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Bertha Palmer


As a listener, you’re likely a fan of radio and perhaps you’re from North Dakota, but even so, you probably haven’t heard of Bertha Palmer, a woman who was influential in both. Coming to North Dakota when she was two year’s old, she attended Devil’s Lake High School. After graduation, she served in various educational roles, and she is most well-known for her time as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Bertha Palmer’s first try for the office was unsuccessful, losing to Minnie Nielson in 1924. But in 1926 she ran again, securing a position on the nonpartisan ballot. Minnie Nielson didn’t run again, but Bertha still had plenty of competition. Four others were on the ballot – all of them men.

After the primary the remaining candidates were Palmer and John Bjorlie. Palmer was working hard this campaign. On this date in 1926, she sent letters to supporters that detailed her calculations as to the number of votes needed for her to win. Her calculations paid off – when the results came in, she had beaten her opponent by over 4,000 votes.

After the election, she began utilizing the radio, giving 15 minute talks on different subjects. She liked the idea of radio being used to educate, so she even set up a Sunday radio show. The show had segments ranging from poetry to economics – an early foray into the realm of educational public broadcasting. So today we honor Bertha Palmer educator, broadcaster, and politician – serving as Superintendent of Public Education until 1932.

Today’s Dakota Datebook was written by Lucid Thomas, drawing upon the book “Important Voices” by Susan Wefald, documenting women in North Dakota politics.