Ferris School for Boys

From Asylum Projects
Jump to: navigation, search
Ferris School for Boys
Established 1885
Opened 1887
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Wilmington, DE
Alternate Names
  • Ferris Industrial School
  • Ferris School (Current)


Established initially as a private rehabilitative facility, the Ferris School was the brainchild of John Ferris, Jr., a well-respected Wilmington humanitarian. Ferris, in his last will and testament of 1882, designated his cousin, Dr. Caleb Harlan, as the administrator of his estate and bade him employ it “for the benefit of any of the necessary portion of the human family that may come to his knowledge.” He even suggested a “house of refuge” or a place for bettering wayward juveniles as worthwhile projects.

Dr. Harlan took his cousin’s suggestion to heart and drew together some of Wilmington’s most influential citizens to form a loose organization to found such an institution. They purchased a 197-acre plot of land called “Woodside,” which lay just outside Wilmington, and drew up an organizational proposal to be submitted to the Legislature. On March 10, 1885, the act of incorporation was approved, with a governing body of twenty-one managers, including the mayor of Wilmington, the Chief Judge of the New Castle County Superior Court and the President of the New Castle County Levy Court.

Their goals were straightforward; they were to provide care, retraining and rehabilitation of white and negro boys committed by the Delaware courts as delinquent. The rehabilitative program included psychiatric and psychological study; required religious programs; physical examinations and treatment; varied types of recreation; academic training; arts and crafts; and vocational training, including farming, cooking and general kitchen work, laundry operations, painting, carpentry, plumbing, auto repair, and boiler room operation. The age of the child had to be between 9-16 years.

The school, while still privately funded, was plagued by financial difficulties even before the turn of the century. The Board of Trustees asked the Legislature to force the New Castle County Levy Court to help provide support for the inmates, largely because most of the boys had been committed to the institution by the county courts, as a means of accommodating errant boys instead of packing them off to jail. The Levy Court resisted, and in 1898 the case went to the Superior Court which decided in favor of the school.

The appropriation by Levy Court still did not stem the flow of red ink, and in 1919, the Legislature was again petitioned. This time the request was to place control of the facility within state government, the rationale being that state intervention at an earlier age would pre-empt any need for future incarceration. As a result of this request, the state finally accepted responsibility for the facility with its activities being monitored by, ironically, the New Castle County Levy Court.

In 1943, the school’s name officially became the Ferris School for Boys. To better administer the facility, the Youth Services Commission of Delaware was formed in 1957. The Commission was to coordinate the combined activities of the Ferris School, the Kruse School for Girls, and the Detention Home for Juvenile Delinquents. This arrangement lasted until 1969, when the Division of Corrections, within the Department of Health and Social Services, assumed the Commission’s duties. (Note: The members were carried over to a new Council on Youth Services, an advisory group to the Director of the Division of Corrections.)

The Division of Corrections, in 1975, was taken from Department of Health and Social Services to become a wholly independent Department of Corrections. The Ferris School remained there until 1983, when the Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families (RG 1501), a cabinet level agency, was formed. The Ferris School was then placed in this new department, within the Division of Youth Rehabilitation Services.