Created By: North Dakota State University
William Frederick Lemke, US Congressman and Union Party Candidate for President in 1936 (FDR won)
William Lemke led a rather fascinating life as a fringe politician. He was affiliated with North Dakota's Nonpartisan League, led by former Socialist party members. The NPL dominated state government by 1918 with ideas to improve state services, obtain full suffrage for women, and move towards state ownership of banks, mills and elevators, and insurances.
The NPL left an indelible mark on the state. The Bank of North Dakota at Bismarck, opened in 1919, has become a large and powerful economic force; the State Mill and Elevator at Grand Forks, completed in 1922, provided a market for grain and a source of feed and seed; the state hail insurance program benefitted many farmers until its elimination in the 1960s. Perhaps most importantly, the NPL established an insurgent tradition in the state that blurred party lines for four decades, and both the Nonpartisan League and the Independent Voter's Association (another third party group) elevated a generation of leaders to power. (2)
Following his association with the defunct NPL, Lemke disappeared from politics for a while. It is said that the Great Depression offered him a new rise to office. Folks recalled he'd fought for the farmer before and he was elected to represent North Dakota in the United States House of Representatives in 1933 until 1941, and again in 1943 until his death in 1950.
Lemke was a man who wanted to protect farmers but often came across as stubborn and unrefined to those in Washington. One reporter described him as “a skinny little guy with a puckering squint of a smile, and a casting director would type him for a hick…He went to Yale…and went around more colleges than an old-time tramp athlete and he is positively no yokel.” (3) He did pass the Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act of 1934, co-authored by long-time fellow ND politician and college friend, Lynn Frazier. The Act allowed farmers forced to declare bankruptcy to remain on their farms.
“Riverside Cemetery: Fargo.” Accessed October 14, 2016. http://www.riversidefargo.com/history.php.
“Nonpartisan League - Summary of North Dakota History - State Historical Society of North Dakota.” Accessed December 4, 2016. http://history.nd.gov/ndhistory/npl.html.
Blackorby, Edward C. “William Lemke: Agrarian Radical and Union Party Presidential Candidate.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 49, no. 1 (1962): 67–84. doi:10.2307/1889466.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Walk with the Dead: Fargo's Riverside Cemetery