The Educator's Wife
Helen Gillespie Ferris was born in New Haven, N.Y., Sept. 7, 1853, the same year as W.N. Ferris.
Her father was reared on a farm under conditions which encouraged industry, thrift, sobriety, integrity, and loyalty. In the Gillespie family it was her father who was educated -- that is with a common school education. Her mother was not, just the reverse of the situation in the Ferris family.
Helen Gillespie's father desired that his children have a better education than the country school could offer. Consequently, when Helen was about 12 or 13, the father moved the family to a farm near Fulton, N.Y. Helen and her sister Alice attended Mrs. Caldwell's private school for girls and the Falley Seminary for three or four years. At the age of 15 Helen was awarded the mathematical prize, one of the first indications that she had unusual ability as a mathematician. Years later, after she retired from teaching at the Industrial, she was cited by the state's superintendent of public instruction as the best geometry teacher in Michigan.
Like W.N., Helen, too, began teaching at the age of 16, and in 1870 she entered Oswego Normal and Training school, a year before her future husband.
In his autobiography, W.N. Ferris says he doesn't remember when he met Helen Gillespie, but she was a member of the Adel-phi, a debating society, which W.N. helped develop. They dated occasionally, sometimes boat riding on Lake Ontario, sometimes driving in a horse-drawn carriage into the country. After several months of dating, Woodbridge was introduced to Helen's parents, and their engagement soon followed.
Before their marriage Helen taught at Franklin, Ind., and then in the high school of Fulton, N.Y.
Woodbridge and Helen's first child, Carleton Gillespie Ferris, was born while the two were living in the college dormitory at the unsuccessful Rock River University in Dixon, Ill.
A second son, Clifford, born before the two came to Big Rapids, died in infancy. A third son, Phelps Fitch Ferris, was born in 1889, five years after the founding of the Industrial.
In their lifetime W.N. Ferris gave Helen Ferris much credit for helping him build the school. In a letter to his family early in the formation of the school, he reported that Helen taught at the school full time and did all her work at home except the washing. Subsequent catalogs praised her for her contributions to the school.
When W.N. Ferris was seeking acceptance of his students at the colleges and universities throughout the state, he would cite Helen's expertise and her degree as one of the plus factors of the school.
After her death, W.N. Ferris published a touching and sentimental memorial booklet extolling her virtues. The booklet ends with a statement:
"The life of Mrs. Ferris adds new luster to American womanhood."