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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published October 31 2010

North Dakota teacher was on Hitler’s purge list

The co-founder of the largest distributorship of school supplies west of Minneapolis was placed on Hitler’s purge list during World War II.

Walter Lincoln Stockwell served as North Dakota superintendent of public instruction for four terms and was one of the founders of Fargo’s Northern School Supply in 1911. Stockwell was also active with the Masonic Lodge.

Stockwell was born Jan. 12, 1868, in Anoka, 10 miles north of Minneapolis. He graduated from high school at Anoka and then taught school there one year before enrolling at the University of Minnesota in 1885. He graduated in 1889.

Stockwell visited Fargo during the summer of 1889 hoping to land a teaching position. Henry Strong, a former legislator from St. Thomas, N.D., and director of the St. Thomas School District, offered Stockwell the job as school principal. Stockwell accepted and was principal for two years. Shortly after arriving, he joined the newly organized Masonic lodge.

In 1891, Stockwell was named superintendent of the Grafton school. During his 12 years there, the school was one of the best-run and most progressive in the state. In 1895, he helped organize and taught in the first summer session at the University of North Dakota. From 1895 to 1897, Stockwell was secretary of the North Dakota Education Association. In 1898, he was director of the National Education Association and was elected president of the NDEA in 1899.

While at Grafton, Stockwell was instrumental in obtaining the first public library and reading room in North Dakota in 1896. In 1902, he sent a letter to the Carnegie Foundation requesting money for a library building, and his request was approved.

One of the people Stockwell admired was his older brother, Silvanus, who was active in Minnesota politics. Walter became active in North Dakota as a Republican. In 1902, Joseph Devine, the state superintendent of public instruction, decided not to seek re-election, and Stockwell was persuaded to run. He ran against Democrat Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Stockwell easily won, and Stefansson went on to become a famous Arctic explorer.

When he took office, North Dakota had far too many small schools. During Stockwell’s eight years as state superintendent, the number of consolidated schools rose from one to 51. School funding was also inadequate. Stockwell persuaded the Legislature to increase funding during each legislative session that he was in office.

Another problem Stockwell faced was the short school year. In 1903, he got the Legislature to pass an act that “required a minimum of four months of school each year.” When he was successful in his bid for re-election in 1908, Stockwell became the first state executive to be elected to four terms. He decided not to seek another term in 1910.

Stockwell moved to Fargo. He and Fred V. Hutchinson, a former school principal in Enderlin and the Ransom County superintendent, founded founding Northern School Supply in 1911. The business was a success, and they formed branch offices in Great Falls, Mont., and Portland, Ore. They also acquired other smaller companies. In 1920, Stockwell and Hutchinson purchased the Hall and Robertson Hardware building at the corner of NP Avenue and Eighth Street in Fargo.

Besides running his school supply business, Stockwell was active in the Masons, earning the sobriquet “Mr. Master Mason of North Dakota.” Soon after arriving in Fargo, Stockwell became “grand secretary of the Grand Lodge (Fargo) of North Dakota,” a position he held until his death in 1950. He also held almost every exalted office offered by the Masons in a local, statewide and national capacity.

The Grand Lodge of North Dakota awarded Stockwell a stipend to travel to Europe during the last three months of 1936 to attend the installation of the Duke of York (later King George VI of England) as Grand Master Mason of Scotland.

While in Europe, Stockwell met with other Masons from France, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. Adolf Hitler had already seized the Mason lodges in Germany, blaming Masons for Germany’s loss during World War I. When the Nazis learned about Stockwell’s activities in Europe, he was placed on the “List of the Third Reich’s Enemies.”

In 1943, Stockwell was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of laws from the University of North Dakota. He died on Dec. 4, 1950. His life was best summed up by the Walsh County Record: “Walter Stockwell gave his life and his great ability to North Dakota and its institutions with an enthusiasm and unselfish devotion possessed by few men.”


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.