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Woodbridge Nathan Ferris (January 6, 1853–March 23, 1928) was an educator from New Yorkmarker, Illinoismarker and Michiganmarker, as well as Democratic statesman and Governor (1913-1916).

Early life in New York, Michigan and Illinois

Ferris was born of John Ferris, Jr. and Estella (Reed) Ferris in a log cabin near Spencer, New Yorkmarker and attended the academies of Spencer, Candor, and Oswegomarker, and the Oswego Normal Training School (now State University of New York at Oswegomarker) from 1870–1873. He went to the medical department of the University of Michiganmarker 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 would have 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, Illinoismarker 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, Illinoismarker where he was also co-founder of the Dixon Business College and Academy, 1877-1879. Ferris then became superintendent of schools in Pittsfield, Illinoismarker from 1879-1884.

Life and politics in Michigan

Ferris then settled in Big Rapids, Michiganmarker, where in 1884he established the Ferris Industrial School (which became Ferris State Universitymarker). 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, supported the establishment of a federal Department of Education and served alongside Republican James Couzens beginning March 4, 1923. In 1924, he was again a delegate to Democratic National Convention which nominated for U.S. President John W. Davis, who lost to Calvin Coolidge.


Exactly eleven years after his first wife died, Ferris died in office in Washington, D.C.marker at the age of seventy-five and is interred at Highland View 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.

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