Red Scare at the College
Charges of Communist activity at North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo surfaced in the spring of 1935. In an address to the Fargo Kiwanis Club, attorney Eli Weston accused groups at the school of demonstrating “all the earmarks and resemblances of communism.” He said a recent local strike was controlled by communists, and faculty members had advised and supported the strikers. Weston said communism was being spread by faculty and students at North Dakota schools.
The faculty of the college pointed out that there were very few true Communists in the United States, and most of them were in New York City. That left a small number for the rest of the country, and certainly not very many for North Dakota. The faculty countered the accusations by saying that their accusers were motivated by fear of open discussions and criticism of the old order on college campuses. One staff member said he called Weston and asked for a definition of communism, but did not get one.
In May, E.D. Lum, publisher of the Richland County Farmer-Globe in Wahpeton, repeated Weston’s accusations at a meeting of the Sons of the American Revolution. He said that fully half the faculty of the Iowa State Agricultural College were Communists. He said conditions at the North Dakota Agricultural College were very similar, calling the school a “hotbed of communist activity.” Lum’s newspaper was joined by others across the state demanding a full investigation.
John Shepperd, president of the school, refuted the accusations. He called Lum’s announcement “irresponsible.” John West, president of UND, agreed. West said that there were absolutely no facts to bolster accusations of communism at either North Dakota school.
On this date in 1935, it was announced that the North Dakota Board of Administration had opened an official investigation into the rumors of communism at state schools. This was in response to the outcry of newspaper editorials. None of the accusations were confirmed.
The country was distracted from the issue a few years later by World War II, but the accusations of communist activity at the Ag College and the University arose again during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Once again, none of the accusations of were confirmed.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
The Fargo Forum:
“No Communism at A.C. Say Faculty And Alumni.” 25 April, 1935
“Lum Charges Communism Tinging N.D.A.C., ‘U’; Shepperd, West Deny It.” 19 May, 1935.
“’Red’ Activity at A.C. Probed.” 28 May, 1935