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Influenza and the 1919 Legislature


In 1919, North Dakota's legislature pressed on with business despite the flu pandemic. It was a p[particularly historic session. The populist Nonpartisan League, which controlled state politics, created the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator. Seven League initiatives passed by voters became part of the state constitution. The Legislature authorized construction of the Liberty Memorial Building to honor North Dakota’s World War I soldiers. It's the oldest building on the Capitol grounds. The Legislature also honored President Theodore Roosevelt, who ranched and hunted in the state’s Badlands as a young man and died from an embolism as the legislative session began.

As the lawmakers did their work, the influenza continued to spread. On this date in 1919, House Speaker L.L. Stair was sick with flu, but presided over the House long enough to sign the seven new amendments into the constitution. There were numerous absences due to the flu – more than 20 state lawmakers were out sick one day in January. At least one representative was hospitalized that month.

The lieutenant governor, secretary of state and the state Supreme Court’s chief justice also fell ill with flu in January. The state auditor was confined to his home for several days by a “very severe cold.” The attorney general had been hospitalized with the flu in October, one of the first people in the state catching the flu that fall.

The Senate in February summoned one of its members “who was sick in bed and whose vote was badly needed" to pass bills with emergency clauses to immediately create the state-owned bank and new Industrial Commission. The Senate recessed to give the sick senator time to reach the Capitol, and with his votes, the emergency clauses carried.


The 1919 Legislature was considered “the most economical in the history of the state” at the time, with fewer employees and no floor sessions on Sundays or holidays. The Legislature adjourned after 54 days, which stood as the shortest regular session in state history for more than 50 years. Back then, lawmakers had up to 60 days to do their work; now they have 80 days.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

1919 House Journal, State of North Dakota
1919 Senate Journal, State of North Dakota
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 4. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 9. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 17. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 18. Page 1
Grand Forks Herald. 1919, January 20. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 22. Page 4
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1919, January 23. Page 8
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 24. Page 6
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 30. Page 4
Grand Forks Herald. 1919, February 1. Page 2
Jamestown Weekly Alert. 1919, February 20. Page 4
The Ward County Independent. 1919, February 20. Page 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, February 25. Page 8
The Bottineau Courant. 1919, March 13. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, May 3. Page 1

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