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June 21: Babies Born in Cars

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Every mother remembers well the hectic drive to the hospital while in labor. A few unlucky mothers end up giving birth in the car, which usually makes front page news. On this date in 1913, back when women still gave birth at home and few owned cars, the front-page news that a woman gave birth in a car must have been quite shocking.

James and Mildred Wells lived on a farm near Hensler, about 40 miles northwest of Bismarck. Their neighbor Fred Schofield owned a car, so when Mildred went into labor, Fred agreed to drive her and her husband James to the nearest hospital in Bismarck. Since there was not yet a bridge over the Missouri river, they had to cross on a ferry by Washburn. About 18 miles north of Bismarck the car was stopped so Mildred could give birth – to Ruth, a baby girl. The frantic family continued towards Bismarck, but after driving two miles the car had to stop again so Mildred could give birth to Ruth’s twin, James Neil. The family arrived at the Bismarck Hospital two hours and ten minutes after leaving their home forty miles aways. Today, that trip would take about 42 minutes.

Sadly, when the family arrived at the hospital, it was discovered that little James Neil had died. Mildred and her daughter Ruth stayed at the hospital while father James returned home to bury James Neil.

Ruth proved to be a healthy baby, and lived to age 93, dying in 2006. It’s possible that Ruth and James Neil were the first babies to be born in a car in North Dakota.

Another car birth came in January 1948. Mr. and Mrs. Donald Burnstad got stuck in a snowdrift near Wahpeton on the way to the hospital. Mrs. Burnstad gave birth 15 minutes later, but the family remained stuck in the snow for two-and-a-half hours. Mr. Burnstad managed to keep the car running the entire time in the sub-zero weather. Mother and baby were both healthy, and hoping future babies would not be born in a snowbank.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


  • “Ruth Wanda Wells Enabnit,” Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/92684400/ruth_wanda_enabnit, retrieved May 20, 2024.
  • Associated Press. “Baby Born in Auto on Highway,” Morning Pioneer, January 13, 1945. Pg. 2.
  • Associated Press. “Snowplow Rescues Mother and Baby Bornin Car Which was Stuck in Snow on Way to Hospital,” Morning Pioneer, January 22, 1948, pg. 1.
  • Author Unknown. “Twin Babies Born in Auto,” The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican,” June 21, 1913, pg. 1.

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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