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April 27: Elizabeth Preston Anderson

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Elizabeth Preston Anderson was born in Indiana on this date in 1861. Her father was a Methodist pastor. Her first memory was at the age of two, when she was awakened to say goodbye to her mother as she lay dying. Other early memories were the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln.

She became a teacher at age 15. When she was 18, her father and step mother moved the family to Dakota Territory and homesteaded near Tower City. In the midst of a raging prairie fire that fall, Elizabeth made a vow to “have an object in life; to work for that object by making the most of every power; every advantage or opportunity God should give.”

Soon after, she became ill. The doctor prescribed alcoholic stimulants, and after a number of months she became “aware of a growing appetite for it, an impatience for the hour to strike when the next dose should be given.” After some serious reflection, she told the doctor she would take “no more of it.”

While teaching in Page, Preston’s hotel room overlooked the back door of a saloon. One morning she spotted a man passed out on the ground. “The sun was shining in the young face, over which the flies were crawling,” she wrote, “the mouth was open. That picture of some mother’s boy could not be erased from my mind. As I looked over my school room, I studied my fine, bright, promising boys, wondering which of them would take this young man’s place.”

Preston had found her object. She organized a local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, began making prohibition speeches, and managed to get the bar in Page shut down. Preston soon quit teaching to work full-time on alcohol education issues, the needs of children, and the right for women to vote. She served 40 years as president of the state Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Historian Clement Lounsberry later wrote, “(She) always attended the legislative sessions, where she worked without cessation, night and day, to prevent the repeal of the (prohibition) law… The friends of temperance owe a debt of gratitude to this fragile little woman who successfully combated every movement of the liquor forces.”

Elizabeth Preston Anderson continued in her alcohol education work until her death at age 93 in 1954.

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm


  • Elizabeth Preston Anderson, Sketch of my Life (written by request of Minnie J. Nielson), 1939

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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