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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published October 09 2011

As I recall: Fargo-Moorhead Open Forum brought famous perspectives

When the Fargo-Moorhead Open Forum was deactivated by its board of directors in 1967, it had been an educational presence in the community since 1930.

What had been known as the “Good Will Committee” became the Fargo-Moorhead Open Forum in 1933 with an executive committee made up of a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.

Their purpose was to present programs to the public and to engage authoritative speakers on national and international issues.

Originally it was part of the U.S. Department of Education’s program for adult study and received funding from the United States Department of Education as well as from the Carnegie Foundation. But eventually community contributions became the primary source of funding.

In 1933, the Open Forum’s board of directors began with eight members. By the mid-1950s, there were 40 members representing every aspect of the community.

Modeled after the historical New England town meeting, an Open Forum meeting consisted of a speaker followed by an open discussion.

Officers of the group represented a cross-section of the community. Some of the presidents were Fargo attorneys Norman Tenneson and Mart Vogel; Fargo Mayor Murray A. Baldwin; businessmen Harold Bangert, Joe Cohen and Emanuel Sgutt; educator Catherine Cater; Extension Service Editor John Burnham; physician Dr. G. Wilson Hunter; and Father Gerald Potter.

Speakers came from all over the world, and judging by the attendance records, the mission of the Open Forum was successful. Between 1931 and 1959, 72,000 people attended the gatherings, averaging 2,500 each year. The largest attendance figures were between 1950 and 1957, when 34,000 people came to the meetings.

Those years of its greatest success was probably due to the interesting variety of lecturers brought to the Open Forums.

Among the subjects were: British politician and member of Parliament Christopher Pagen, atheist John Loftus, historian and author Stringfellow Barr, North Dakota Sen. Milton R. Young, Rabbi Yehuda Harry Levin, Greek Minister of Information Andre Michalopoulos, journalist and author Carl Rowan, French diplomat Roger Seydoux, Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, surgeon Dr. Charles Mayo, Swedish ambassador Eric Boheman, Norwegian ambassador Wilhelm M. Morgenstierne, Indian ambassador Gaganvihari Lallubhai Mehta, Great Britain Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence Sir Robert Scott and British ambassador Sir Oliver Franks.

But the person who drew the largest audience was Eleanor Roosevelt, when the one-time first lady spoke at the North Dakota Agricultural College’s field house in 1953. I well remember her even though I was only 13 years old.

I also remember Carl Rowen, Roger Baldwin and Andre Michalopoulos and Stafford Barff, both of whom came to a reception at my parents’ home after their talks.

The Open Forum of Fargo-Moorhead passed from the local scene in 1967 when the board determined that local colleges and universities had assumed the role of the Open Forum.

In my next column, I’ll write about Joseph W. Cohen, who for many years was the guiding force in the Fargo-Moorhead Open Forum.


Sources: Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University,

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Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com.