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Dakota Business College

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On this date in 1904, a notice in the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican stated that “Miss Sarah S. Barton…has entered the Dakota Business College for special work in bookkeeping and penmanship during the summer months. These summer sessions offer excellent opportunities for reviews, and ambitious teachers might advantageously follow her example.” The college touted this as an excellent opportunity for a young teacher tired of teaching in public schools to change careers.

The college got its start in 1890 when Mathias F. Knox established the Northwest College of Commerce in Fargo. Three years later, F. Leland Watkins, Sr. arrived in Fargo. He had experience in the printing business and was working at the Argus newspaper setting type when he became acquainted with Knox.

The two entered into a partnership, running the school, which would be renamed Dakota Business and Literary College. It was marketed for men and women alike. In 1893, advertisements offered to send “a photo of the proprietors of the Dakota Business College and an elegant piece of penmanship” to “any young man or lady who will send us, this month, the names of their ‘single’ friends, between the ages of 15 and 25 years, who live in their county and are interested in an education.”

The partnership between Knox and Watkins did not last long, despite Knox and his wife both working in the school. Knox rather hurriedly exited the business, departing with a bankroll of tuition money and leaving Watkins and the college behind. Nonetheless, Watkins continued on.

Watkins bought the entire school building by 1903 and added a wing in 1906. The business stayed in the family until it closed in 1978. Over its history, nearly 30,000 students learned penmanship, bookkeeping, typing, and other related courses.

In their early catalogs, the school sought to inspire prospective students by saying: “Judge us by our works…” and “Opportunity is the cream of time.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, June 2, 1904, p1


Oakes Weekly Republican, January 12, 1894, p3

Oakes Weekly Republican, September 22, 1893, p6

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Dec 7, 1905, p8

National Register of Historic Places Inventory / Masonic Block / Dakota Business College, Watkins Block

Dakota Business and Literary College Annual Catalog, 1894

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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