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Polio Drives

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In 1954, North Dakota and the rest of the nation were in the home stretch toward a safe and effective polio vaccine, but cases crept up that summer and fall, and polio fundraising drives sought money to help patients, who were mostly children. A survey found that Americans feared polio second only to the atomic bomb.

Polio drives took many forms. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sent a $500 check directly to the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, also known as the March of Dimes, which took a leading role in the fight against polio. Businesses, Bismarck police, firefighters and civic organizations volunteered as fundraisers, soliciting $527 in dimes from shoppers for the “block of dimes” – a row of dimes that stretched for an entire city block. The Nu Phi Mu junior sorority of Bismarck brought in more than $1,000 for polio by selling orchids. Bowling tournaments also netted money for the March of Dimes, and a calf sale in Mandan raised $3,001.

Also in 1954, more than 6,100 children in grades 1-3 in Burleigh, Cass and Morton counties participated in nationwide field trials for the Salk polio vaccine. The nation awaited the results of the trials, which would take a year.

In the meantime, polio still lurked as a threat. North Dakota logged 119 cases in 1954, with four deaths. Community organizations stepped up to the help those stricken. On this date that year, March of Dimes chapters from Burleigh, McLean, Mercer and Sioux counties met with the organization’s state representative to plan an emergency fundraiser. The March of Dimes had fallen far short of a $75 million national goal. The emergency fundraiser was to last more than two weeks and included a mail campaign, dances, balloon sales, baseball games, and other special events. In Bismarck, donors placed more than $700 of dimes along Fourth Street and Main Avenue in a promotion dubbed a “mile of dimes.” A boy in a wheelchair helped collect donations from shoppers.

Several children from Finley, North Dakota, garnered $16.09 in their own polio drive by selling donuts, popcorn and used comic books. A girl even set up a beauty shop.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

North Dakota State Department of Health. (1956). Thirty-fourth biennial report: July 1, 1954 – June 30, 1956. Bismarck Tribune: Bismarck, ND
The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, January 8. Page 9
The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, January 26. Pages 1, 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, August 5. Page 15
The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, August 31. Page 6
Steele County Press. 1954, September 9. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, December 24. Page 7
The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, December 30. Page 11

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.

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