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March 16: Anti-Dancing Bill Goes Missing

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Not every bill proposed in the Legislature passes and becomes a law, but in 1935, one bill just plain went missing.

House Bill 220 would have banned dancing in beer parlors. The bill passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, but on this date in 1935, Legislative clerks discovered the bill had “mysteriously disappeared,” along with another bill related to health certificates for cattle.

The anti-dancing bill disappeared when it was sent back to the House from the Senate to get the speaker’s signature. The bill needed signatures from both the House speaker and Senate president to become law.

Governor Walter Welford asked Attorney General P.O. Sathre to investigate the bill’s disappearance. According to The Bismarck Tribune, the governor’s office fielded “numerous protests against ‘laxity of laws’ that allowed the disappearance of the measure to go ‘unpunished.’”

The bill later mysteriously reappeared in the Secretary of State’s office with other properly completed bills, but lacking the needed signatures, the bill failed to become a law.

One state representative lamented the bill’s disappearance. He said: “If bills can be gotten out of the way so easily, the next legislature had better pass a law making the losing of a bill a penitentiary offense.”

The 1935 Legislature did pass a law banning endurance contests—such as marathon dances, walkathons and skate-a-thons. The penalty was a misdemeanor punishable by six months to a year in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000. Such bans were a national trend at the time.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


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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