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The Norwegian Press in North Dakota *
    by Odd Sverre Løvoll (Volume 24: Page 78)

* In preparing this article, a digest of a master’s thesis in 1969 at the University of North Dakota, the author made use of numerous interviews with persons involved in the editorial and political policies and events described. He also found useful information in many secondary sources, especially the following: Johs. B. Wist, “Pressen efter borgerkrigen,” in Jobs. B. Wist, ed., Norsk-amerikanernes festskrift 1914, 41-203 (Decorah, Iowa, 1914); Juul Dieserud, “Den norske presse i Amerika: En historisk oversigt,” in Nordmands-Forbundet, 5: 153182 (April, 1912); Olaf M. Norlie, Norwegian-American Papers, 1847-1946 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1946); and Elwyn B. Robinson, History of North Dakota (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1966). The title of Mr. Løvoll’s thesis is “History of Norwegian-Language Publications in North Dakota.”

K.O.B.

NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN journalism in North Dakota showed a remarkable vitality and endurance in the face of keen competition from the established Norwegian-language newspapers and periodicals published farther east. At a time when North Dakota was still years away from permanent settlement, the immigrant press flourished in the close-knit Norwegian colonies in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Migration to the Red River Valley of northern Dakota Territory was largely from these regions, and the frontiersmen who moved westward continued to subscribe to the papers with which they were familiar. For this reason papers published in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and other cities in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin were widely distributed in the Norwegian settlements in northern Dakota.

Although settlement in the upper Red River Valley was a part of the northwestward advance of the frontier, the [79] immediate cause of Norwegian migration into the region was the work of the lawyer and pioneer journalist, Paul Hjelm-Hansen. He visited the valley in 1869 as an agent of the newly created Minnesota board of immigration. His enthusiastic reports describing the excellent opportunities offered by the Red River region, with its fertile and tillable land free under the Homestead Act, attracted the attention of his countrymen, both in older settlements and in Norway itself. The same year marked the beginning of permanent Norwegian colonies in northern Dakota.

A large number of the immigrant frontiersmen were already American citizens and acquainted with the institutions and political life of the New World. Their potential strength in territorial politics, on both a local and a regional basis, was therefore realized at an early date - by themselves as well as by groups of native Americans. This fact largely explains the early appearance of a local Norwegian press. The eastern papers circulating in the settlements of the area could not adequately serve the population, although they were to compete for subscribers with local papers during the whole span of their lives.

In 1878, the year marking the beginning of immigrant journalism in North Dakota, the Norwegians were only about 8,000 strong. The next year saw the beginning of the “great Dakota land boom,” and from then on Norwegian settlement in northern Dakota took on the proportions of a large-scale folk migration. Settlers rushed into the Red River country and later westward along the main line of the Great Northern Railway in the northern part of what became North Dakota in 1889. By 1900, there were almost 75,000 Norwegians in the state - a little over 23 per cent of the total population. In 1910, about 125,000 of the residents were of Norwegian stock, constituting the largest single ethnic group. The immigrant press more than kept pace with the increase in population. In all, Norwegian-language papers persisted for 77 years, from 1878 to 1955. During this period, [80] more than 50 publishing ventures were attempted. Many of them, to be sure, were short-lived, but their very numbers reveal that the Norwegians in North Dakota were a highly articulate group.

Native American politicians were the first to approach the immigrant voter in his own language for a specific objective. Thus Red River Posten (The Red River Post, 1878-1884) in Fargo and Nordstjernen (The North Star, 1879-1883), first in Grand Forks and later in Fargo, were, for most of their years of publication, owned by conservative groups outside the Norwegian community. Both papers were founded by Michal Wesenberg as independent Republican organs; as such, they spoke for the liberal, progressive views of the majority of the Norwegians. Shortly after their appearance, however, Red River Posten was purchased by Major Alanson Edwards, publisher of the conservative Argus in Fargo, and Nordstjernen became the property of a corporation which likewise represented conservative Republicanism. In the eyes of the settlers, the two papers were spokesmen for the Twin City interests that regarded the region as a colony. In territorial and later state politics, these elements came to be identified with the powerful political machine created by Alexander McKenzie.

The specific reason that these groups had for acquiring a Norwegian-language organ was to support Charles F. Kindred against Norwegian-born Knute Nelson for election to the United States house of representatives from the fifth congressional district of Minnesota in 1882. During a fierce campaign, which earned the district the sensational name of “the bloody Fifth,” both papers directed their attention to the Norwegians on the Minnesota side of the Red River.

