The New Deal in North Dakota Overview

There were no federal government programs to help needy people. The philosophy of laissez faire, government “hands off” economic and social problems, prevailed. Care for the poor had been the responsibility of local governments since the 16th century when the Elizabethan Poor Laws came into existence in England. For almost three hundred years, that remained the guiding principle in caring for those who needed some kind of help.

In North Dakota, as in other states, towns and counties were charged with the care of the poor. Most counties maintained “poor farms” where people with no means of support could be sent. Counties maintained funds which would allow it to buy groceries, pay rent, or provide medical care for the poor, called welfare recipients. Prior to the onset of Depression, counties rarely needed more than a few hundred dollars for assistance purposes.

That changed dramatically after 1929. The numbers of unemployed workers and distressed farmers swelled to unmanageable proportions. Neither towns nor counties could handle the flood of requests for assistance. The numbers of people with no income mushroomed. Local governments were broke, or nearly so.

In this national catastrophe only the federal government could provide the help that the people needed. In 1932, the nation’s and North Dakota’s worst year, Roosevelt, if elected, promised the American people a New Deal. He won in a landslide and organized federal government action to fight the depression. The North Star Dakotan’s special report, “The New Deal in North Dakota,” chronicles the work of federal programs in the state. Because of the drought, North Dakota was the hardest hit of all the states. The New Deal programs ended laissez faire government and meant survival for North Dakota’s people.

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.

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