Mynor Watkins, whom I met in a rural school not far from my home, and I in April, 1870 began attending the Oswego [sic Owego] Free Academy at Oswego [sic Owego], New York. This was the home of Thomas Platt, elected United States senator in 1881. We boarded ourselves during a term of thirteen weeks. Before we could be enrolled we were required to take an entrance examination. Jonathan Tenney, the principal, was a college trained man who bore the marks of a scholar.
Just why I did not return to the Candor Free Academy, I cannot tell. Possibly the Oswego [sic Owego] Academy was considered higher in rank since it was recognized by the New York State Regents. While attending this school I secured sufficient credits to be eligible for admission without examination to Cornell University at Ithaca, New York.
According to my diary I ranked with the best students in the academy. This gives me a feeling of surprise when I scrutinize my English of 1870.
Among my intimate schoolmates were C. A. Brown who became a distinguished physician, O. M. Brink who became a college professor, H. Bostwick who became a successful lawyer. Mynor Watkins, my roommate, after leaving the academy taught school for several years, then became a dry goods clerk, a real estate agent, a county politician holding the office of county clerk for several years. He is now dead.
During my thirteen weeks at the academy, I had the pleasure of listening to eminent preachers. I recall having heard James Chaplin Beecher, pastor of the Congregational Church of Oswego [sic Owego] and Thomas K. Beecher of Elmira, New York, both half-brothers of Henry Ward Beecher. Thomas K. Beecher was a striking personality, a man who was loved by everybody who knew him.
July, August, and September were spent at home on the farm where I worked with father as I had been accustomed to do the preceding summers.
I am confident, although my diary contains no record, that I attended a county teachers' institute at Oswego [sic Owego], under the direction of the county school superintendent, a Mr. Cole. At this institute, Professor Hoose, president of the Cortland Normal School, spoke briefly on elementary science. His illustrations were so simple and interesting that then and there abandoning my hazy plans to enter some time Cornell University, I decided to attend a State Normal School. I was confident that Professor Hoose's work typified the best kind of instruction.
October the first, returning to the district school that I had previously taught, I began work. The second winter I remained a week in each home. This plan offered a new experience. When I made one night stands I saw the best features of the home, the finest room, good food and the most agreeable family relations. When I made one week stands, the families, as a rule, could not endure the strain. Explosions of temper, corporal punishment, a scarcity of table delicacies, and more or less disorder constituted the general routine. In the district there were a few marked exceptions. My experience the second winter was in other respects a duplicate of the first.
On February 10, 1871 I taught my last day in a rural school. On this day I had special exercises. A pupil, Gaylord Jacobs, recited a poem of his own composition. I do not presume that it was anything more than a series of rhymes. Now a clergyman, he has, during the long years since then, written poems of more than ordinary merit.
My father was kind enough to hire a team and come after me. He attended the special exercises of this turning point day in my life. On the way to my home he asked how I ever came to select such a place in which to teach school. I answered by saying that it was the only place I could find where school trustees would give me a job. He then inquired what I now proposed to do.
I said, "I have one hundred dollars in my pocket and you owe me a hundred. I expect you to pay it and with my hundred I am going to attend the Oswego Normal and Training School for as long as my money will permit."
On February fourteenth I arrived at Oswego, New York where the next day I entered upon my preliminary examination for entrance to the normal school. I was given one half year's advanced credit on the classical course.
Why did I choose this course? I was reared on a farm, I had heard would-be lecturers sneer at Latin and Greek, in fact, my early environment would discourage my studying
such subjects. The truth of the matter is, realizing my helplessness in the use of English, I resolved to take the classical course. I have rejoiced a thousand times over my choice. True, I never could read Latin or Greek easily, but I did gain an insight into the etymology of words, which has served me admirably. Today I emphasize in my English classes the tremendous importance of knowing "a little Latin and less Greek."
During my first half year at the Oswego Normal, I joined in self-boarding with Taylor Crum whose parents lived only a few miles from my native home. After graduation he taught several years and then studied law. Now he is a successful lawyer in Fargo, North Dakota.
I do not recall the actual attendance at the Normal. I am under the impression that four hundred enrolled, of which number eighty-five to ninety per cent were young women. Most state normal schools are composed largely of women students.
Among the instructors were the president, Dr. Edward A. Sheldon, Isaac B. Poucher, Dr. Edward A. Strong who spent many years at Ypsilanti State Normal College, Herman Krusi, William M. Aber, David H. Cruttenden, Matilda S. Cooper, Sarah J. Armstrong, and Emma F. Hutchins. Most of those instructors were remarkable teachers. I could write a descriptive chapter on every one.
I loved Dr. Edward A. Sheldon for his sympathetic encouragement. In his relations to students he was as democratic as Abraham Lincoln. Hanging in my office over my desk is a life size portrait of Dr. Sheldon. As I enter this room and look into his face he seems to say, "Good morning, Mr. Ferris."
In science, Dr. Edward A. Strong was quiet, clear, and logical, an artist teacher.
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. In later years I discovered that to him I owed much. He illustrated and enforced method in thinking.