Alliance with political combinations - that for most Norwegians stood as the embodiment of the interests obstructing their progress and prosperity - reduced the popularity of the two pioneer papers, a condition that also explains their limited success. The most significant part of the Norwegian [81] press in North Dakota expressed majority opinion - with some important exceptions - and was largely loyal to the Republican party. It did, however, persistently remain in the left wing of the party and made violent attacks on the conservatives. For a generation or more, the ideas of these reactionaries were synonomous with McKenzieism, and their promoters were referred to as “the old gang.” Some immigrant papers even left the party to participate in radical movements designed to loosen the hold of the McKenzie machine and to redress grievances, real and imagined, being inflicted on the farmers. The press thus helped to generate the agrarian revolt in the Northwest, but at the same time it enjoyed a relatively independent position.

In the 1880’s, a number of Norwegian-language publications emerged that protested exploitation of the farmers by the railroads, the grain interests, and the moneylenders. They vigorously attacked the corrupt territorial government and the local political rings for protecting the exploiters, thereby prolonging the colonial status of the region. In all, 13 newspaper ventures were attempted in the decade.

The period also saw the appearance of Normanden (The Norseman, 1887-1954), the most important Norwegian paper in North Dakota. This organ spanned a period of 67 years, from 1887 to 1954. Hans A. Foss, a popular immigrant writer, edited and for a time owned Normanden in the five-year period from 1888 to 1893. He made it a champion of the agrarian crusade. The North Dakota Alliance, formed in 1889, sent copies of it to its members, along with other Alliance newspapers. Foss participated eagerly in the fight to curb the railroads, to regulate the wheat market, and to control the operation of credit. The voice of Normanden was heard and heeded by many Norwegian farmers, who were eager to create a better life for themselves and their families on the Dakota prairies.

Several Alliance papers in Norwegian had preceded Normanden. Fargo-Posten (The Fargo Post, 1885-1889), edited [82] and published by P. T. Julseth, engaged in both county and territorial politics, taking much of the credit for the Alliance victory in Cass County in the 1886 election. This triumph broke the power of a political clique in control of county politics. One of the alleged ringleaders was Major Edwards, publisher of the Argus. His paper had the support of James J. Hill, the railroad king. In the opinion of Fargo-Posten, these elements represented a union of the very forces exploiting the farmers and keeping farm income down. Clearly the agrarian revolt was economic rather than political in nature, and in 1888 Vesten (The West, 1888-1889), also published in Fargo, appeared as a proponent of the Farmers’ Alliance program. At this time, the paper was edited by Jørgen Jensen, who had one of the keenest minds in Norwegian-American journalism. Vesten, however, was not long allowed to voice the discontent of the farmers; soon it was purchased by a corporation, which made it a straight Republican organ.

Hans A. Foss had himself joined the Farmers’ Alliance movement before coming to Normanden. His small Dakota-Bladet (The Dakota Newspaper, 1886-1887), published first in Portland then in Hillsboro, became involved in county politics in Traill County before the election of 1886. The paper made a great effort to discredit incumbent county officials, its main indictment being that they did not favor prohibition under the local option system. Dakota-Bladet had complete confidence that Alliance candidates would keep Traill County dry. Temperance reform became an all-consuming interest of a large portion of the Norwegian press; Dakota-Bladet’s advocacy was only a phase of a movement that was gaining momentum in the 1880’s. In Traill County, however, the victory of the farmers did not produce the desired result of prohibiting the sale of liquor. Foss then made rash charges against the new county officials, and the ensuing conflict killed his paper.

Foss continued his fight for prohibition through the columns of Normanden in Grand Forks. L. K. Hassel had [83] established this paper in 1887 as an organ for promoting the temperance movement, and the paper remained faithful to its first commitment until its demise in 1954. The goal of the prohibitionists in the 1880’s was to have their program written into the constitution when the territory gained statehood. The crusade against liquor, coinciding with a similar one in Norway, manifested itself in the organization of temperance societies, in the advocacy of abstinence by fervent speakers, and in an effort to limit the legal sale of liquor.

Immigrants evidently brought with them from Norway considerable enthusiasm for the temperance movement. But conditions in the regions in which they settled produced the urgency and persistence with which it was pursued in the New World. The absence on the frontier of old-country restraints encouraged the abuse of liquor; besides, in North Dakota saloon keepers exerted an evil influence in politics. The prohibition crusade of the Norwegian press therefore reflected a sense of responsibility for the immigrant community in Dakota and a desire to break the power of the entrenched saloon element.

