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Measures to curb disease outbreaks haven’t always been popular in North Dakota. It's nothing new that even state officials might oppose certain efforts.

In 1900, residents of the Olga area kept secret a smallpox outbreak because of the inconvenience a quarantine would cause. The outbreak soon spread.

In 1903, a Richland County Health Board member was assaulted while putting a quarantine sign on the home of smallpox patients. The assailants were arrested, fined $30 and jailed for failing to pay the fine.

During the flu pandemic in 1918 in Bismarck, waitresses of a dining establishment declined to comply with the city health officer’s mask mandate for people handling food. In Bottineau, young people held a New Year’s Eve dance in defiance of a county board of health rule banning public dances due to the flu danger.

In 1919, the legislature passed a sweeping law banning vaccination mandates. At the time, an eccentric North Dakota Supreme Court justice railed against vaccinations in essays appearing in the Bismarck Tribune. Justice James Robinson thought vaccinations served only to enrich “young doctors on the school board.” He wrote: “I still think that the real purpose of the vaccination was to put money into the pockets of certain persons, sure and certain it was not for the love of God or the love of the children.” In 1975, the Legislature repealed the ban on vaccination mandates and enacted a school immunization law for several diseases.

On this date in 1933, a letter writer to the Bismarck Tribune decried the state health officer’s plea to the legislature to continue funding public sanitation, such as safe water supplies and sewage disposal systems. J.N. McCarter of Steele wrote: “One would think to hear some of our doctors talk how that if we just appropriated enough money to keep them well financed, no one would ever die.” He also denounced the smallpox vaccine as “poisonous.” In another letter, McCarter wrote: “Why all this great commotion about one’s health? What sane man believes that it all comes from humanitarian motives?”

In 1980, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated -- due to vaccinations.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Courier Democrat. 1900, May 3. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1900, August 10. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, February 4. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1917, November 3. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 15. Page 3
The Bottineau Courant. 1918, December 26. Page 8
The Bottineau Courant. 1919, January 9. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1932, December 27. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1933, January 4. Page
The Bismarck Tribune. 1933, January 16. Page 2
Legislative history of SB 31 (1919) from North Dakota Legislative Council. Retrieved 2021, November 29.
Legislative history of HB 1093 (1975) from North Dakota Legislative Council. Retrieved 2021, November 29.

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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