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The Spirit of the Times

Snapshot if Mr. FerrisAt the annual meeting of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society in Lansing, May 25, 1916, W.N. Ferris gave an address entitled "The Spirit of the Times," another example of how far he was ahead of his time. Two points are particularly illustrative of his foresight.

One is the independence of women. After an introduction which pointed out the need for political independence, Ferris said:

"Woman today is an important factor in our industrial and economic life."


"Along with this independence, and as a necessary corollary to it, there has come the recognition of women . . . Woman today is an important factor in our industrial and economic life. It does not matter now whether it is because of our neglect, or whether she has been forced there by our industrial system -- she is there, and is an important factor, and she is now asking for the rights and privileges which we men enjoy. Why should she not have them. If she is to compete for her place in the industrial world, why should she longer be handicapped by the outworn restrictions of days that belong to a past condition that are gone.

I wish to say to any doubter here tonight that the handwriting is on the wall -- that there is not the slightest question as to what the spirit of the times has written there; woman is going to be given every privilege and every right that man enjoys.

"There is absolutely no escape for it . . . . And let me say to the men present here tonight, to quiet any needless fear, that the women are not going to enjoy it all, or even the larger part of the fruits of the change. Men are going to profit in certain ways possibly more than the women can hope to profit.

"I say to the women here tonight and to the women everywhere in this broad state of Michigan, I welcome you and welcome the splendid achievements you have made in spite of our withholding our encouragement and our help. I wish to congratulate you upon that progress, and upon the no less certain fact that you are destined to have in the near future -the heritage of equal privileges for which you have struggled."

Parallel to this concept, W.N. Ferris gave an anecdote at a speech before the Executives' Club of Chicago in October 1927. The story:

Anna Howard ShawAnna Howard Shaw, a one-time resident of Mecosta County, who held both the M.D. and D.D. degrees, was an active member of the suffrage movement early in the century. Her biography, The Story of a Pioneer, was published in 1915, a year before Mr. Ferris gave the described speech. He likely had her in mind when he wrote it. She spent much of her life trying to become and ordained minister.

"There isn't anything finer in all my experience than the illustration I am about to give. I was in Oceana County, Michigan, doing education work through the county, and it was Sunday night when my host, a rural school teacher, Fisher by name, took me to his home, said to me, 'You will have to get up early tomorrow morning. Breakfast will be ready at half past three.' I was up and breakfast was ready. We had a breakfast that was a delight to me . . . . After we had gotten in the sleigh ready to start for the train, I turned about to see a clothes line heavily laden with a beautiful wash. I said, `Fisher, explain that line of clothes."

"If she is to compete for her place in the industrial world, why should she be handicapped by the outworn restrictions of the Day?"


" 'Well,' he said, 'You noticed that Mother was not at breakfast. Mother was sleeping. I did the washing this morning, and I shall get back in time before I go to my school to remove the clothes from the line . . . and if necessary I shall do the ironing. My brothers and sisters and I owe everything that we are to Mother, and Mr. Ferris, it is the delight of my life now to render her some substantial service.' "

"Do you see anything very startling about that?" he asked. "Isn't there something beautiful about it? Why is it in our attempts to educate American youth that we should draw the line of sex?"

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