Folkets Røst (The Voice of the People, 1886) and its successor, Afholds-Basunen (The Temperance Trumpet, 1887-1896), both published in Hillsboro, were established to promote temperance reform. The latter was the official organ of the Prohibition party during its first year of publication. In 1889, before the drafting of a constitution for the newly created state of North Dakota, Afholds-Basunen and Normanden entered thousands of homes, agitating for an article in the state constitution providing for prohibition. On October 1, the voters approved inclusion of such an article in the constitution, in the form in which it had been drafted. This favorable outcome for the prohibitionist group was in large part due to the zealous agitation of the two papers. The temperance article gained approval by a narrow margin of 1,159; the rest of the constitution was ratified by a vote of 27,441 to 8,107. The momentous victory over the saloon interests [84] proved a strong incentive to promote enforcement of liquor laws and to stand firm against all later attempts to repeal prohibition.

The papers concurred in the principle of prohibition, but they were not of one mind about how to promote the reform. The dominant person associated with Afholds-Basunen, the Reverend Jens T. Lønne, wanted to achieve prohibition through the agency of the Republican party, whereas Normanden, during Foss’s editorship, favored the program of the agrarian movement. In 1890, when the Populist party was organized, Normanden became its official voice. During the election campaign of 1892, Dakota (The Dakota, 1889-1897) in Fargo switched its support from the Republicans to the Populists. Its editor, Lauritz L. Stavnheim, was a firm convert to socialism and a vigorous spokesman for its plans for reform.

Populism had only a brief career in North Dakota, but for a time it gained a large following and in 1892 actually won control of the state. With the onset of national depression in the next year, Populism declined locally, although it was still increasing in power in the rest of the country. Not all the Norwegian papers were willing to accept the defeat of the Populist movement. Den Fjerde Juli (The Fourth of July, 1896-1897), edited and published in Fargo by a Unitarian minister, Amandus E. Norman, assured its opponents as late as 1897 that agrarian revolt was not dead in state politics.

Normanden abandoned the Populist cause in 1893, when a corporation close to the Republican interests bought the publication; the new owners continued to publish the paper until 1925. This group hired P. O. Thorson as manager. He soon became the major stockholder, and retained control of Normanden until his death in 1924. During this time, he made it one of the most profitable Norwegian publications of its kind in the country. Under his management the newspaper, although Republican, adopted an independent political stance. It continued to champion prohibition and made [85] renewed attempts to break the hold of machine politicians. Earlier its editorials had joined in the virulent attack then being made against Statstidende (The State Times, 1890), which was published in Devils Lake for about a year during the election campaign. Statstidende was established specifically to win the Norwegian vote for McKenzie’s henchman, Henry C. Hansbrough, who was seeking the Republican nomination for Congress against Martin N. Johnson, the Farmers’ Alliance leader.

Statstidende was only one of numerous attempts made by right-wing Republicans, mainly men with no Norwegian background, to woo the immigrant voter in his own language. The Norwegian press seemed to live in constant fear of having to yield unwillingly to conservative groups eager to control the policies of the Norwegian-language journals. One of the most common charges against a rival paper was that, under cover of a liberal façade, it was actually in league with or was controlled by reactionary forces. Such charges were often without any foundation, but they demonstrate a firm commitment by the independent Norwegian press to progressive political movements.

The main immigrant newspaper supporting politicians, Norwegian as well as native American, closely identified with the McKenzie machine was the second Statstidende (The State Times, 1897-1909) published in Hillsboro. C. F. Bahnsen, a Danish printer, edited Statstidende for the conservative politicians who owned it. When Kjetil Knutsson owned the paper in 1904-1905, he decided to turn the tables on the machine politicians and sided with the insurgent faction in the Republican party. His paper lacked a sound economic basis, however, and Knutsson lost control because in 1904 he chose to oppose the conservative gubernatorial candidate, Elmore Y. Sarles. Men close to the governor’s political convictions made it necessary for Knutsson to sell, and Bahnsen came back to edit the paper, accommodating himself to its traditionally conservative outlook. [86]

The extremists among those who opposed a boss-controlled government and outside dominance became converts to socialism. Leftist views were clearly prevalent among groups of Norwegians, although only one paper, Enderlin Folkeblad (The Enderlin People’s Newspaper, 1898), was established to promote socialism. This publication was a failure, chiefly because of its rash advocacy of left-wing ideas which involved its owner, the Danish pharmacist, E. Egeberg, in a lawsuit and a term in a Fargo jail. Capable men on other Norwegian journals - like Lauritz L. Stavnheim on Dakota and K. P. Wiig, who made the only attempt in the state to publish a foreign-language daily, Dagen (The Day, 1897-1899) in Fargo - expressed their confidence in the doctrine of state ownership. Several papers contained letters from their readers favoring the idea that this plan could solve the problems confronting North Dakota grain producers.

