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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!

Emily Ergen's blog

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.

Documenting the Peace Corps in Bismarck and Kenya

We archivists have it all--the opportunity to share the spark of discovery with our patrons; the calming scent of old, pungent books; engaging in conversations and debates about historical minutiae; the comforting hum of microfilm as it speeds through the reader; erasing and writing with pencils; and behind-the-scenes access to history. All kinds of history...

So when brand-new, unheard of, undocumented (at least in our collections) historical nuggets come across the radar of our staff, we are surprised and intrigued to say the least. As the one-stop shop for records of North Dakotans and their activities, we are driven to collect these nuggets so they aren't lost.

Entrance to Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00005 Entrance to Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

Once such nugget was recently discovered, and we are in hot pursuit of any and all documentation for posterity: in 1968, Camp Lewis and Clark (now the United Tribes Technical College) in BISMARCK was a training site for Peace Corps volunteers who went on to direct agricultural and land settlement projects in KENYA. These recruits came from all over the country, including some of the top universities, and were immersed in rigorous Swahili language training. Swahili is an incredibly complex language, where the subject, object and verb are collapsed, the tense structure is unlike that of the English language, time is treated differently, and there are eight genders. Those are just a few of the nuances that make it an especially difficult language to learn.

Work crew at Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00006 Work crew, Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

Kenyan instructors had to devise effective teaching strategies to introduce this brand new language to Americans in a short amount of time. One of the immersion techniques was to ban the use of English from 6 a.m. until midnight. Those caught speaking English during those hours were eliminated from the program.

Lamb barbecue at Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00007 Lamb barbecue, Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

In addition, of the young men trained to carry out their responsibilities in Kenya, half focused on agriculture and the other half on establishing cooperative societies. The newly formed Republic of Kenya wanted to populate and use the fertile farmland that had recently been sold back to them by the British government. To this end, the Bismarck trainees honed skills related to range management, engineering, construction of water systems, and many others.

Land cooperative model

11325-00008 Land cooperative model developed by crew at Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

The three-month training took place in Bismarck, selected by planners because it was remote enough to eliminate distractions, and could also provide a culture shock to prepare the young men for life in a foreign country. One participant from the east coast described the training in Bismarck as an "exotic experience in its own right before we embarked on life in Kenya." The cross-cultural experience went both ways: for many Bismarck residents, the Kenyan instructors were the first African people they had met.

Four boys sitting on fence at rodeo

11325-00010 Alan Johnston with Edgar, Edmund and Larry Fasthorse at the rodeo during his stay at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, 1968

As part of the training, volunteers were sent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to live with families for two weeks. This was intended to provide an introduction to life as a visitor in a different community and culture.
There were several psychologists on staff, observing the volunteers and determining who was fit to move on to perform their duties. Several volunteers either quit the program or were eliminated. The motivations of volunteers varied widely; serving in the Peace Corps deferred, but did not exempt, these men from being drafted into the Vietnam War. One participant remembered sitting with his team in Kenya listening to the lottery numbers being announced over the radio, hoping his number would not be called. Several from the group were drafted and went on to serve in Vietnam.

Group of trainers and volunteers at Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00011 Trainers and volunteers at Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968

Another volunteer remembered the political atmosphere of summer 1968, particularly the politics surrounding protests at the Democratic National Convention. His stay with a family at Standing Rock was memorable, as they watched the protests on television together and discussed their views afterwards.

The participants that I spoke with remember their experiences fondly and vividly. The group maintains contact, and they are celebrating their 50 year reunion next summer. One member is a documentary filmmaker who is currently working on two films: one about the training experience and the other about the Peace Corps time and its context (Vietnam war, Kenya after independence).

The State Archives has worked with the members of the project. We are building a manuscript collection (MSS 11325) to document the unique role that Bismarck played in this international project. The collection currently includes a booklet and syllabus for trainees, as well as photographs taken at Camp Lewis and Clark, Standing Rock, and Kenya. The collection is available to the public, and we are actively seeking documentation to add to help preserve this fascinating story.