Archive for August 8th, 2017

One hundred years ago, South Dakota elected its first native-born governor; this governor, Peter Norbeck, proved to be one of the most progressive governors in South Dakota history. Norbeck was born in Vermillion, Clay County, on August 27, 1870. Though he did not receive an official degree, Norbeck attended the University of South Dakota in Vermillion for several terms and briefly taught school before marrying Lydia Anderson in 1900. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to Redfield, South Dakota, in 1901, where Peter and partner Charles Nicholson formed the company of Norbeck & Nicholson, which revolutionized artesian well drilling. He entered politics in 1908, serving in the state Senate until 1915; as lieutenant governor from 1915 to 1916; as the first native South Dakotan governor from 1917 to 1921; and as United States Senator from 1921 until his death from a heart attack on December 20, 1936, in Redfield.

During his tenure as a politician, Norbeck assisted in the endorsement of many state-owned agencies, including a cement plant that officially opened in 1923 from legislation passed in 1919 and remained opened until its sale in 2001; the 1918 enfranchisement of South Dakota women; the passage of legislation in his second gubernatorial term creating the Custer State Park in the Black Hills; the development of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial; and implemented an extensive road construction program throughout South Dakota.

The Norbeck Papers, located at the USD Archives, consist chiefly of correspondence, manuscript, and print materials relating to Norbeck’s political service as governor of South Dakota and as United States Senator, though the boxes are very loosely organized. The materials span the years 1896-1936, concentrating heavily on Norbeck’s tenure as U.S. Senator from 1921 to his death in 1936. Overall, the collection can be broken into three general categories: political correspondence, financial materials, and personal materials, including correspondence with members of Norbeck’s family, trips, and copies of speeches. Additional materials include a box of books, a box of photographs, an individually wrapped scrapbook, and 3 oversize maps.

The South Dakota Oral History Center, located on second floor of I. D. Weeks Library, has several oral histories that recall Peter Norbeck. Many of the interviews include a discussion of what South Dakota was like in the early 1900s and include topics such as Governor Norbeck, the flu epidemic of 1918, the Nonpartisan League, Prohibition, and the Norbeck-Nicholson firm in Redfield, South Dakota.

For more information, visit the Archives and Special Collections to look at the Peter Norbeck papers (MS 116) today – including the attached photographs of the first native-born South Dakota governor.



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