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The State Historical Society

The Ladies Historical Society formed in 1889, became the State Historical Society of North Dakota six years later in 1895. However, the new agency received no appropriations from the government, and it soon foundered. In April 1903, a meeting was held at the Bismarck Tribune to reorganize the group. It was established that people could become members of the society by paying $2 annually, with honorary memberships bestowed upon those original visionaries of the Ladies Historical Society.

As part of the newfound enthusiasm, a committee was formed by C. A. Lounsberry, C.B. Little, and M. H. Jewell to “urge the capitol commission to provide … suitable fire-proof vaults for the reception of valuable records, and rooms for permanent quarters for the State Historical Society.”

The legislature provided an appropriation in 1905 and established the society’s responsibilities. That included collecting books, maps, charts, and “other papers and materials illustrative of the history of this state in particular and of the west generally.” The legislature specifically mentioned early pioneers’ narratives that documented their exploits, perils, and adventures. A separate law called for every state newspaper to send two copies of each issue to the society. While not yet a separate division, the State Archives would eventually house all these materials.

Everything was to be catalogued, and entry to see any exhibits or documents was to be free, which it still is today.

The State Historical Society began with only two rooms and “a fine large vault in the basement of the new wing of the Capitol.” The Bismarck Tribune noted, “Such ample provision as this for the valuable collection of the society will doubtless encourage gifts and loans from those who are interested in seeing the historical records of the state adequately preserved where they can be accessible to all.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • Jamestown Weekly Alert, February 28, 1895, p1
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, April 30, 1903, p2
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, January 19, 1905, p2
  • North Dakota Blue Book, 2015-2017
  • Laws passed at the 9th session of the Legislative Assembly of North Dakota, (1905 ND Law Book)

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.