In geometry we were not permitted to use textbooks. Most of us grew impatient when for several weeks he taught only definitions and axioms to the class. Knowing that in the study of geometry one should begin demonstrating theorems, we did not hesitate to find fault with Professor Krusi's delays.
What is ordinarily termed demonstrating never was done in this class. Every proposition or theorem was put into the form of a problem. Instead of being given the answer and told to verify, we were told to find the answer (solve the problem) and then verify. Since the student was not allowed, under any circumstances to consult a textbook, his work was entirely original. Every problem was presented with reference to its logical relation preceding and succeeding problems. Our work was progressive. We were required to keep an accurate written record of our approved solutions. At the end of every four weeks our records were placed in the professor's hands for inspection. The course in plane geometry extended over one school year of forty weeks. In the high school of today this ground is covered in twenty weeks or less. It is a long time since 1871 and 1872, nevertheless, I should like to have authentic information from any one of Professor Krusi's living students who does not today know plane geometry. I have Professor Herman Krusi to thank for the encouragement he gave me in the fine art of thinking.
For several years the Ferris Institute followed the Krusi method, but the demand for covering more ground in the shortest possible time has driven this school into the field of superficial training.
I must, in connection with this topic, make my vigorous protest against the superficial educational work of today. Colleges, universities, normal schools, high schools are all guilty. Graduates of these institutions in after years remark, "I once knew a little Latin, a little botany, a little physics, a little chemistry. Nearly all my knowledge is gone now." This is a pathetic confession. One of the educational weaknesses of the hour is superficiality. The schools attempting too much do very few things thoroughly well. Institutions of learning cannot hope to give a broad, complete education. It is a poor specimen that is educationally finished when he graduates from a college or university. Schools must deal with fundamentals, must build a foundation and furnish a plan for a possible human structure of beauty, strength and service.
The so-called higher institutions of learning are largely responsible for our present deplorable condition. These institutions make rigid demands of high school and preparatory schools, along the line of subject matter and units of time. It would be far better to abandon the current prescribed rules for admission and require a rigid entrance examination in English and other fundamental subjects. Ascertain what the candidate can do, rather than what he has done. The leading educators deplore the low quality of freshman thinking. It is through constructive thinking that we have the new world of the twentieth century. Admission requirements are so mechanized and standardized that we are in reality putting a premium on mediocrity. No small factor in the present admission method is that a knowledge of so many things is required that superficiality is at a premium. The overpowering demand in the practical world is for men who know a few things, thoroughly well, who can do constructive thinking, and who have initiative. Far better to let down the bars and admit every candidate on condition that he will do his work satisfactorily. Permit and encourage a student who has the ability to do four years of scheduled work in three years. During the summer of 1871, I again assisted father on the farm.
In the fall, returning to the Oswego Normal, I joined a classmate, George D. Ballou, a Seventh Day Adventist and vegetarian. One of his sisters who attended the normal did simple cooking for us.
I have always possessed a boundless curiosity. In order to gratify it, I discontinued all work at sunset Friday and tried to keep Saturday (the Sabbath) holy. I attended regularly the meetings of the Adventists and read with interest their publications. The World War has revived a memory of these services. I now recall charts used by their preachers illustrating the teachings of prophecy. Among the prophecies I recall the coming of a world catastrophe a world war. There was no year designated for this cataclysm.
I am not relating this for the purpose of proving the foresight of the Adventists. It is another illustration of coincidence based on a practical knowledge of international jealousy and selfishness. I narrowly escaped joining this church.
In after years, I recognized the narrowness of this sect's religious doctrines. They were what moderns call fundamentalists with a vengeance. In the sight of Adventists, present fundamentalists are modernists. The Adventists are eagerly looking for the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. All the years since, I have taken much interest in the progress of this church. Although I do not accept or approve of their theology, I do admire their dogged persistence in remaining faithful to their interpretations of Scripture. They are among our best citizens. Doubtful amusements have never corrupted them.
George D. Ballou is now living in San Francisco. Just what pursuit or pursuits he has followed, I do not know. He has remained an orthodox Seventh Day Adventist. He has also written a book entitled "The Ministry of Healing." Occasionally he writes a letter in which he outlines his view on religion and vegetarianism.
I cannot recall just when we discontinued rooming together. It must have been sometime in the Spring of 1872. I remember several of my associates but none of my other Oswego roommates.
The summer of 1872 was spend [sic spent] as usual assisting my father.
In the autumn I returned to the Oswego Normal. I have a very vivid memory of the Greely-Grant [sic Greeley] campaign. One political meeting is deeply impressed on my mind. In some way, I managed to induce Dr. Sheldon to excuse me from school on a certain afternoon, in order that I might hear Roscoe Conkling speak. His address was a scathing and sarcastic arraignment of Horace Greely [sic Greeley] and the Democratic party. He was so bitter that even his Republican audience rebelled, or at least many of his hearers did not venture to call it a vote-getting speech. In the evening, at the same auditorium, Frederick Douglass spoke at a Republican rally. Douglass prefaced his speech with a high tribute to Horace Greely [sic Greeley], recognizing in him the colored man's friend and defender. His arraignment was of the Democratic party and not of Horace Greely [sic Greeley]. His was a vote-getting speech.
