North Dakota’s Nonpartisan League is remembered for the populist surge in state politics a century ago. Among the most well-known of the League’s legacy are the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator, overseen by the Industrial Commission. The League-controlled Legislature also passed a law banning vaccination mandates, which stood for more than 50 years.
The 1919 Legislature passed the law, which read: “No form of vaccination or inoculation shall hereafter be made a condition precedent, in this State, for the admission to any public or private school or college, of any person, or for the exercise of any right, the performance of any duty, or the enjoyment of any privilege, by any person.”
At the time, the state Supreme Court was deciding a case challenging a school vaccination mandate, specifically for smallpox. The League caucus supported the mandate’s repeal, reasoning that “even medical men are not a unit as to the advisability of vaccination.” The court ruled that children could not be excluded from schools if unvaccinated, especially if there were no epidemic or danger of one.
Vaccination opponents had support from an eccentric North Dakota Supreme Court justice who denounced inoculation a Bismarck Tribune opinion piece on this date in 1919.
Days later, the Senate passed the bill banning vaccination mandates, in a 31-14 vote. The House of Representatives passed the bill, 98-18. The bill passed with an emergency clause, which gave it immediate effect when signed by the governor. Lawmakers approved the emergency clause because “many parents who did not believe in vaccination were prevented by the present statutes from sending their children to school.”
The law sat on North Dakota’s books for decades, until the 1975 Legislature repealed and replaced it with a school immunization law for several diseases, including polio and measles.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, October 4. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1918, December 4. Page 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 22. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 24. Pages 1, 6
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, January 30. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, February 1. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, February 8. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1975, February 24. Page 28
The Bismarck Tribune. 1975, June 16. Page 1
SB 31 (1919) history from Legislative Council. Retrieved 2021, November 29
HB 1093 (1975) history from Legislative Council. Retrieved 2021, October 7