Lake E-ffect Newsletter banner SUNY Oswego logoFebruary 2012 • Vol 7 • No 11

Alumni Ambassadors: Woodbridge and Helen Gillespie Ferris

EDITOR’S NOTE: The final Sesquicentennial edition of Oswego alumni magazine published in December featured a well-received series of profiles called “Alumni Ambassadors.” Among the visionaries was Woodbridge N. Ferris 1873, who founded Ferris State University in Michigan.

Helen Ferris

The author, Edward J. Reid, provided an epilogue to that article highlighting the importance of another Oswego alumni ambassador: Woodbridge’s wife, Helen Gillespie Ferris 1873.

In the pre-politically correct era, there was a saying that “behind every successful man, there is a woman.” In the life of Woodbridge N. Ferris, his wife, Helen Gillespie Ferris, was not behind him, but beside him. Throughout their marriage, Helen was a partner in his dream of establishing a private training school. Mrs. Ferris was born in New Haven, N.Y., the same year as Woodbridge (1853), and was trained as a teacher at Oswego Normal and Training School during the same time as Woodbridge. Their son, Carlton, wrote the following homage to his mother in the preface of the Ferris Autobiography:

“In those early days, my mother taught in the day school. Later, when night sessions were initiated she taught there also and managed somehow, some way, to take care of her tiny house and myself, then a lad of eight years. Incidentally, I did not attend any school until after I was eight years old, but my mother taught me daily with such good results that I later suffered no embarrassment from lack of knowledge when I did enter the public schools.

When I think back upon the Herculean tasks, which my always-frail mother stood up under, I am amazed. Never physically strong she possessed tremendous will power and an adherence to duty that I have never seen surpassed. With it all she always maintained a quiet exterior. She was an extremely sensitive woman, so much so that she suffered much unnecessary sorrow at times.”

It is not surprising, as well as entirely fitting, that Ferris State University refers to both Woodbridge and Helen as its “founders.”

⎯ Edward J. Reid, Ed. D

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