Life Better for North Dakotans in Town and on the Farm
Life on the farm and in the towns is no longer the dreary and often dreadful existence that faced the early homesteaders and community builders. To be sure, farmers and ranchers toil long hours without electricity and still fight prairie fires and isolation for long stretches of time in the winter, but the small, drafty homestead shack is pretty much a thing of the past.
Misses Palmer and Severud and their “wheels,” Milton, North Dakota, 1900s. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.
Frame houses and improved soddies with cheery and well-furnished interiors are products of the farm prosperity of our times. Many have purchased new machinery, and some have automobiles. Trips to town are much more frequent than just a few years ago.
The towns have become busy centers of trade, entertainment, and culture. The larger towns have numerous specialty stores such as music, drug, apparel, shoe, candy, cigar, grocery. The latest in Minneapolis fashions and even California oranges are available. Both Fargo and Grand Forks have department stores with four floors of tempting goods. In smaller towns large general stores sell clothing, hardware, groceries, and most anything a customer needs. Stores usually stay open on Saturday nights to accommodate farm families.
Some farm folk even drove their cars to church in the winter, as this Park River family did in 1908. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.
The bright lights of the cities — electricity has replaced the dimness of gas — attract rural folks to a wide variety of entertaining and cultural events. Sporting contests, moving pictures, traveling groups of vaudevillians (singing, comedy, acrobatic, and animal acts), street fairs, attractive parks, circuses, even opera and stage plays, give visitors and residents much to do. Libraries have the latest publications. The state’s Public Library Commission, organized in 1907, sends out over 300 traveling libraries to towns that do not have a permanent library.
Town bands and fraternal organizations are especially popular. Every town, every Indian reservation, every high school, even stores and social organizations, have bands. The music of John Phillips Sousa fills the North Dakota air. We are band crazy!
A gala Fourth of July in Osnabrock, North Dakota, about 1908. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.
Fraternal organizations bring men together in large numbers. The Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Young Men’s Christian Association, Foresters, Elks, Woodmen of the World, and Sons of Norway provide men with a social setting. The Rebekahs, Eastern Star, Womens Christian Temperance Union, and Red Cross appeal to some women although many find musical and literary clubs more to their liking.
Thorson Brothers Store in Park River in 1899. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.
Whether in the country side or in towns, the church remains the main gathering place for not only spiritual but also social occasions. North Dakota has 2,500 churches with a combined membership of 226,000 people. About 40 percent are Roman Catholic and 30 percent are Lutheran. The rest are mostly Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, and Episcopal. The church is especially important for our immigrant families. Their worship services are usually conducted in the native language, and before and after the service people exchange news from the old country. In both rural and town churches, women play one very important role. The men govern but the women raise the money for building and expanding facilities and activities. Ladies aids, altar societies, and Sunday schools provide women with both religious and social experiences.
Stopping for lunch with Mom and the kids in the 1900s on the farm in North Dakota.
Life in North Dakota is changing quickly. The towns are paving their old muddy streets and laying water and sewage systems. Telephones (Grand Forks, has 2,000!) are making life easier. And, the automobile, that wonderful horse-less carriage, is bringing everything closer.
One of the beautiful parks in North Dakota towns in the 1900s. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.
Mandt, North Dakota, band in 1900s. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
St. Patrick’s Church and parsonage in Dickinson. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.
North Dakota father and his daughters in front of trees they planted on their farm. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies.
A grand place to eat in Grand Forks in the 1900s. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.
Identify ways that an organism’s pattern of behavior is related to the nature of the organism’s environment (e.g., the availability of food, space, and resources)
Evaluate the effects of technology on people and the environment (e.g., new construction, oil drilling, electric cars)
Explain how an invention may lead to other inventions
Explain ways humans benefit from Earth’s resources (e.g., air, water, soil, food, fuel, building materials)
Identify examples of how technologies have evolved
7.6.1. Identify ways in which technology has influenced the course of history and improved the quality of life
Explain the effects of human activities (e.g., dams, levees, farming practices, deforestation, land-use practices, land-management strategies) on the environment
Explain how emerging technologies (e.g., genetic manipulation, biofuels, and hydrogen fuels) may impact society and the environment
Describe how community life has changed from past (i.e., pioneer and tribal) to the present
Describe ways (e.g., the development of transportation, communication, industry, and land use) geography has affected the development of the local community over time
Identify similarities and differences between past events and current events in North Dakota (e.g., in the lives of people from different cultures past and present)
Describe the effects of changes in industry, agriculture, and technology in North Dakota (e.g., energy production, transportation, farming methods)
Identify different patterns of land use in North Dakota (e.g., land use in urban, suburban, and rural areas, mining, agriculture, manufacturing)
Explain how background and history influence people’s actions (e.g., farming methods, hunting methods, economic decisions)
Describe similarities and differences between past events and current events in U.S. history (e.g., in the lives of people from different cultures past and present)
Explain the factors (e.g., trade routes, goods available, location) that influenced the growth of cities
Analyze the transformation of the nation (e.g., Imperialism, industrialization, immigration, political/social reformers, urbanization, mechanization of agriculture, changing business environment)
Describe how technological advances (e.g., cotton gin, steel plow, McCormick reaper, steamboat, steam locomotives) and industrialization impacted regions of the United States prior to the Civil War
Compare human characteristics (e.g., population distribution, land use) of places and regions (i.e. North Dakota)
Explain ways technology contributes to the spread of ideas, values, and behavioral patterns between societies and regions (e.g., how transportation and communication technologies contribute to the diffusion of culture)