What was later called “…the most far-reaching piece of legislation ever attempted on affecting the educational liberties of the people of North Dakota” was introduced into the state legislature on this date in 1919. The bill, backed by leaders of the Non-Partisan League, would grant the governor of the state direct control over all aspects of North Dakota’s public education system, including the power to choose all textbooks, teachers, and curriculum.
Senate Bill 134, as it was known, created a huge outcry. The motive behind the bill appeared very clear to opponents of the Non-Partisan League; League supporter Neil McDonald had recently lost his post as state Superintendent of Public Instruction. If Bill 134 passed, it would give Governor Lynn Frazier, and NPLer, the power to remove Miss Minnie Nielson from the post and appoint any person of his choosing. He would also be able to appoint each county superintendent, removing any rivals of the League and filling each seat with League members and supporters.
That bill was only one of thousands of bills flooding the legislature during the 60-day special session of 1919. The Non-Partisan League had appointed a small group of lawyers to create bills that would institute widespread reform. With the immense number of bills and the short amount of time, it is perhaps no surprise that many of the proposals emerged with a number of problems. One bill proposed redistricting in the state, but only included fifty of the state’s fifty-three counties in the final reapportionment. Another bill suggested a change to an amendment that had been revoked two years before. Enemies of the League decried it as a group of ‘red communists’ easing the state into socialism. These criticisms played upon the “…hysterical, anti-radical Red Scare” that swept the country in 1919. Even many supporters of the League began to believe that the group was becoming much too corrupt, and moving away from its original goals and intentions.
In the end, Senate Bill 134 did not pass, and the North Dakota Governor is not writing the state’s textbooks. In fact, the legislative special session of 1919 is considered a major factor leading to the ultimate downfall of the Non-Partisan League during the 1920s.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Dill, Joseph (ed.). 1988 North Dakota: 100 Years: p. 24. The Forum Publishing Company: Fargo, ND.
The Forum and Daily Republican. Monday (Evening ed.), February 3, 1919; XLI(65): p. 1.