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Miss Minnie Nielson


Politics in North Dakota has always been an interesting part of our history. In 1918, Miss Minnie Nielson was the successful candidate for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Miss Nielson had been born in 1876 in Michigan, but moved with her parents to Valley City in 1880. Upon completion of her education, she was elected superintendent of Barnes County schools where she served for twelve years. In the election to the state office in 1918, her opponent was the incumbent, Neil Carnot MacDonald, a member of the Nonpartisan League.

The Nonpartisan League was at the height of its power in 1918, and Mr. MacDonald was a popular member of the party, so what ensued over the next year was bare-bones politics. One key example is Senate Bill 134, introduced by Joseph Cahill during the 1919 Legislative Session. It created a Board of Administration to supervise all penal, charitable and, significantly, all educational institutions controlled by the state – including the public and common schools. The law siphoned off most of the power held by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, distributing the duties among various commissions and officials within the Board of Administration. And while the Superintendent of Public Instruction served as one of the board’s five members, the other four were members of the N-P-L, allowing the league to wielded the power. Miss Nielson had a state office, but no authority.

One of Minnie Nielson’s duties prior to the enactment of the law was to issue teachers certificates, but this duty was transferred to Mr. E. P. Crain, director of the Motor Vehicle Registration Bureau. The bound volumes were transferred to his office in the basement of the Capitol in 1919. Although Mr. Crain was nominally in charge of issuing the certificates, the actual supervisor was Mrs. Katherine MacDonald, who had served as Deputy Superintendent to her husband – the prior Superintendent of Public Instruction.

But Miss Nielson had the support of a majority of the people of North Dakota. In the election of November 2, 1920, an initiated measure, which passed by a ten thousand vote margin, restored some of the power to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, including the issuing of teachers certificates. On this date, nine cartloads of teachers certificates, dating back to statehood, were returned to Miss Nielson’s second floor office. It was a dramatic conclusion to a very bitter public battle, but one in which the legislature, controlled by the Nonpartisan League, was overruled by a vote of the people.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Carson Press December 9, 1920

North Dakota Centennial Blue Book, 1989

Laws Passed at the Sixteenth Session of the Legislative Assembly 1919

Twenty-Second Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction 1932