Michigan Transportation History

Woodbridge N. Ferris

Public Michigan Person Governor Senator Democratic Education

Woodbridge N. Ferris, H. E. Nix photo (1907), Bentley Image Bank (BL006576), Bentley Historical Library.

Woodbridge Nathan Ferris was born in Spencer, Tioga County, New York, January 6, 1853. He attended public schools until going to the academy. He attended three academies in New York: Spencer Union Academy, Candor Union Academy and Owego Academy. Upon graduating, he became a schoolteacher. After a year or two teaching, he decided to take formal training enrolling in the Oswego Normal and Training School. Ferris enrolled at the University of Michigan, medical department in 1873.[1]

While attending Oswego Normal, Ferris met Helen Frances Gillespie. They were married in December, 1874. They had three sons: Carleton, Clifford (died in infancy), and Phelps Fitch. Helen died in March 1917.[1]


After getting married in 1874, Ferris moved to Freeport Illinois and established (in 1875) the Freeport Business College and Academy. He left Freeport the next year to serve as the principal of the normal department at Rock River University. The year after he started a business college at Dixon, Illinois, which now appears to be defunct. In 1879, he was elected as public schools superintendent of Pittsfield, Illinois. He left this position to start the Ferris Industrial School? which he founded at Big Rapids, Michigan, on September 1, 1884. Through tireless efforts, the school expanded and constructed its main classroom building in 1893, becoming the Ferris Institute? in 1894.[1]

See also Nye, Russel B. "The Gift of a College." Michigan History 68, no. 3 (May 1984), 33-41.


Ferris entered Michigan politics for the first time as a candidate for the Eleventh Congressional District in 1892. He ran for governor against Aaron Bliss? in 1904 but was defeated. He ran for governor again in 1912 against a divided Republican field and won. He was re-elected in 1914. He ran for the governorship again in 1920 but was defeated, this time by Alex J. Groesbeck?. Ferris ran for United States Senator in 1922 and won.


Copper Strike

Ferris's most significant conflict during his governorship was the 1913 copper strike.

Lincoln Jubilee

In July 1914, Ferris appointed eighty-nine delegates to an exhibit commission for the Lincoln Jubilee?. By March 1915, enthusiasm for the exhibit and the upcoming jubilee led to Public Act 47 which created a nine-member commission to build the exhibit and install it at the Chicago event. The legislature charged that the exhibit should demonstrate the "inventions and handiwork in art, science, manufacture and agriculture" of black Michiganians. It was also to prepare an accompanying book.[2]

Toledo War Re-Survey

For the sesquicentennial of the Toledo War, Ferris along with Ohio Governor Frank B. Willis authorized a resurvey of the joint border and other commemorative activities.[3]


The following the 1918 Senatorial election, the Michigan Republican Party split over the scandals surrounding Truman Newberry. Senator Charles E. Townsend? had voted to seat Newberry, but there was a sizeable number of Republicans in Michigan who opposed Newberry and resented Townsend's position. When Townsend sat for re-election in 1922, these Anti-Newberry Republicans voted for Ferris instead, giving him the victory. Ferris remained in the U.S. Senate until his death in 1928.[4]


[1][a] [b] [c] Michigan Historical Commission, s.v. "Woodbrigde N. Ferris," Michigan Biographies (Lansing: by the commission, 1924), I-288-289.

[2] Sheryl James, "The Michigan Manual of Freedmen's Progress," Michigan History Magazine 85, no. 4 (2001), 53.

[3] Santer, Richard A. "Waging Peace: The 1915 Resurvey and Monumenting of the Ohio-Michigan Boundary." Michigan History 74, no. 6 (November 1990), 26-31.

[4] Willis F. Dunbar and George S. May, Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State, 3rd revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's Publishing, 1995), 477.


By Ferris

Papers are held by the Bentley Historical Archive, University of Michigan.

Ferris, Woodbridge N. The Autobiography of Woodbridge N. Ferris. With an unfinished preface by Carlston G. Ferris and Senator Ferris' undelivered 1928 Senate address. Big Rapids, MI: Ferris State University, 1995.

Google.Books • Hathi Trust • Library of Michigan • Ferris University (html)

Ferris, Woodbridge N. Student, School Teacher, Business Man: Woodbridge N. Ferris, Big Rapids, Mich., Democratic Candidate for Governor: His Story as Told by Himself. Big Rapids, MI: by the author, 1905.

Library of Michigan • Google.Books

Ferris, Woodbridge N. Inaugural message of Woodbridge N. Ferris, governor of Michigan. Lansing, Michigan, January 1, 1913. Lansing: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford co., state printers, 1913.

Hathi Trust • Google.Books

Ferris, Woodbridge N. Second inaugural message of Woodbridge N. Ferris, governor of Michigan. Lansing, Michigan, January 7, 1915. Lansing: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford co., state printers, 1915.

About Ferris

Various. Memorial Addresses Delivered in the United States Senate in Memory of Woodbridge N. Ferris, late a Senator from Michigan. Seventieth Congress. May 6, 1928. Senate document (United States. Congress. Senate) ; 70th Congress, no. 100. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1929.

Library of Michigan

Taber, Morris C. ''Woodbridge N. Ferris: An Unorthodox Reformer in Education and Politics, 1853-1928. 2 vols. 1987. Tps Mss.

Wade, Irene Esther. An Analysis of the Speeches of Woodbridge N. Ferris. Thesis (M.A.)--Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science, 1946.

Vandenberg, Arthur H.? The late Senator Woodbridge N. Ferris of Michigan Memorial address of Hon. Arthur H. Vandenberg ... in the Senate of the United States May 6, 1928.

Hathi Trust • Google.Books

Articles about Woodbridge Nathan Ferris and Helen Francis Gillespie Ferris

Santer, Richard A. "Waging Peace: The 1915 Resurvey and Monumenting of the Ohio-Michigan Boundary." Michigan History 74, no. 6 (November 1990), 26-31.

Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Woodbridge N. Ferris," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

Unless otherwise noted all content on the Michigan Transportation History site is Copyright © 2020.
Page last modified on April 22, 2020, at 03:45 PM EST

Page last modified on April 22, 2020, at 03:45 PM EST