The second major Norwegian paper in North Dakota, Fram (Forward, 1898-1917), printed in Fargo, was strongly colored by socialistic ideas during its first few years. At this time Stavnheim was on the editorial staff. Fram, established through mergers of several papers in 1898, dated its own beginning to the original issue of Red River Posten, and thus could claim to be the first Norwegian-language paper in the state. Fram joined Normanden in that journal’s effort to compel enforcement of the prohibition laws. The two papers had the support of Folkets Avis (The People’s Newspaper, 1898-1904) in Hillsboro, one of several newspaper ventures by Axel P. Trockstad. It was a successor to Afholds-Basunen.

Fargo-Posten (The Fargo Post, 1897-1903), the second paper of that name, was the only Norwegian publication that directly opposed the prohibition article in the state constitution. Many other representative editors spared no expense in their attack against the illegal sale of liquor and the numerous attempts to legalize it. Prohibition itself was made a farce in many parts of North Dakota because of the indifference of local officials. In many places, “blind pigs” sold liquor [87] illegally, and bootleggers carried on their sordid business without interference. One of the favorite pastimes of temperance papers like Normanden and Fram was what they termed “pig butchering.” They sent representatives throughout the state, and, when unlawful sale of liquor was uncovered, they acted swiftly to secure a conviction. Andreas Lindelie, on the editorial staff of Normanden in 1895-1898, traveled for the Enforcement League - a group established by the Canadian-born businessman, Robert B. Griffith of Grand Forks. Lindelie’s dramatic confrontations with infuriated saloon keepers and their clientele became legendary.

Crusading Norwegian newspapers, enlisting in the reform movements of the 1880’s and the 1890’s, had sprung up like mushrooms in the small commercial centers of the Red River Valley. Many of the attempts at publishing immigrant papers had been abortive, and most of them stayed in business only a short time. Only four of more than thirty publishing ventures survived into the twentieth century. Considerably fewer papers were established in the next two decades, but the period up to World War I saw the press attain its greatest circulation. In 1910, the Norwegian newspapers in North Dakota, taken together, had an approximate circulation of 30,000. In addition, the large journals published farther east had thousands of immigrant subscribers in the state. It may therefore be safely assumed that there was at least one copy of a Norwegian-language paper in every home.

Many factors contributed to the growth of the press. The most apparent was the renewal of mass Norwegian migration into the state following the depression of the 1890’s. The struggle against political bosses and outside dominance became more intense after 1900, as the progressive movement swept over the United States and became a vigorous force in North Dakota - as it did in many other states. Accordingly, the representative Norwegian-language press in the state became an instrument of progressivism. Around 1904 the Scandinavian Republican League emerged, [88] adopting in its platform all the liberal proposals for reform. The Norwegian papers worked closely with the League. A. A. Trovaten, who gained control of Fram in 1903, served as the League’s president for many years; P. O. Thorson, business manager of Normanden, was its secretary. Grafton-Posten (The Grafton Post, 1905-1909) also expressed adherence to the League platform, although Fram questioned the political sincerity of Grafton-Posten’s publisher and its editor, Axel P. Trockstad. The League’s objective was to destroy Alexander McKenzie’s control of the state government and of the established Republican party. To this end, Norwegian politicians united the Scandinavians in a political group within the Republican organization, hoping to replace the old gang with liberal, progressive leaders.

Men from both the Republican and the Democratic parties co-operated in the progressive movement. In the 1906 election, Normanden urged its readers to cast their votes for John Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor, in order to defeat Elmore Y. Sarles, the McKenzie candidate. Burke was elected the first Democratic governor of North Dakota, an indication of the reduction of machine influence. The successive elections of 1908 and 1910 were also progressive victories. In 1910, the progressives and the Democrats controlled the state legislature. The triumph of the liberal forces increased the popularity and influence of both Fram and Normanden, and in 1909 very likely forced the conservative Statstidende out of business.

The growth of Norwegian settlement in the western part of the state produced Mouse River Tidende (The Mouse River Times, 1902-1903). This was the first Norwegian-language paper in Minot. It was succeeded by Minot-Posten (The Minot Post, 1905-1909). These publications were closely related to the established press in the Red River Valley. Minot-Posten was actually an offshoot of Fram; as such it expressed the same zealous eagerness for progressive reform. Jon Norstog, a controversial writer of literature in [89] dialect, served as editor of the Minot paper for a time. Another dominant person on its staff was Paul Baukol. During his tenure, attacks on the machine politicians were especially virulent; his disgust was boundless when these men happened to be of Norwegian background. All such individuals belonged to what the paper sarcastically called the “Norwegian-hater club.” In Minot-Posten’s view, this label must have been considered the ultimate insult.

Appreciation of their national culture was never stronger among Norwegian Americans than in these years. The organization of the Scandinavian Republican League demonstrated both a greater consciousness of their own significance in the political life of the state and a greater pride in their heritage. Besides its political objectives, the League had a distinct cultural program - the preservation of the best aspects of old-world traditions. Developments in Norway were creating nationalistic fervor among immigrants living in America. A prolonged dispute between Norway and Sweden - that reached a climax when Norway established itself as a completely independent kingdom in 1905 -resulted in an upsurge of feeling for things Norwegian in the Middle West.

