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Emma Bates


Emma Bates was not a North Dakota native. However, North Dakota is perhaps where she made her biggest impact. Bates was born and raised on a New York farm and attended college in Pennsylvania, but she fell ill from overwork before she could graduate. After recovering, she held various positions in education before moving to North Dakota in 1887 to be an assistant to Professor John Ogden. In the years to come she would be highly involved in education and in organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She even served as editor-in-chief for a publication called Western Womanhood.

Due to her high skillset and involvement in the community she became a candidate for Superintendent of Public instruction. She spoke at the July 1894 Republican Party convention, receiving an enthusiastic response. An article she published in the July edition of Western Womanhood demonstrated her awareness of the issues surrounding education. She was highly concerned about reading, stating that “Most pupils of fifteen…cannot read to enjoy.” She believed reading would foster more independent thinkers.

She also expressed her objection to “Cramming the mind with inexplicable facts…” a sentiment that undoubtedly rang true with students … and likely still does.

Bates’ hard work paid off. She won the election Superintendent of Public Instruction and went on to many achievements, from providing clean outhouses for schools to establishing a board to promote higher education. She died in 1921, and while she had no children of her own, no one can deny she was a mother to North Dakota education.

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


“Important Voices” by Susan E. Wefald