895.|
|35||Hile, Wesley. 1901-1903.|
|37||Johnson, Frank. 1892-1897.|
|39||Karshner, Clyde D. 1924-1927.|
|41||Loud Bill. 1898.|
|43||Masselink, Gerrit. 1897-1898.|
|44||McClure, D.E. 1894-1896.|
|45||Michigan normal schools. Circular. 1891.|
|46||Michigan Trust Company Estate. 1928-1929.|
|47||Moss, W.R. 1891-1896.|
|48||Musgrave, W.M. 1894-1895.|
|50||Norcross, G.L. 1898-1920; undated.|
|53||Parnall, Albert R. 1914-1927.|
|54||Pattengill, H.R. 1892-1895.|
|55||Phrenological News. 1895.|
|56||Pickell, Charles L. 1906-1925.|
|57||Pulte, F.E. 1914.|
|59||Rathburn, H.W. 1891-1894; undated.|
|60||Reed, Coral. 1910-1911.|
|62||Shaw, Henry. [brother-in-law] 1895-1896.|
|63||Smith, W.H. 1900.|
|64||Sprague, Leslie. Lecture. 1897.|
|67||University IFU. 1896.|
|70||Wilber, Henry. [nephew] 1894-1897.|
|71||Wilber, Sarah. [sister] 1892-1897.|
|72||Wills, Chester. 1925.|
Series 2. Writings and Publications. 1892-1921.
This series consists of approximately 0.4 linear feet of writings written by Woodbridge N. Ferris. Most writings are very short in nature and arranged alphabetically by title in Box 1, Folder 72. A series of surveys and student testimonials written for 1919 Ferris Institute students, and signed by Woodbridge Ferris are also in this series. Individual letters of recommendation are also found in the correspondence series. The writings series includes mostly biographical and Ferris Institute related material although there are a few proclamations and statements from Ferris's time as Governor of Michigan.
The series is arranged alphabetically by topic.
|6||73||Adresses; writings. 1909-1921; undated.|
|74||Autobiography draft. 2 copies. Undated.|
|75||Penmanship instructions. Ca. 1895.|
|76||Quatations and Public Utterances. 1918|
|7||1||Reading lists. Ca. 1895.|
|2||Student testimonials. A-C. 1919.|
|3||Student testimonials. D-H. 1919.|
|4||Student testimonials. K-R. 1919.|
|5||Student testimonials. S-Z. 1919.|
|6||Ferris Industrial School reports. ca. 1892.|
Series 3. General Files. 1883-1969; undated.
This series consists of 1 linear foot of general materials that do not fit readily into the other two categories. There are biographical, nearprint and obituary files, which talk about Woodbridge Ferris and his various activities. There are a series of property records- deeds to various plots of land that Ferris either used for his personal housing or as potential sites for his schools. There are also early documents relating to the administration of Ferris Institute- including the 1900 incorporation papers, an early teacher contract with Anna Pease and a 1888 rental contract for school space.
The series is arranged alphabetically by topic.
|7||7||Bibliographries. 1946; 1974.|
|8||Biographical sketches. 1908-1964; undated.|
|9||Campaign materials (Governor of Michigan). 1912; 1915.|
|10||Card index. 1968.|
|11||Ferris, Helen G. (Nellie) Tribute. 1917.|
|12||Ferris, Stella Reed. Tribute. 1918.|
|13||Ferris Business College. Muskegon (Mich.) 1891.|
|14||Ferris Institute. Building contracts. 1895-1898.|
|15||Ferris Institute. Equipment contracts. 1898; 1907.|
|16||Ferris Institute. Expansion campaign. 1927.|
|17||Ferris Institute. Incorporation papers. 1900; 1909.|
|18||Ferris Institute. Corporate dissolution. 1931.|
|19||Ferris Institute. Stock certificate. 1907.|
|20||Historical Sketches of the First Quarter century of the State Normal Training School at Oswego, New York. Xerox copy. 1888.|
|22||Memorials. Correspondence. 1928.|
|23||Michigan Commission for the Compilation of Statutes. 1914.|
|24||Michigan stenographers list. 1894.|
|25||Nearprint. 1883-1969; undated.|
|27||Pease, Anna. Teachers contract. 1898.|
|28||Portrait cards. Signed. Undated.|
|30||Property deeds. Block 23. (Ferris house). 1883.|
|31||Property deeds. Blocks 29 (Oak, Locust, Warren Streets). 1893.|
|32||Property deeds. Block 35. 1917.|
|33||Property deeds. Block 37. 1906.|
|34||Property deeds. Block 38. 1908.|
|35||Property deeds. Block 45 and Block 55. 1893.|
|36||Property deeds. Block 47. 1909.|
|37||Property deeds. Block 56 (Warren, Ives Street). 1902.|
|38||Property deeds. Block 57. 1909.|
|39||Property deeds. Miscellaneous lots. 1885-1907.|
|40||Property deeds. Miscellaneous lands west of US 131. 1907-1931.|
|41||Property deeds. Wareen Estates Farm Addition. Lots 6-20. 1909-1915.|
|42||Reception card. 1914.|