In 1905, Normanden and other papers in North Dakota were instrumental in arranging a “Scandinavians’ Day” at Devils Lake. The purpose of the occasion was to draft a resolution to President Theodore Roosevelt asking him to recognize the new Norwegian regime. Normanden, mindful of its temperance advocacy, noted with satisfaction that at this solemn gathering there was not a single drunken Norwegian among the hundreds present. Elation over Norway’s independence helped to bring about the flowering of Norwegian-American culture between 1900 and World War I. During this time, the solidly immigrant communities in North Dakota, as well as in other states, demonstrated a renewed fervor in cultivating and preserving their national heritage.

Interest in the home country was of course at all times [90] evident in the press. Difficulties and hardships encountered in Norway caused immediate repercussions among Norwegian immigrants in America. When the need arose, drives for relief donations were set in motion without delay. Norwegians in the New World planned a grand gift to be presented to Norway in 1914, when that country celebrated the centennial anniversary of its national independence from Denmark. This development produced the first literary magazine in the Norwegian language in the state. Kjetil Knutsson began publishing Eidsvold in Grand Forks in 1909. As a suitable gift, this magazine began to work for a college at Eidsvoll, Norway, where the Norwegian constitution had been drafted in 1814. Eidsvold, a literary magazine of high caliber, contained a sizable amount of original material.

Knutsson also worked for some time on the editorial staff of Normanden, together with the colorful and versatile Peer Strømme. For several years after 1909, Strømme roamed the world for the paper, and his wit and wide-ranging observations contributed greatly to its popularity. At the same time, his activities indicate the prosperity enjoyed by the paper during the peak period of Norwegian-American culture.

Eidsvold discontinued publication in 1910, but in 1912 it was revived as a new enterprise in Fargo by Hans A. Jervell, a well-known authority on the Norwegian people in America. Obstacles to the success of a Norwegian-language literary magazine proved insurmountable, however, and the second Eidsvold had to cease publication in 1914. Magazines attempted in North Dakota had to face keen competition from similar popular and widely distributed Norwegian-language publications from other immigrant centers. They also had to compete with the readily available and colorful American periodicals. And, finally, numerous Norwegian - language weeklies, both those published locally and elsewhere, served as literary journals as well as newspapers.

In spite of these obstacles, another courageous attempt at publishing a magazine was made in Fargo before World War [91] J. Peer E. Storeygard, supported by Jon Norstog, established a magazine Norrøna (The Norse, 19141915), in Fargo. He bad been encouraged in this effort by the unveiling in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, the year before of a bust of Ivar Aasen, the creator of landsmaal, a new language formed from Norwegian dialects and popularized by some prominent writers. Norrøna was written in the new medium.

Norrøna attained a circulation of about a thousand, a considerable accomplishment in view of the limited interest most immigrants had for the language controversy raging in Norway. Both Fram and Normanden did, however, contain emotion-filled letters for or against the new Norwegian language movement at home. In the main, however, the press was taken up with more immediate problems, such as the survival of any kind of spoken or written Norwegian.

The preservation of an old-world language and culture in an American environment was a constant concern of immigrant papers. Their own survival depended on preserving it, even if they should have no more exalted motivation. Nevertheless, they directed most of their attention to promoting the welfare of their fellow countrymen in North Dakota. They consistently distrusted outside financial interests, voicing a suspicion of reactionary political groups and a strong faith in the virtues of legislative reform. Normanden spoke for the Progressive party in 1912 and expressed great confidence in Theodore Roosevelt as a presidential candidate. Fram also endorsed other Progressives, but at this time the paper was primarily concerned with the record of the different men on the temperance issue. In 1911, Fram became the official organ of the prohibition movement in North Dakota; this alignment affected the paper’s circulation adversely, because some of the antiliquor fervor, so evident before the turn of the century, had cooled off. Many readers tired of Fram’s endless preoccupation with people’s drinking habits. The chief personality on its staff after the sale to the [92] prohibitionists was Peter Myrvold. He was considered a capable editor and an eager and effective temperance speaker.

There was no disagreement on the issue of prohibition in the Norwegian press, only in the intensity with which it was pursued. Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, however, a serious split developed between the two leading Norwegian-language journals, Fram and Normanden. The breach resulted from the formation of the Republican Nonpartisan League and the divergent attitudes of the papers. Arthur C. Townley founded the League in 1915. The new organization adopted the socialistic platform of state ownership, but remained within the Republican party to benefit from the longstanding loyalty of the North Dakota farmers.

