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The Early Years

In the early history of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, the offices were in the basement of the original Capitol. It wasn’t a lot of space, which soon became a problem. In 1913, Secretary Orin G. Libby of the State Historical Society, reported, “the crowded condition of the museum rooms… made it impossible for the Society to enter into any considerable collecting …”

The archives library space was even worse. It was mostly unorganized, initially having no librarian. Libby described how a room next to the museum had been cleaned out for use as a library – it was a boiler room. Slowly, as librarians, clerks, and more staff were hired, the space took shape. In a report compiled in 1917 by librarian Georgia Carpenter, she described reorganization of the newspaper room and told of patrons making use of the resource, which she said was “becoming more and more useful as its existence is generally known.” In the previous legislative session especially, many legislators had come to read their own local papers.

Carpenter also reported that the library had been popular for research. Study clubs had used the collections many times, and there had been many letters requesting material for clubs, schools, etc. Among other notable projects was the compilation of state place names. She also reported that the History Club of Bismarck High School was studying the Dakota Territory up to statehood, using the library resources regularly to prepare papers for their meetings.

The collections continued to increase, perhaps more than anyone anticipated. By 1924, the State Historical Society would move away from the Capitol and into the newly-built Liberty Memorial Building on the Capitol grounds. In January of that year, Lewis Crawford, writer, and then-acting curator of the Historical Society, noted that “heretofore we have estimated that our library contained about 15,000 volumes and pamphlets, but this number is far exceeded. No reliable estimate of the correct number can be given at this time, yet I believe it will reach 50,000.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, volume 4
  • SHSND State Series 30213, folder 13, Historical Society. Secretary’s files
  • SHSND State Series 30213, folder 16, Historical Society. Biennial Reports

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.