North Dakota: A 1915 Profile of Churches, Schools, Farms, Towns

About one out of three North Dakotans belongs to a church. Congregations are generally small, 225,800 members for 2,500 churches. Roman Catholics make up the largest religious group with 96,000 members; Lutherans have a membership of 72,000. Five other denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist and Episcopal) together have 40,400 members.

Because about 70 percent of the population is immigrant, just over half of church serves are conducted in a foreign language—13 different languages in all. Scandinavians and some Germans and Germans from Russia are Lutherans. And some Germans and Germans from Russia, along with Poles, the Irish, French-Canadians, and German-Hungarians, are Roman Catholic.

St. John’s Hospital. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

School attendance has been on the increase, although most students put in fewer than 80 days a year. About half of the state’s 120,000 publish school students attend the almost 5,000 one-room country schools. High schools have become more common; there are 144 classified high schools. Only 60 of them have more than 50 students. Less than 11 percent graduate and senior classes are quite small. More and more North Dakotans are attending the university and the colleges. There are now more than 3,000 enrollees and in the past five years, 2,400 have received college diplomas.

Deaconess Hospital. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

North Dakota remains overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. Only about 12 percent of the people live in towns with a population more than 2,500. The 75,000 farms average about 400 acres and generate most of the state’s wealth. Crops account for 75 percent of farm income, livestock 25 percent. Wheat remains the most important crop, accounting for two-thirds of crop income. Wheat is followed by flax, barley, oats, and rye. Livestock income is evenly divided among beef cattle, hogs, and dairy cows. Most farms are self sufficient and diversified. Families grow their own vegetables, have a milk cow or two, and raise pigs and chickens.

Fessenden. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

While the population growth of the state has slowed somewhat during the past five years (from 600,000 to 637,000), the towns have grown at a faster rate. Fargo, the largest, has nearly 20,000 residents and Grand Forks has passed 13,000. Minot is close to 9,000 and Bismarck over 6,000. Devils Lake, Dickinson, Mandan, Williston, and Valley City have surpassed 3,000 and are pushing toward 4,000.

Garrison. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.

The towns have vastly improved their services. New city buildings, parks, water and sewage systems, and lighting have greatly modernized the towns. Of special importance has been the establishment of modern medical facilities. Most towns have new hospitals, and most counties provide medical help for poor people at tax-supported county hospitals.

Bottineau. Courtesy of D. Jerome Tweton.


Although North Dakotans went through the tension of World War One, difficult times during the 1920s, and the horrible years of the Great Depression, in many ways life went on in normal ways. More students entered high schools and colleges. Sports activities went on uninterrupted and gave the people enjoyment in their leisure time. Radio programming provided folks with hour after hour of free entertainment. The advent of electrical appliances made life easier for townspeople; their counterparts on farms, however, would not enjoy electricity until after World War Two.

North Dakotans became more mobile. Although air service was available, flying was too expensive for nearly everyone; trains connected most towns within the state and with the larger world, providing an accessible network for travel. Improved roads, however, held the key to mobility. Henry Ford’s Model T became a common sight cross the nation and in North Dakota. Priced at $250, Model Ts numbered 15 million by the mid-1920s. It was the car that revolutionized American and North Dakota life. The farmer now had a vehicle that could be used for pleasure or, with a pickup truck attachment, for farm work. A. C. Townley used the Model T to travel throughout the state to organize the Nonpartisan League.

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.

Grade Level

3-4, 7-12

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change