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Manuscripts by Subject - Politics / Government- #10083

Title: Theodore Nelson Papers

Dates: 1918 – 1924

Collection Number: 10083

Quantity: 1 foot

Abstract: Consists of records of the Independent Voters Association, including minutes, articles of incorporation, correspondence, reports, speeches, telegrams, petitions, transcripts of investigations and debates, political ephemera, drafts of legislative bills, news releases, newspaper clippings, publications, and a subscription list of The Independent; and records of the Lincoln Republican League and the Doyle for Governor Campaign Organization. The I.V.A. records relate primarily to Townleyism, the 1921 recall, Nonpartisan League, the Langer for Governor campaign (1920), and the investigation of the Home Building Association and other state industries.

Provenance: The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired this collection from Theodore Nelson in January 1959. Gregory Camp prepared the inventory to the Theodore Nelson Papers in October, 1984.

Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights: Copyrights to materials in this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs. Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code and an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.

Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection number and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnotes and bibliographic references.


Theodore G. Nelson was born in Olmstead County, Minnesota on January 26, 1880. He attended the Redwing Seminary in Minnesota and the Mayville Normal School in North Dakota. Nelson had a number of career interests, as is evidenced in this selective work history:  Assistant county superintendent of schools, justice of the peace, assessor, school clerk, and later, the head of the Independent Voter's Association (1918-1923). He married Eva Hulgren in 1916 and together they raised seven children: Thelmer, Norwald, Harold, Merlin, J. Manning, Gertrude and Orlinda.

Nelson is best remembered for his leading role in opposing the Non-partisan League (NPL) in North Dakota, as head of the Independent Voters Association (IVA) between 1918 and 1923. During these exciting, turbulent years, Nelson spearheaded the attack on the NPL in general and A. C. Townley in particular, branding them as "unscrupulous, self-seeking, tax dodgers, most of them radical socialists," who planned "to siphon into the pockets of their  ilk as much as possible of the fruits of the toil of honest men and women."  The climax of the showdown between Nelson's IVA and Townley's NPL was the election in 1921 of Governor Lynn Frazier, Attorney General William Lemke and Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor John Hagen.
In addition to his political life, Nelson was active in a farmer's cooperative in Salem, North Dakota and a member of a local Grange Society.  Nelson was also and active member of the Sons of Norway and the American Society of Equity, the latter designed to achieve fair grain prices for wheat farmers.  Before coming to North Dakota, Nelson was active in San Bernadino, California as a poultry farmer and a member of a real estate firm. Theodore G.  Nelson died on June 26, 1961 at the age of 81.

Oregon Statesman, June 30, 1961
Capitol Journal (Salem, OR), December 16, 1957
Capitol's Who's Who for Oregon, 1948-1949.


The Theodore G. Nelson papers date from 1918 to 1924, occupy one foot, and deal almost exclusively with the IVA-NPL struggle. Included are speeches by major participants, letters from supporters and detractors, minutes of meetings, and a small collection of IVA and NPL propaganda.

The IVA material is the most plentiful in this small collection. Although often official in nature, personal letters to Nelson concerning the prospects of the 1921 recall abound, and, to a lesser extent, petitions for the recall.  Also of interest is a short history of the IVA written in 1918 giving a short background of the organization with a statement of purpose. The IVA and NPL ephemera consists of campaign pamphlets, tracts, posters, and a fabric pro-recall badge.

The NPL material is limited to a few speeches and angry letters to the Independent Weekly of Fargo for its anti-Townley stance in editorials and political cartoons. One file contains samples of the newspaper accounts.

After the famous 1921 recall, material in this collection tapers off  sharply and is limited to a few small folders concerning the 1922 and 1924  elections and a 1923 map showing a county-by-county breakdown of voting  patterns, as well as a limited amount of material concerning farm loans.


Box 1:
1 History of the IVA: Doyle for Governor 1918
2 IVA anti-Townley propaganda 1918-1920
3 Anti-Townley/NPL speeches 1919-1920
4 Minutes of IVA meetings 1918-1920
5 Petitions for Independent Candidates 1918-1920
6 VA instructions - financing elections and division of work 1918-1921
7 Letters to T. Nelson indicating that a recall may not succeed 1921
8 Petitions, official IVA drafts, some letters advocating a recall 1919, 1921
9 Constitutional Government League of America letters to Nelson 1920-1921
10 Plan of action and summary sheets for election 1921
11 Pro-Townley material: letters, propaganda, etc. 1920-1921
12 Miscellaneous recall material 1920-1921

Box 2:
1 Various speeches, both pro and con, concerning the IVA and NPL 1918-1922
2 Townley speeches 1918-1919
3 Legal hearings and cases concerning the IVA and NPL 1919-1922           
4 Independent Weekly of Fargo 1920-1922           
5 Various newspaper clippings of recall 1919-1922
6 IVA election ticket; general information on candidates 1922
7 State officials, election maps 1921-1923
8 IVA general information on candidates, letters, IVA memos, etc.  1924      
9 Miscellaneous documents concerning loans made to farmers 1922

10083-00001 Theodore G. Nelson portrait 1906 age 27
10083-00002 Theodore G. Nelson portrait 1921 age 41

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