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May 31: Elizabeth Bodine

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Elizabeth Bodine of Velva, North Dakota, was revered within her family and community for her life of devotion to God, husband, and her children. her story spans two continents and eight decades.

Elizabeth was an immigrant, born in Helenfeld, Poland, in 1898. She spent most of her youth in Germany before her family came to the U.S. in 1912, settling near Anamoose, ND.

She married Frank Bodine (1882-1971) in 1917, when she was 19 and he was 35. Frank had established a farm southeast of Voltaire in McHenry County, and it was there that Frank and Elizabeth started a family.

Daughter Luella was born in 1918, and thereafter, Frank and Elizabeth had seventeen more children – Viola, Francis, Jenette, Paul, Dolores, Loretta, Charles, John, Mark, Monica, Audrey, Bernadette, Robert, Ronald, Gerald, Dale, and William. These eighteen children helped with the housework and farmwork, as the farm near Velva expanded to 800 acres.

Frank and Elizabeth, having been educated through eighth grade, wanted to provide their children with “something better.” As Frank Bodine said: “A lot of people would tell us ‘you can’t educate 18 children,’” but we vowed “that if they wanted to go to college they got the chance.”

And so each of the 8 daughters earned a degree or got schooling for the profession of her choice, and all ten sons became college graduates, many at nearby Minot State College. Two of the children became nurses, 10 were teachers, and 9 served in the military. They were scholars and athletes, and the sons even had their own “Bodine Brothers” baseball team.

Frank and Elizabeth raised their family upon the philosophy that “the larger the family, the happier the family.”

By all accounts they succeeded. On this date, in 1967, the Mandan Pioneer reported that Elizabeth Bodine had been chosen as “National Mother of the Year,” based upon community and church involvement, and the “character and achievements of her children.” Among her many humanitarian projects were assisting the Indian population in the Belcourt area, contributing clothing and food to relatives in Poland during World War II, and for sending boxes of clothing to Vietnam.

Another accolade came in 1979 when Governor Art Link honored her with the state’s Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, retired MSUM History Professor


  • “Mrs. Frank Bodine: Velva Mother of 18 New National Mother of the Year,” Mandan Morning Pioneer, May 31, 1967, p. 17.
  • Woodrow Wells, “Mother of Year Has 18 Children,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 10, 1968, p. 17.
  • “Velva Mother Takes National Honors,” Bismarck Tribune, May 9, 1968, p. 1; [Note: Bernadette’s given name was Patricia, according to the U.S. Census records, and she took vows of sisterhood to be named “Bernadette.”] “Bernadette Bodine,” obituary, Bismarck Tribune, October 3, 1999, p. 15.
  • “College Mom Awarded Mother of Year Title,” Mandan Morning Pioneer, March 7, 1967, p. 5.
  • Gloria Feickert, “Why are ‘Best’ Moms Hiding,” Bismarck Tribune, March 9, 1982, p. 6.
  • Betty Bodine, “Bodine’s Attend Family Reunion, Take In Ball Game,” Barnesville [MN] Record-Review, September 6, 2010, p. 3A.
  • “Velva Farmer Dies Who Sent His 18 Children to College,” Bismarck Tribune, January 13, 1971, p. 30.
  • “Elizabeth Bodine,” obituary, Bismarck Tribune, July 9, 1986, p. 7.
  • “Velva Woman Gets Roughrider Award,” Bismarck Tribune, July 28, 1979, p. 21.

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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