The League appealed strongly to many Norwegians. A large number of them had leftist sympathies, and even more of them had few misgivings about pursuing a radical solution to the problems that faced them. Normanden, edited by Lars Siljan, violently opposed the League. He had grave doubts about the integrity of its leaders and could not support state socialism on a broad front. Normanden thus acted against the convictions of many of its subscribers, and hundreds of infuriated Norwegian farmers terminated their subscriptions in protest. They arranged public burnings of the paper and voiced their disgust with its policy. They made the familiar charge that the owners had sold out to reactionary forces bent on keeping the farmers in their place, although no substantial evidence to back the accusation could be produced.

The prohibitionists sold Fram to Ingvald H. Ulsaker in January, 1916, and the paper became the Norwegian voice of the Nonpartisan League, thus building a substantial circulation. Nordvesten (The Northwest, 1916-1930), the second paper of that name in Minot, edited and published by J. C. Hoff, claimed to be progressive Republican. It did not, however, participate in the fierce political debate between Fram and Normanden. The League made progress in spite [93] of growing opposition its success was aided by the long history of revolt against the dependent and exploited status of North Dakota. It became a large, powerful organization, engaging in many activities. After the 1918 election, it controlled the state legislature and was able to enact a number of reform laws in the progressive tradition. However, far-reaching plans for socialistic enterprises failed.

Normanden joined the intense campaign against the League in March, 1916, a crusade that employed a variety of tactics to defeat the program of the organization. Opponents of the League even tried to turn the prevailing war hysteria against it, attacking the patriotism of its members. The accusation of disloyalty embittered the controversy between the League and its detractors. To its Norwegian members the disloyalty charge was especially painful, as it became for them a vital necessity to prove themselves loyal Americans after the United States became directly involved in the fighting. By September, 1917, Normanden was willing to concede that Fram had finally come around to the American cause; it accepted the supposed conversion of its rival as evidence of the loyalty of Norwegian members of the League. Only two months later, however, Fram merged with Normanden, thereby silencing the Norwegian voice of the Nonpartisans.

While the Leaguers lacked an organ in the Norwegian language, Normanden persisted in attempting to convince the immigrants that there was no salvation in the League program. It still asserted its allegiance to progressive Republicanism and its concern for the welfare of North Dakota farmers; it even accepted the principle of using the state government to bring about better conditions for the wheat farmers. The paper was not ready, however, to endorse a group of self-appointed leaders and a wide range of socialistic reforms. Normanden therefore resented charges of having sold out to big business and instigated libel suits against its detractors. At the same time, it worked with the Independent Voters [94] Association, which was set up before the 1918 election with the express purpose of defeating the League program.

In 1919, another paper emerged to represent the Nonpartisan League’s Norwegian members. A stock company owned by farmers in the Red River Valley established Nord Dakota Tidende (The North Dakota Times, 1919-1923) in Grand Forks, with J. L. Rindal as editor. The political campaign of 1920 produced a bitter quarrel between Normanden and Tidende. In the election, the League lost control of the state government, but retained the governor, Lynn J. Frazier. The two papers clashed again in the recall election of 1921, which displaced Frazier and elected Ragnvald A. Nestos governor. The outcome of the voting, the first recall of a state official in the nation, was disastrous for the League organization, which thereafter entered into a period of rapid decline.

The disintegration of League power caused difficulties for its Norwegian-language organ as well. In 1922, Nord Dakota Tidende moved to Fargo, where it was discontinued the next year. Normanden, edited from 1920 to 1924 by the prairie writer Simon Johnson, now encountered financial difficulties. These resulted less from a reduction of political significance than because Normanden’s facilities could not compete for job printing with more up-to-date businesses. In 1925, the paper had to be sold.

Normanden was acquired by the reactionary forces that it had previously opposed. Conservative Republicans, Louis B. Hanna and Porter J. McCumber, set up J. G. Halland as owner for the purpose of backing Hanna’s candidacy to the United States senate in 1926. His opponents were the young Gerald P. Nye, backed by the Nonpartisan League, and the progressive Republican, Ragnvald A. Nestos, who had been supported by Normanden in 1921.

The new ownership brought about Normanden’s move to Fargo. The remaining period of its publishing life was a constant struggle against the tides of change, which were gradually destroying the basis for its existence. The immigrants [95] were moving toward complete integration in American society, and there was almost no new supply of subscribers feeling the need for the services of a Norwegian-language paper. As late as the 1930’s, however, advertisers in the foreign-language press stressed their ability to speak Norwegian. In addition to the problem caused by the adoption of the American language by the immigrants, the straitened circumstances of the late 1920’s and the 1930’s were an impediment to the success of any kind of business. After Normanden’s move to Fargo, it became increasingly dependent for survival on the good will and support of the political groups that it represented.

