On this date in 1923, a bold headline on the front page of The Bismarck Tribune declared, “Illiteracy Waning Under Steady Fire.” The State Department of Education had created the slogan “No Illiteracy by 1924.” Hazel Nielson, the directory of adult education, was working tirelessly to make sure that the 9,927 adult North Dakotans who claimed to be illiterate on the 1920 census were reading by the end of the year. She traveled around the state to meet with teachers and organizations working on anti-illiteracy campaigns. Night schools to teach reading were being established around the state. Miss Nielson announced the great progress being made, like in Grand Forks County, where the number of illiterate residents had been reduced from 294 to 174.
Miss Nielson, a passionate and involved teacher, lived a long life of exemplary service. She was born in 1888 in Valley City. She graduated from high school in 1906 and from the University of North Dakota in 1910. Miss Nielson taught German and high school history in Valley City and Fargo. During World War I she went overseas to contribute to the war effort, joining the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Overseas Unit and working in army recreation centers in southern France.
Shortly after returning, Miss Nielson became the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction. Her boss happened to be her older sister, Minnie Nielson. Minnie had recently been elected the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Both sisters were heavily involved in many women’s clubs, such as the American Legion Auxiliary, PEO Sisterhood, Delta Kappa Gamma, Pioneer Mothers, and the North Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Hazel eventually moved to Washington, DC to write textbooks for the National Literacy Crusade. She then became the director of education for the Federal Commission for the Bicentennial Celebration of the Birth of George Washington. Miss Nielson also served as the Director of the Sesquicentennial of the Constitution of the United States. She spent about twenty years in Washington, DC.
Miss Nielson eventually moved back to Valley City and lived with her sister Minnie. Neither married or had children. They both dedicated their lives to education and their many women’s clubs. Hazel died in 1957, and Minnie died in 1958.
Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa
Davis, Jim, “Miss Minnie Nielson,” December 6, 2012. https://www.history.nd.gov/archives/manuscripts/inventory/00117.html
“Illiteracy Waning Under Steady Fire,” The Bismarck Tribune, October 28, 1923, pg. 1.
“Nielson Family,” State Historical Society of North Dakota Archives. http://archive.prairiepublic.org/radio/dakota-datebook?post=46198
“North Dakota Delta Kappa Gamma ND State Founders,” North Dakota Delta Kappa Gamma. https://northdakotadkg.weebly.com/nd-state-founders.html