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Food-Divorcement Repeal


Bismarck tavern owner Vincent Kielty announced the formation of a group known as the Association for Repeal of the Food Divorcement Law on this day in 1948. Kielty, chairman of the group, stated that the purpose of its formation was to repeal the 1946 legislation that made it illegal to sell food and liquor in the same establishment. The measure was passed by North Dakota voters in a general election two years earlier by a margin of only 3,700 votes.

The Association claimed that the separation of food and drink drove North Dakota patrons to border towns, especially in Moorhead where restaurant owners thrived on the business of Fargoans preferring a little wine with their meal, or some pretzels with their beer. Kielty emphasized the fact that North Dakota was the only state in the country to practice the divorcement of food and liquor. He added that “North Dakota has been subjected to ridicule on a nation-wide basis because of the law”. The Association, consisting mainly of liquor distributors, began their fight to repeal the law by circulating petitions throughout the state in hopes of obtaining the ten-thousand signatures needed to place the repeal on the June 29 primary ballot. When the law was passed by voters in 1946, the reasoning behind the measure was to “take the glamour out of the liquor trade”. Attorney General Nels Johnson argued that “to get a drink now [people] will have to go to a bar, which at the best are not attractive places”. After the measure was passed, Johnson claimed that it showed “people are demanding a closer regulation of this evil in our midst”. Ironically, liquor taxes from 1946 displayed that North Dakotans “consumed a record amount of hard liquor” that year.

North Dakota’s attempt to regulate alcohol within its borders was not the first of its kind in the state, and definitely not the last. In 1889, North Dakota was the first state to be admitted to the Union with a prohibition clause in its constitution. Prohibition remained in place in the state until 1932, when both North Dakota voters and the federal government repealed the practice. Knowing North Dakota’s turbulent history with the bottle, it was no surprise that Kielty and his Association did not succeed in repealing the divorcement laws for another fifteen years.


Sullivan, Jack. “Battle with the Bottle: Groups Fought to Keep North Dakota Dry”, The Forum online: http: //www.in-forum.com/specials/century/jan3/week27.html

The Fargo Forum and Daily Tribune (Morning ed.). March 6, 1948: p. 1.

--Jayme L Job