North Dakota: A 1915 Profile of Churches, Schools, Farms, Towns
About one out of three North Dakotans belongs to a church. Congregations are generally small, 225,800 members for 2,500 churches. Roman Catholics make up the largest religious group with 96,000 members; Lutherans have a membership of 72,000. Five other denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist and Episcopal) together have 40,400 members.
Because about 70 percent of the population is immigrant, just over half of church serves are conducted in a foreign language—13 different languages in all. Scandinavians and some Germans and Germans from Russia are Lutherans. And some Germans and Germans from Russia, along with Poles, the Irish, French-Canadians, and German-Hungarians, are Roman Catholic.
School attendance has been on the increase, although most students put in fewer than 80 days a year. About half of the state’s 120,000 publish school students attend the almost 5,000 one-room country schools. High schools have become more common; there are 144 classified high schools. Only 60 of them have more than 50 students. Less than 11 percent graduate and senior classes are quite small. More and more North Dakotans are attending the university and the colleges. There are now more than 3,000 enrollees and in the past five years, 2,400 have received college diplomas.
North Dakota remains overwhelmingly rural and agricultural. Only about 12 percent of the people live in towns with a population more than 2,500. The 75,000 farms average about 400 acres and generate most of the state’s wealth. Crops account for 75 percent of farm income, livestock 25 percent. Wheat remains the most important crop, accounting for two-thirds of crop income. Wheat is followed by flax, barley, oats, and rye. Livestock income is evenly divided among beef cattle, hogs, and dairy cows. Most farms are self sufficient and diversified. Families grow their own vegetables, have a milk cow or two, and raise pigs and chickens.
While the population growth of the state has slowed somewhat during the past five years (from 600,000 to 637,000), the towns have grown at a faster rate. Fargo, the largest, has nearly 20,000 residents and Grand Forks has passed 13,000. Minot is close to 9,000 and Bismarck over 6,000. Devils Lake, Dickinson, Mandan, Williston, and Valley City have surpassed 3,000 and are pushing toward 4,000.
The towns have vastly improved their services. New city buildings, parks, water and sewage systems, and lighting have greatly modernized the towns. Of special importance has been the establishment of modern medical facilities. Most towns have new hospitals, and most counties provide medical help for poor people at tax-supported county hospitals.
NORTH DAKOTA LIFE SINCE 1915
Although North Dakotans went through the tension of World War One, difficult times during the 1920s, and the horrible years of the Great Depression, in many ways life went on in normal ways. More students entered high schools and colleges. Sports activities went on uninterrupted and gave the people enjoyment in their leisure time. Radio programming provided folks with hour after hour of free entertainment. The advent of electrical appliances made life easier for townspeople; their counterparts on farms, however, would not enjoy electricity until after World War Two.
North Dakotans became more mobile. Although air service was available, flying was too expensive for nearly everyone; trains connected most towns within the state and with the larger world, providing an accessible network for travel. Improved roads, however, held the key to mobility. Henry Ford’s Model T became a common sight cross the nation and in North Dakota. Priced at $250, Model Ts numbered 15 million by the mid-1920s. It was the car that revolutionized American and North Dakota life. The farmer now had a vehicle that could be used for pleasure or, with a pickup truck attachment, for farm work. A. C. Townley used the Model T to travel throughout the state to organize the Nonpartisan League.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.