In 1927, the life of the paper again hung in the balance; neither Hanna nor McCumber cared to finance a Norwegian-language newspaper after Nye’s victory in 1926. At that time Osmund Gunvaldsen, who had just been appointed United States marshal for North Dakota, assumed ownership and aligned the paper with the politicians of the Nonpartisan League. Gustav Amlund, the famous founder of Visergutten (The Errand Boy) in Canton, South Dakota, edited Normanden the first year and was succeeded by the Norwegian-born Minnesota politician, Knut Wefald. The leading personality working for Normanden from 1930 on was Ingvald H. Ulsaker, editor for many years and later both publisher and editor.

Affiliation with the Nonpartisan League involved Normanden in a factional conflict within that organization. Much of the strife centered around the outstanding, but also controversial, politician, William Langer. He deserved much of the credit for the resurgence of the League in state politics, and in 1932 he was elected governor of North Dakota. Langer adopted a number of bold measures to meet the crisis of the depression, and in so doing he exhibited exceptional qualities of leadership. Only two years after his election, however, his political tactics and financial manipulations brought an indictment against him by a federal grand jury. He was found [96] guilty and removed from office; this action put an end to his political career until a new trial found him innocent of the original charges in December, 1935. There followed a split in the League - for and against Langer, the governor. Normanden, even though Gunvaldsen claimed to be a personal friend, joined forces with Langer’s adversaries. With the former governor’s re-entry into politics in 1936, following his vindication, Normanden outdid itself in discrediting him and the radical segment of the League which was working with him. Many of the anti-Langer editorials were in English.

The famous League cartoonist and politician, John M. Baer, also wrote some of the editorials, and his cartoons ridiculing “Big Biz” appeared regularly. Outside political influences had many aspects, and for a large number of North Dakotans the massive New Deal program of federal aid, instigated by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, was in some respects just another kind of out-of-state interference resulting in a loss of freedom. Normanden saw no advantages in the president’s efforts to improve the economic well-being of the people of the state and expressed direct hostility to the huge outpouring of government funds.

On another count, Normanden saw the president oppose its basic principle concerning prohibition. The repeal of the eighteenth amendment in 1933 and the prohibition article in the state constitution in 1936 caused the paper to propose county-operated liquor stores as a restraint against what it called “the greed of the liquor interests.”

Evidently, a Norwegian-language paper still had some significance in state politics. Normanden retained a circulation of about 6,000, much of it due to the endeavors of Oscar O. Ødegaard, who traveled as subscription solicitor for the paper. He accepted farm produce in lieu of cash, and even sold the paper to people who knew no Norwegian. Another immigrant paper survived the hardships of the 1930’s. Grand Forks Skandinav (The Grand Forks Scandinavian, 19261941), established in 1926 by the Fuhr Publishing Company [97] of Duluth, was owned after 1935 by Einar E. Fekjar. For a time it was published in partnership with Normanden. It continued to come out until 1941.

Still, it was only a question of time before the Norwegian press would outlive its usefulness, and the papers themselves were busy finding a solution to their dilemma and probing the reasons for their own decline. Some even accused the church of accelerating the process of immigrant amalgamation in its eagerness to adapt to an American setting. The nostalgic attachment to Norway, however, which at times had grown to a patriotic fervor, was not dead. Official visits by members of the Norwegian royal house brought enthusiasm to a new pitch, as was evidenced when the heir to the throne visited the state in 1939.

The tragic plight of Norway in World War II found the immigrant newspapers heavily involved in relief programs to alleviate the sufferings of their countrymen at home. The war years also saw a change in the political affiliation of Normanden, which at that time was the sole representative of the Norwegian-language press in North Dakota.

In 1941, the Democratic politician, Henry Holt, who had worked on Normanden shortly after World War I, decided to go into partnership with Ingvald H. Ulsaker and to buy Normanden from Gunvaldsen. Holt had also supported Grand Forks Skandinav, which endorsed his election as lieutenant-governor of North Dakota that same year.

Normanden moved toward the Democratic party, supported President Roosevelt’s war aims and his fourth bid for the presidency, generally endorsed Democratic candidates, and denounced the Nonpartisan Leaguer Gerald P. Nye for his isolationism. Ulsaker worked unflaggingly to keep the publication alive. In 1944 Holt died, leaving Ulsaker all responsibility for the future of the paper. Frequent apologies for irregularities in publication indicate the severe difficulties that Ulsaker encountered in trying to keep the paper going.

