Jules Ferry (zhül fĕrē´), 1832–93, French statesman. A member of the government of national defense established after the defeat of Emperor Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), he later rose to prominence as minister of public instruction (1879–80, 1882). He was twice premier (1880–81, 1883–85). Ferry established the modern French educational system with universal, free, and compulsory education in the primary schools. He secularized the public schools, abolishing religious education in them and barring members of Roman Catholic orders as public-school teachers. Ferry is best known, however, as the builder of the French colonial empire. An exponent of imperialism, he was willing to cooperate with the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in order to secure French expansion overseas. During his premiership the French occupied Tunis, entered Tonkin and Madagascar, and penetrated the regions of the Niger and the Congo. Ferry was overthrown after a temporary French defeat in Indochina. He was assassinated by a religious fanatic.
See study by T. F. Power (1944, repr. 1966).