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October 10: Archives Month - Curator Woes at the State Historical Society

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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.

Today we share a story of curator woes at the North Dakota archives. In April of 1923, Dr. Melvin Gilmore, who had served as curator of the State Historical Society since 1915, was dismissed from his job. Upon learning of his dismissal, he sent a 12-page letter to the board of directors. He mentioned how he came to be hired, how he had strengthened relationships with donors and others. His main complaint dealt with the secretary of the society, Orin G. Libby, referencing employees who were disenchanted with the secretary.

It did not help his cause. In July of that year, Lewis Crawford, of Sentinel Butte, was appointed as acting curator. In a report to the trustees, Crawford commented that his “first and most obvious duty was to clean the desk and office of useless rubbish so that the routine work could be taken care of with reasonable facility and promptness.” He continued with a listing of all the work he was compiling, including obtaining interviews with different residents of the state, and checking on newspapers that should be sent in.

Crawford was businessman. He worked as a banker in Sentinel Butte, and served on many boards in many capacities: he was president of the State Bankers’ Association, Secretary of the State Industrial Commission, and a member of the Board of Regents for the State University. He was one of the original founders of the Independent Voters Association, which opposed the Nonpartisan League. He also wrote several books about the state.

However, in 1929, he, too, was asked to resign. The Bismarck Tribune reported that he and the Board of Directors of the Society were “not in harmony” on policies. An investigation was launched into his work. During an audit, it was discovered that books and artifacts purchased were not always documented; that some items were never paid for; that much of it was opened at Crawford’s home, with some of it eventually reaching the offices of the Historical Society. Ironically, Crawford, like his predecessor Gilmore, defended himself by noting “the numerous things that he had done for the society,” and his grievances were also directed against the secretary of the society, Orin G. Libby.

Regardless, these two curators had provided much information and did much work for the Historical Society, as reflected in their papers, reports and letters, preserved of course, in the state archives.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • The Bismarck Tribune, July 2, 1923, p3
  • Report of Curator to Trustees, January 12, 1924 SHSND 30213, folder 16; Melvin Gilmore letter, SHSND 30213, folder 8
  • The Bismarck Tribune, November 23, 1929, p1
  • Golden Valley County Pioneers
  • SHSND 30208, Box 2: Correspondence Concerning Investigation of the Superintendent.

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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