The Norwegian-language press had previously experienced [98] a number of mergers, and in 1944 Ulsaker and Sigurd Knudsen, editor and publisher of Visergutten in Canton, South Dakota, decided to unite their two enterprises. The consolidation, however, did not strengthen Normanden; three years later Knudsen withdrew and re-established Visergutten in Fargo. Again there were two Norwegian papers competing for a decreasing number of potential subscribers.

The aging Ulsaker, tired of the endless struggle of publishing an immigrant newspaper, in 1952 sold Normanden to a group of politicians in the conservative Republican Organizing Committee. T. D. Monsen edited the paper until its demise two years later; after 1952 less than one quarter of the paper was in Norwegian.

Normanden continued strongly to advocate the conservative platform of the organizing committee, and at the same time it made violent attacks on the Nonpartisan League, especially against the segment identified with William Langer. This new alignment, however, did not save Normanden; neither did its extensive use of English. The paper steadily lost subscribers. In December, 1954, it came to an end on a conservative note, far from its initial policy, and with a circulation of only 1,650. Visergutten continued on alone for a few months, but in April of the next year, it turned over its list of subscribers - less than a thousand - to Decorah-Posten. This vigorous Iowa newspaper had already absorbed many other Norwegian-language journals.

Thus an era had ended. A limited number of persons continued to subscribe to the few remaining immigrant papers, like Decorah-Posten, still in existence in other areas of Norwegian settlement. As an institution, the Norwegian press, however, had definitely outlived its purpose in North Dakota. The transition from immigrant to American communities had been accomplished long before the death of the last Norwegian paper in the state. The final years of its life had revealed a stubborn unwillingness on the part of certain men to let it die. [99]

A final assessment of the Norwegian press in North Dakota shows that the papers, especially those in the period up to World War I, were leaders of a regional Norwegian-American community. They helped to explain the nature of the problems facing the immigrants in a semiarid grassland, an area dominated and exploited by out-of-state interests. They guided their readers in pursuing a better life, and gave them a sense of direction and solidarity. During the last decades of its existence, the press gradually lost much of its significance, but it continued to speak for its countrymen in North Dakota. And, as always, it showed concern for preserving a Norwegian America by perpetuating in a new-world society the best aspects of an old-world heritage.


NEWSPAPERS CONSULTED

Afholds-Basunen (Hillsboro), March 12, 1890- December 23, 1896. Incomplete file in Luther College Library, Decorah, Iowa.

Broderbaandet (Wahpeton and Grand Forks, Fergus Falls, Minnesota). Complete file, 1899-1962, at Lutheran Brethren Schools, Fergus Falls.

Dakota (Grand Forks and Fargo), June 25, 1890-February 24, 1897. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Den Fjerde Juli, also Fjerde Juli og Dakota (Grand Forks), August 16, 1896-April 27, 1898. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Eidsvold (1) (Grand Forks), May, 1909- July-September, 1910. Incomplete file in archives of Norwegian-American Historical Association, Northfield, Minnesota.

Eidsvold (2) (Fargo), June, 1912-January, 1914. Incomplete file in archives of Norwegian-American Historical Association.

Fargo-Posten (1) (Fargo), January 24, 1885- December 22, 1887. [100] Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library, Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Fargo-Posten (2) (Fargo), October 22, 1897-November 13, 1903. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Folkets-Avis (Hillsboro), March 4, 1899 -March 30, 1901. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Folkets Ven (Fargo), September 30-December 16, 1896. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Fram (Fargo), August 4, 1905-December 6, 1917. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library. May 18, 1898-December 31, 1917. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Grafton Posten (Grafton), February 28, 1908-February 5, 1909. Incomplete file in the University of North Dakota Library.

Grand Forks Skandinav (Grand Forks), June 18, 1937- May 23, 1941. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library.

Grand Forks Tidende (Grand Forks), June 3, 1885-December 23, 1885. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Minot-Posten (Minot), July 16, 1908-February 25, 1909. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library.

Nord Dakota Tidende (Grand Forks and Fargo), June 26, 1919-April 22, 1922. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library.

Nordvesten (Minot), March 8, 1917- December, 1925. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library.

Normanden (Grand Forks and Fargo), June 12, 1901 -February 25, 1954. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library. July 8, 1896- February 25, 1954. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Norrøna (Fargo), January, 1914 -December, 1915. [101] Incomplete file in archives of Norwegian-American Historical Association.

Statstidende (Hillsboro), January 12, 1904- May 28, 1907. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library. April 5, 1904-March 14, 1905. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

Vesten, also Fargo-Posten og Vesten (Fargo), June 23, 1888-May 22, 1889. Incomplete file in University of North Dakota Library.

Vesterheimen (Mayville), September 9, 1896- October 11, 1899. Incomplete file in Luther College Library.

NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, the newspapers were located in North Dakota communities. Dates
given in this listing are for the files, not the years of publication.


K.O.B.

 

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