Woodbridge Nathan Ferris

Woodbridge Nathan Ferris (January 6, 1853 – March 23, 1928) was an American educator from New York, Illinois and Michigan, as well as Democratic statesman and the 28th Governor of Michigan (1913–1917).

Woodbridge Nathan Ferris
28th Governor of Michigan
In office
January 1, 1913 – January 1, 1917
LieutenantJohn Q. Ross
Luren D. Dickinson
Preceded byChase Osborn
Succeeded byAlbert Sleeper
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
March 4, 1923 – March 23, 1928
Preceded byCharles E. Townsend
Succeeded byArthur H. Vandenberg
Personal details
Born(1853-01-06)January 6, 1853
Spencer, New York
DiedMarch 23, 1928(1928-03-23) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)1. Helen Frances Gillespie 2. Mary Ethel McLoud
Alma materOswego Normal Training School
University of Michigan

Early life in New York, Michigan and IllinoisEdit

Ferris was born to John Ferris Jr. and Estella (Reed) Ferris in a log cabin near Spencer, New York and attended the academies of Spencer, Candor, and Owego (see autobiography posted on Ferris State University Webpage. Owego and Oswego are frequently confused.), and the Oswego Normal Training School (now State University of New York at Oswego) from 1870–1873. He went to the medical department of the University of Michigan from 1873–1874.

In April 1874, Ferris returned to his home state and on December 23 in Fulton he married Helen Frances Gillespie (born September 7, 1853). The couple had three sons; Carleton Gillespie (1876–1961), Clifford Wendell (1881, died just after three months), and Phelps Fitch (1889–1935). Ferris taught at Spencer Academy from 1874-1875.

He then moved to Freeport, Illinois and became principal of the Freeport Business College and Academy from 1875–1876 and then principal of the Normal Department of the Rock River University, 1876-77. Then he taught in Dixon, Illinois where he was also co-founder of the Dixon Business College and Academy, 1877-1879. Ferris then became superintendent of schools in Pittsfield, Illinois from 1879-1884.

Life and politics in MichiganEdit

Ferris then settled in Big Rapids, Michigan, where in 1884 he established the Ferris Industrial School (which became Ferris State University). There he received the nickname The Big Rapids Schoolmaster, and served as president until his death. He was also president of the Big Rapids Savings Bank.

In 1892, he was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate from the 11th district to the 53rd Congress to serve in the U.S. House, being defeated by John Avery. In 1904, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Michigan against Republican Fred M. Warner. In 1912, he was a delegate to Democratic National Convention which nominated Woodrow Wilson for U.S. President.

Ferris was elected Governor of Michigan in 1912, becoming the first Democratic governor of that state in twenty years, and served from 1913–1917. During his tenure, a farm colony for epileptics was established, as well as the Central Michigan Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and the bitter Copper Country Strike of 1913-1914 occurred. In 1916, he was again a delegate to Democratic National Convention which nominated President Woodrow Wilson for re-election. He also received the nickname, Good Gray Governor. On March 23, 1917, less than three months after leaving office, his wife Helen died after 43 years of marriage.

In 1920, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor, being defeated by Alex Groesbeck. On August 14, 1921, he married Mary E. McCloud (1882–1954).

In 1922, Ferris was elected to the United States Senate; he served alongside Republican James Couzens beginning March 4, 1923. As a senator and former teacher, Ferris supported the establishment of a federal Department of Education. In 1924, Ferris was again a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and was, for the first time, named by his fellow delegates as a candidate for the presidential nomination. After receiving 30 votes on the first ballot, which placed his candidacy in eighth place, Ferris's prospects faded and his delegates turned to other candidates. The Convention eventually nominated John W. Davis, who lost to Calvin Coolidge.


Exactly eleven years after his first wife died, Ferris died in office in Washington, D.C. at the age of seventy-five and is interred at Highlandview Cemetery of Big Rapids along with his first wife, Helen, and his 2 sons Carleton and Phelps. He died from complications of pneumonia on March 23, 1928.

Further readingEdit

  • Fuller, George, Ed., Messages of the Governors of Michigan, Volume 4 (East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press) ISBN 0-87013-723-9; ISBN 978-0-87013-723-5.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

United States Congress. "FERRIS, Woodbridge Nathan (id: F000092)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

Party political offices
Preceded by
Lorenzo T. Durand
Democratic nominee for Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Charles H. Kimmerle
Preceded by
Lawton T. Hemans
Democratic nominee for Governor of Michigan
1912, 1914
Succeeded by
Edwin F. Sweet
Preceded by
John W. Bailey
Democratic nominee for Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Alva M. Cummins
Preceded by
Lawrence Price
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Michigan
(Class 1)

Succeeded by
John W. Bailey
Political offices
Preceded by
Chase Osborn
Governor of Michigan
Succeeded by
Albert Sleeper
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Charles E. Townsend
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Michigan
Succeeded by
Arthur H. Vandenberg