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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Linda Warfel Slaughter: Bismarck Pioneer and Powerhouse

Did you know that the first Historical Society in Bismarck was founded by women?

Linda Slaughter recognized the importance of archiving the early records of Bismarck and began personally collecting and preserving important papers. In 1889, she organized the Ladies' Historical Society of Bismarck and North Dakota and served as president until its 1895 merger with the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Slaughter negotiated for the rights of women to vote and hold office in the new organization as part of the merger, and served as the first vice president of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Did you know the first woman to vote at a national convention for a presidential candidate was a Bismarck resident?

In 1892 Slaughter attended the Populist Party convention, becoming the first woman to vote in a national convention for a presidential candidate.

Wow! Linda Slaughter sounds incredible! Who was she?

Linda Warfel Slaughter was an impressive pioneer, with a unique and effective blend of determination, vision, strength and character. Throughout her life, Slaughter accomplished many firsts: she was the first teacher, the first superintendent of schools in Burleigh County (which made her the first woman elected to office), and the first postmistress of Bismarck (in fact, the law was changed in 1874 to permit married women to occupy the position of postmaster). Slaughter started the first Sunday school from her home (a tent) in 1872, and opened the Bismarck Academy the following year, which became the first public school in Bismarck. In 1881, she crafted a bill, creating a Board of Education.

Letter from the Post Office Department, Appointment Office, to Linda Slaughter on May 8, 1875.

Appointment letter from Postmaster General, 1875.

An accomplished historian, poet, and songwriter, Slaughter published widely. Her serial, "Fortress to Farm," depicted life on the frontier post at Fort Rice, her family's arrival at Carleton City (the river landing below what is now Bismarck), the beginning of Edwinton, Dakota Territory, and the expansion of Bismarck. She served as a Washington correspondent for several years for the Bismarck Tribune. During that time, she developed a close friendship with Susan B. Anthony. Throughout her writing career, Linda Slaughter published everything from historical articles to parodies, poems, eulogies, and political serials. Slaughter wrote the words to the North Dakota state song in 1902.

State Song for North Dakota by Mrs. Linda W. Slaughter - Bismarck, North Dakota - 1902 - All Rights Reserved

State Song of North Dakota, words by Linda Slaughter, 1902.

Slaughter was a charter member of The Daughters of the American Revolution, and held office in the National Women's Suffrage Association (serving as state vice-president in 1888 and as a member of the executive committee in 1889). She was involved in the creation of the Bismarck Women's Christian Temperance Union and served as its first president. Slaughter was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C., in 1895.

Given the importance of Linda Slaughter to the founding and development of Bismarck, we were thrilled to add additional papers to the collection of Linda (Warfel) and Benjamin Slaughter Family (MSS 10003) in 2018. The additions to the collection I am most excited about are more of Linda's correspondence records and family photographs.

Letter to an editor by Linda Slaughter

This letter to an unidentified editor is a great example of Slaughter's correspondence style. Slaughter was a truth-teller:  she knew the facts, had the skill to relay them effectively, and the courage to educate those who were misinformed.

As a whole, the collection documents Linda's life and activities, and to a small extent, her husband's, daughters Linnie Lee (Mrs. Albin) Hedstrom, and Jessamine (Mrs. Arthur) Burgum, sister Aidee, granddaughter Hazel (Hedstrom) Eastman, grandson Ted Hedstrom, and great-granddaughter Virginia (Eastman) Dullum. The collection also includes family history and genealogy information, newspaper clippings about the Slaughters, papers of Albin Hedstrom (Burleigh County sheriff), Allan Eastman (Bismarck Tribune writer), and Allan’s parents Phillip K. and Maude Eastman (store owners in Wilton).

Linda W. and Dr. Benjamin F. Slaughter family portrait, circa 1876

Linda W. and Dr. Benjamin F. Slaughter family portrait, circa 1876.

If you are interested in learning more about Linda Slaughter, feel free to come and read her writing at the State Archives. There are also a lot of excellent articles online. Of special note are resources created by the North Dakota Studies program at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

A Day without History: How your personal history connects with a larger historical narrative

Imagine waking up each morning with amnesia. No recollection of what you like and don’t like. No memory of what matters to you. Do you practice yoga or cook a big breakfast for your family? Do you go to church or pack for a vacation? Do you have a random job or are you on a specific career path? How would you go about your day if you didn’t have the accumulation of personal knowledge that makes you “you?” This is what it would be like to wake up one day without the identity our personal history provides us. Imagine a day without history.

Opened book with an old photo on it

Our personal belongings help tell the story of who we are individually and how we are part of larger communities. Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash

Everything has a history, including us. Your individual story, as well as that of your family, your community, and your country influences every decision you make each and every day. Experiences and memories serve as the building blocks of our identities, but our story is much more than that. It is an accumulation of who our family members are; our relationships with relatives; the family stories we’ve heard; our genealogies. These all contribute to what we know about our personal and collective history. How our family history fits into a larger community history and a larger historical narrative is just the beginning.

Rows of old photos

Family photos and other documents are an important source of the historical record. Photo by Mr Cup / Fabien Barral on Unsplash

In order to understand all the ways history affects our lives, it is important to follow the work of historians who work in colleges, museums, and other organizations. By reading the books they publish, listening to the stories they tell, and attending programs and exhibits they develop, anyone can learn how to tap into a deeper understanding of this history. Studying history helps us understand not only how the past affects the present and future, but also the larger picture of how society works. It tells the story of the human experience and helps us understand our individual purpose. History tells the story of our own lives. It helps provide us with an identity.

Staff at the State Historical Society of North Dakota is closely involved in this important work throughout the state. We do research, write papers, publish books and articles, develop exhibits and programs, document personal histories, and teach other people how to do this work themselves. We can talk to students about the work we do, and we can show you how to come to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum or some of our state historic sites and do your own research. We want to help you discover all the fascinating and unique stories that together make up the history of North Dakota.

Old books

The work of historians through books, exhibits, and programs tells a story about our world that connects us all to each other and makes history relevant to us all. Photo by Fred Pixlab on Unsplash

History is all around us. It helps anchor us within our larger community and country. It connects us to one another. It is inseparable from who we are as people. The work of history professionals, including those of us working at the State Historical Society, can help you better understand your own personal story. The study of history is relevant to our daily lives. Just try to imagine who you would be without it.