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Jeered Off the Streets of Dickinson

On this date in 1918, the Bismarck Tribune reported that Walter Thomas Mills received a rough welcome in Dickinson. Mills was a noted socialist. He was born to Quaker parents in 1856, and as an adult he became interested in socialism and began speaking publicly about politics. He developed a reputation as a skilled orator and was admired as a speaker by friends and enemies alike.

Mills is best known as a leader of the Socialist Party of America, but he also developed some notoriety for his failed attempts to further socialist ideals. He attempted to start a People’s University in Michigan, but after soliciting funds, he gave up on his plan. He raised money to start socialist colonies in Michigan, Colorado, and Kansas, but they, too failed. No one knew where the money went.

In 1912 Mills went to New Zealand where he helped found the United Labor Party. He returned to the United States in 1914 and continued to represent socialist causes. He was adamantly opposed to America’s participation in World War I and tried to keep the country out of foreign entanglements. He wrote a pamphlet against the war and frequently gave speeches urging people to stand against American involvement.

Mills mentored staunch socialist Kate Richards O’Hare of Kansas, who would be convicted of sedition for a speech she gave in North Dakota – at Bowman.

Mills also came to North Dakota, attracted by the work of the Nonpartisan League. Despite his string of failures and his association with O’Hare, his fame as an orator made him a sought-after public speaker. Hoping to present a public program in Dickinson, the Nonpartisan League tried to find a hall where Mills could give a speech. Most venues were not interested in hosting such a controversial event, and the mayor was opposed to letting Mills speak. The Bohemian Hall finally agreed to host Mills’ appearance, but as Mills was speaking on a street corner outside the hall, townspeople began jeering at him, drowning him out. The newspaper reported that he was “not allowed to talk in the Queen City.”

Mills eventually gave up on socialism. He passed away in 1942 in Los Angeles.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Bismarck Tribune. “Mills Hooted from Streets of Dickinson.” 8 June 1918. Bismarck ND. Pg. 1.

Morgan, Thomas J. “Walter Thomas Mills – His Record.” http://www.marxisthistory.org/history/usa/parties/spusa/1907/1102-morgan-walterthomasmills.pdf   Accessed 3 May 2018.

Morlan, Robert L. “The Nonpartisan League and the Minnesota Campaign of 1918.” http://collections.mnhs.org/mnhistorymagazine/articles/34/v34i06p221-232.pdf  Accessed 3 May 2018.

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