Earning An Education
In signing their admission contracts, FTS students agreed to work for the school without pay, a common model at “mission schools” throughout the country. Exceptions to Ferrum’s labor requirement were rare, in part because the administration wanted to foster a sense of equality among students. The workers reduced operating costs and gave the school a degree of self-sufficiency—FTS raised much of its own food.
Though the program was periodically adjusted, students generally worked one full day per week or two hours per day. In the 1931 FTS admission contract students also obligated themselves to two additional work days per month “in an emergency.” In 1917 boys with no money and no scholarships could also work full time in the summer to cover the next eight months’ tuition and board; it is unclear if this option was offered to girls in the same financial situation.
Typical for the times, students were assigned jobs based on gender. Girls cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. Boys primarily worked on the FTS farm, campus upkeep, and construction projects. Film footage from 1941 shows students ironing, canning peaches, and carrying sides of freshly butchered beef from the farm to the kitchen.