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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published July 10 2011

Eriksmoen: Devine first to promote North Dakota tourism

The first man to officially promote tourism in North Dakota also holds two interesting national distinctions. Joseph Devine was the first sitting governor, in a non-term limit state, to run for the position of lieutenant governor in the next election, and he was also the first man to lose in a general election to a woman as administrator of a statewide office. Devine was North Dakota’s lieutenant governor when Governor Frank Briggs died on August 9, 1898. Devine then took over the reins of office, but the North Dakota Republican Convention had convened three weeks earlier endorsing Frederic Fancher as their gubernatorial candidate in the 1898 election. Devine agreed to once again run as the Republicans’ candidate for lieutenant governor.

In 1892, Devine had been selected to be the North Dakota Republican candidate for the office of superintendent of public instruction. In the general election, he was opposed by Laura Eisenhuth, who had received the endorsement of both the Democratic and Populist parties. Devine lost by less than 2,000 votes. Eisenhuth became the first woman elected as administrator of a statewide office.

Devine’s life had been dedicated to education as a teacher and county superintendent. In 1900, he was elected superintendent of public instruction for the state of North Dakota. Devine later served as superintendent of the Youth Correctional Center in Mandan and as the North Dakota Commissioner of Immigration.

Joseph McMurray Devine was born March 15, 1861, in Wheeling, W.Va., to Hugh E. and Jane (McMurray) Devine. While growing up, Joseph delivered newspapers and assisted his father in the family-owned landscape and florist business. After graduation from high school, he attended the University of West Virginia, graduating in 1881.

In 1884, Joseph moved to Dakota Territory and “filed on land in what is now LaMoure County but farmed for only a short time.” He taught school and, in 1886, was elected as superintendent of schools for LaMoure County. In 1889, he became president of the North Dakota State Education Association and, the following year, was named state educational lecturer. One of Devine’s biggest issues was free text books for all students, and in 1892, he headed up the Committee of Free Text Books.

As an active member of the Republican Party (GOP) in North Dakota, he agreed to be the party’s candidate for superintendent of public instruction when the incumbent John Ogden didn’t seek re-election in 1892.

Besides free text books, Devine pushed for “proper methods of instruction” and for greater responsibilities of parents. He saw parents’ disinterest as “one of the great evils of our schools.” On September 24, he wrote, “If parents are remiss in their duties, careless and indifferent to their children’s welfare, then the law should be vigorously enforced.”

Although the GOP was clearly the dominant party in North Dakota during early statehood, they fell into disfavor in the early 1890s. In 1892, the Populist Party was very popular, and together with the Democrats, they nominated a full slate of candidates. Laura Eisenhuth, the superintendent of schools for Foster County, was endorsed by both the Democratic and Populist parties, and in the general election, she defeated Devine 19,078 to 17,343.

Despite losing the election, Devine continued to become a tireless worker for the Republican Party. In 1896, he became a delegate to the Republican National Convention in St. Louis and served as a vice-president of the convention. Later that year, Devine was chosen as the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. In the November election, Frank Briggs was elected governor, and Devine was elected lieutenant governor.

Soon after assuming office, Briggs noticed his energy level was diminishing and went to see a doctor. After an examination, the physician diagnosed that the governor was suffering from tuberculosis. Attempting to regain his health, Briggs spent much of his time in Arizona and California, and most of the duties of governor fell to Devine. On July 20, 1898, the North Dakota Republican Convention met in Fargo and nominated Frederick Fancher, the state’s insurance commissioner as the party’s candidate for governor because, “Briggs’ health stood in the way of his re-nomination.” Devine was passed over because he was considered too progressive for the McKenzie machine. Fancher was “a steadfast disciple of political boss Alexander McKenzie.” Being a loyal Republican, Devine once again accepted the nomination as candidate for lieutenant governor. On August 8, Briggs died, and Devine was sworn in as governor one week later.

After serving his second term as lieutenant governor, Devine again sought the position of state superintendent of public instruction for North Dakota and was elected in 1900. He did not seek re-election in 1902 and moved to Minot, where he established a real estate business. From 1905 to 1911, Devine also served as chairman of the Progressive-Republican Party in North Dakota.

In 1914, Governor Louis B. Hanna appointed Devine as superintendent of the North Dakota State Reform School in Mandan. As administrator of the school, Devine thought the school’s name needed to be more positive and, in 1920, he changed it to the North Dakota Training School. It is now called the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center. Devine served as superintendent until 1923, when he was appointed North Dakota Commissioner of Immigration by Governor Ragnvold Nestos.

As immigration commissioner, Devine continued the push to entice people to move to North Dakota. However, he added something new – promoting tourists to visit the state. Devine attended state fairs throughout the Midwest, putting on exhibits. He also printed up thousands of brochures and gave national radio presentations extolling the virtues of North Dakota.

After the Great Depression and the tragic drought of the early 1930s, Governor William Langer called for severe cutbacks in state programs. On February 11, 1933 the legislature abolished the position of immigration commission. On August 31, 1938, Joseph Devine died at his home in Mandan.


“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.