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February 21: A Shoe as a Gavel

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Unusual and even bizarre events can pop up during sessions of North Dakota’s legislature. In 1890, during the state’s first legislative session, the House of Representatives convened one day at 7:00am. Several members overslept, requiring a call of the house to compel their attendance. The sergeant-at-arms went out to rouse the missing members. He reportedly fired blanks from a revolver to get one representative out of bed! Another member was roused by “a large cannon fire cracker.”

Another event in 1893, involved a Senate committee investigating newspapers for “slanderous articles” that tied lawmakers to blackmail. The committee even queried a Fargo newspaper correspondent about his reporting.

In 1903, a 60-mile-per-hour wind smashed windows and blew away part of the Capitol’s roof during the opening day of the legislative session. A roof cornice smashed into a brick chimney and dislodged hundreds of bricks that came within inches of crashing through an open hole in the roof. They could have smashed through third-floor ceiling onto the desks of the House speaker and clerks. Outside, the wind even lifted and carried pedestrians!

In 1945, the House deadlocked on electing a speaker, prompting a group of lawmakers to go to Bowman to bring back a representative who was ill at home and unable to walk. He was wheeled into the House chamber in a wheelchair to break the day-old tie.

And on this date in 1953, lacking a gavel, the president pro tempore of the Senate used a stenographer’s high-heeled shoe as a gavel to bring the Senate to order. The Senate lacked enough senators to conduct its business, so Senator R. M. Streibel of Fessenden rapped the shoe again, recessed the Senate, and returned the shoe to its owner, Dagny Olson. The moment became a national news story, with headlines from Ohio to Washington to New Mexico declaring “Gavel-wielder well-heeled” and “Senate is slippered into short session.”

In 1983, the House speaker set a dress code for reporters and photographers, citing lawmakers’ concerns “about the sloppy dress of the media.” The dress code to be allowed on the House floor was a suit and tie, a sport coat and turtleneck shirt, or a sport coat and sweater for men, and a dress, or a suit or slacks for women. The speaker’s dress code was not popular among the media.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


  • Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1890, January 24. Page 8: Among them
  • Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1893, January 13. Page 1: Little excitement
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, January 7. Page 1: Eighth session opens
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1903, January 9. Page 3: Narrow escape
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1945, January 3. Page 1: Coalition forces ready to ‘wait out’ speaker deadlock
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1945, January 4. Page 1: House elects Bergesen speaker, deadlocks again
  • The Olympian. 1953, February 22. Page 1: Senate is slippered into short session
  • Argus-Leader. 1953, February 22. Page 9: Stenographer slipper saves Sen. Streibel
  • Albuquerque Journal. 1953, February 22. Page 17: Dagny’s shoe returned when quorum lacking
  • Star Tribune. 1953, February 22. Page 17: Gavel-wielder well-heeled
  • The Cincinnati Enquirer. 1953, February 23. Page 2: Brought to heel!
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1983, January 13. Page 17: Kelly presses apparel code
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1983, January 14. Page 11: Dress code set for newsmen
  • covering House
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1983, January 17. Page 13: On the hill

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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