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Unusual Marriage


At the end of January in 1929, a rather unusual marriage for two residents of Tappen took place in Steele. The reports circulated around the state: Gertrude Murdoch, the 27-year-old principal and music teacher of the local high school, married Gordon Bell, a 17-year-old sophomore in her school and a student in one of her classes.

At age seventeen, Gordon was considered a minor by four years. Had their roles been reversed, and he was 27, marrying a 17-year-old girl, she would have been a minor by one year. In any case, because he was a minor, Gordon’s parents had to grant permission for him to marry. They stood by his side as he married his principal. Gertrude had her brother Alex as a witness.

The marriage took place in Steele, and after a short honeymoon, they returned to classes on this date as the Tappen school board had “given Mrs. Bell permission to keep her husband in her classes” and to “retain her as principal.”

According to the Bismarck Tribune, Dr. J.S. Whitson, a doctor in Tappen, was a friend of the couple, and said that “young Bell will finish high school and then go to college.” Other reports flying across the state said the young couple was staying at the Whitson home, but the doctor disputed the claim, noting that his family was out of town and he was simply staying at the same hotel as Mrs. Bell and the other teachers of Tappen school, a situation that “was probably responsible for the error.”

It was perhaps something of a scandal, but it might have been topped by a similar story that appeared in the Tribune the same day: two Renville County farm couples divorced, then travelled to Manitoba where they swapped spouses and were married in a double ceremony!

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Bismarck Tribune, February 6, 1929

The Ward County Independent, February 14, 1929