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Cartoonist for Congress


John Miller Baer, the first Representative elected to Congress under the endorsement of the Nonpartisan League, began his first full term on this date in 1917. Baer had been first elected to serve a partial term in 1915, filling the vacancy left by Representative Henry Helgesen.

Despite his political interests, Baer was best known to North Dakotans as a newspaper cartoonist. His cartoons, many of which were decidedly political in nature, appeared in many of the state’s newspapers, including the Non-Partisan Leader, the Fargo Courier-News, and Labor, the newspaper of the National Railroad Union.

The son of an author and a poet, Baer was born and raised on a farm in Black Creek, Wisconsin, in 1886. In 1909, he graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and moved to Beach, North Dakota, shortly afterward. He began work as a civil engineer, but was soon furnishing cartoons and articles to the Non-Partisan Leader and managing the 5,000 acre farm of J. R. Smith of Minneapolis. The following year, he married Smith’s daughter, Estella Kennedy. He was also appointed to serve as Beach’s postmaster.

During his time in Beach, Baer became close friends with A. C. Townley, one of the Nonpartisan League’s founding leaders. Townley persuaded him to become the League’s chief cartoonist and take a more active role in state politics. At this suggestion, Baer resigned as Beach postmaster and moved to Fargo in 1915 to begin drawing full-time for the Fargo Courier-News, one of the state’s League-owned papers. That year, U.S. Representative Henry Helgesen passed away, leaving his North Dakota 1st District seat vacant. Baer ran on the Republican ticket and won the special election, serving the remainder of Helgesen’s term. The following year, Baer ran on the Non-partisan ticket and won reelection to the Congressional seat. On July 10, 1917, he began his term as the first Non-partisan Representative in Congress, serving until 1921.

Like the short-lived success of his own party, Baer failed to win reelection in 1920. He did, however, continue his career as a cartoonist and journalist for the nationwide Labor newspaper. He passed away in Washington, D.C. in 1970, at the age of 83.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job