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October 3: Archives Month - The State Historical Society and WWI

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October is Archives Month, where archives around the country celebrate the records in their holdings and recognize the archivists who assess, collect, organize, preserve, and provide access to information of lasting value. The North Dakota State Archives is part of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

In April 1917, the United States entered World War I. High school boys and older soon enrolled in the military. Community members of all ages grew gardens and gathered scraps. Some dissented. Kate Richards O’Hare gave an anti-war speech in Bowman and was later convicted and sent to prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917. John H. Wishek, from McIntosh County, was charged with sedition for pro-German propaganda and discouraging the sale of war bonds. Some wondered if the German name for the city of Bismarck should be changed. Meanwhile, men overseas wrote letters home that were published in local newspapers.

Throughout this tumultuous time, the State Historical Society collected items to document this history. It continued to collect newspapers as required by a state law that was passed in 1905.

Major Dana Wright, who was involved in various capacities with the Historical Society, served in France, and sent back numerous items he deemed of interest for museum collections. His family later donated a manuscript and photos to the State Archives, which documented his time overseas.

One collection of special interest began prior to the United States’ entry into the war. In 1916, Curator Melvin Gilmore had secured a collection of posters used to recruit Canada’s share of volunteers for the war. In writing about this collection, the Bismarck Tribune noted that “the posters demonstrate conclusively what a big part modern publicity and advertising played” in raising that army. The posters used strong headings such as “Play a man’s part in this, ‘The Great Adventure,’” and “Take up the sword of justice,” with the words appearing over an image of the Lusitania sinking after being torpedoed by a German submarine.

State Historical Society librarian Edna Rupp, whose start at the agency overlapped with the United States’ entry into war, continued to seek the war posters. When she obtained extras, she offered them in trade for more posters, assisting to build a rich collection. Rupp also reached outside of the country in her search for posters.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


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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