The Bank of North Dakota is the only state-owned bank in the U-S, and is forever tied to the populist Nonpartisan League that controlled state politics a century ago. The bank’s creation came during the so-called “Spanish” flu pandemic, which sickened state lawmakers – some of whom left their hospital beds to cast crucial votes in the 1919 Legislature.
House Bill 18 created the Bank of North Dakota under the Industrial Commission, which was created by House Bill 17. North Dakota’s governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner make up the Industrial Commission. Both bills were part of a slate of programs pushed by the Nonpartisan League, which advocated for farmers against lenders who took advantage of them.
The two bills passed the House on the narrowest majority to carry their emergency clauses, which would give the bills immediate effect when signed by the governor. Two representatives were absent that day, being sick in hospitals. Another representative was hospitalized in Bismarck with influenza, and he was brought to the House from his hospital cot to vote nay.
Cheering and applause lasted more than 10 minutes after the House passed the bank bill’s emergency clause.
On this date in 1919, the Senate encountered a similar scenario on the two bills. There was no clear majority to pass the bills’ emergency clauses – not without the vote of a senator sick in bed. Some senators opposed the emergency clauses because they thought voters might not have the chance for a referendum. The Senate conferred with the governor and the attorney general, and recessed to give the sick senator time to get to the Capitol. Gov. Lynn Frazier spoke to the Senate about calling a special election for a referendum, should 15,000 signatures come forth. The Senate voted -- with the sick member there for his “aye” -- and passed the emergency clauses on thin margins.
The bill signing days later was a celebration. The House and Senate held a joint session. An orchestra played “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here” as Gov. Lynn Frazier signed a raft of bills that included the Bank of North Dakota and Industrial Commission.
There were other lawmakers who did business while sick with flu. The speaker of the House presided over the chamber while ill. And at least one other representative left the hospital, to vote on financing for the bank.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, February 14. Page 1
Grand Forks Herald. 1919, February 14. Page 8
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, February 18. Pages 1, 2
The Oakes Times. 1919, February 20. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1919, February 25. Page 8
The Bottineau Courant. 1919, March 6. Page 2