The sincerity of Conkling's personal attack on Greely [sic Greeley] was made manifest later in the same year. A few months after the election of General Grant as president of the United States, Horace Greely [sic Greeley] died. It has been said that he died of a broken heart. On hearing of his death, Roscoe Conkling hurried to New York where he was one of the pallbearers at the funeral. He evidently entertained some little regard for the defeated candidate whom he had defamed. I was then a Democrat, otherwise I might not have made the foregoing observations.
Some time during the early autumn of 1872 I had the good fortune to form the acquaintance of Miss Helen F. Gillespie, whose home was at Fulton, New York twelve miles from Oswego. She enrolled in the Normal in February, 1870 at the age of seventeen. I probably met her at some one of the sessions of the Adelphi Debating Society, of which I was a charter member.
A group of twelve or fifteen young men desired to learn something of the art of public speaking. We were too bashful even to ask for the privilege of joining the Avolonian society of the school. We asked permission of Dr. Sheldon to use a room in the school building one evening each week for debates. At first the society was composed of men only. We were too awkward, too self-conscious to permit the women students to join. In our early struggles we were ridiculed by the members of the Senior society. I recall anticipating making a great speech at my first debate. It lasted just one and a half minutes. Other members followed suit. After a few meetings we gradually developed confidence. I owe more to the training I received in this society than to all of the other agencies offered by this remarkable school. It was in this debating group that I actually learned something of the fine art of speech.
After a few weeks we decided to invite the girls to join. From the time of their admission the society gave social functions that proved to be of tremendous value to all concerned. As a result of the policy of this society renewing its membership from the ranks of new students, the Adelphi society is still in existence.
In May, 1872, while attending the Oswego Normal and Training School, I had an experience that would have sent me home, but for the generosity of the president, Dr. Edward A. Sheldon. The boys in the school were out numbered by the girls several times in fact, they were not a very important factor in the student body. The city boys, the rougher element, imposed upon the normal boys whenever an opportunity presented itself. They were overbearing and insulting in their conduct. These ruffians interfered with our baseball games, going so far as to insult us in the presence of our girl schoolmates.
On one occasion, just before the opening of an afternoon school session, E.B. Sherman, an intimate companion of mine, and I were strolling toward Lake Ontario when we chanced to meet one of the city boys a stalwart six footer who addressed us in the current slag of the day, "Hello, Normalities, strawbacks, muskrats." Without saying a word I struck a blow that sent him reeling into the gutter. Sherman and I strolled back to our class room. I had been seated only a few moments when a policeman and the stricken young man put in an appearance. The policeman asked the victim to point out his assailant, and then commanded me to accompany him to police headquarters. This was something of a shock to me and my classmates.
When outside the building the father of the complainant came running towards me, coatless and with clenched fists seeking immediate revenge. When I paused to meet him the policeman said, "Come on."
I said, "I propose to defend myself even in the presence of a policeman. Take charge of that man, otherwise the fight is on."
My orders were obeyed, and I was conducted to police headquarters where a charge of assault being recorded, I was commanded to enter a cell. By that time forty or fifty students, practically all of the Normal men, led by a member of the faculty entered headquarters. They demanded an impartial procedure. Fortunately this member of the faculty was a resident politician of Oswego, and the authorities followed his suggestion that I appear in police court the next day at ten o'clock. A lawyer who took his meals at my boarding house offered his services free of charge. When I appeared with my lawyer, the complaint was promptly dismissed the complainant not appearing.
Upon returning to the school I was called to Dr. Sheldon's office and advised to ignore future insults. In other words, I was told to practice the philosophy of non-resistance. I said, as gently as I knew how, that my constitution was so organized that I could not follow this advice. I promised to continue minding my own business, but when insulted I should defend myself. Dr. Sheldon smiled and made no further comment.
Already the boys had put their stamp of approval on my conduct. What would the girls say, especially one particular girl? I was fearful. To my surprise they came to me in groups commending me more than the boys had done.
For weeks the city "toughs" pointed me out on the streets and gave me full right of way. I give this incident for two reasons. First, I wish my readers to know that I do not belong to that class of good and brave men who have never been arrested. This does not mean that I advocate breaking the law, I simply mean that I believe in observing the law if one has to break it in order to obey it. Second, I wish to encourage American Youth to resent, when necessary, insults with their fists. Physical force is, under certain circumstances, quite as valuable as moral force. In other words, it is sometimes necessary to use physical force in order to exert moral force. I have never said to my students, "Don't fight." Instead, I have said, "When there is not an appointed officer present, use your fists in protecting mother, wife, sweetheart, or sister. Yes, if necessary, use your fists in concretely expressing your love for your country and your country's flag." Like the Irishmen, I am for peace if I have to fight for it.
Note: Owego and Oswego are frequently confused. The Owego Academy was in Owego, Tioga County and was verified by the references to Senator Platt and Pastor J. C. Beecher. Oswego and Oswego Normal are located in Oswego County on the southeast shore of Lake Ontario. The page headings carry the corrected place reference for the chapter: Owego Academy.