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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published August 31 2013

DId you know that: Rosamond Thoe's three unique views of ND government

While growing up during the early 20th century on a farm near Devils Lake, N.D., Rosamond Thoe didn’t realize she would one day be looking at the North Dakota Senate from three very different perspectives.

From 1941 to 1952, she was the wife of state Sen. Harry O’Brien; from 1953 to 1960, she was Sen. Rosamond O’Brien; and from 1967 to 1971, she was the wife of state Sen. Kenneth Lowe.

Rosamond Mabel Thoe was born April 26, 1904, on a farm between Devils Lake and Minnewauken, N.D., to Halvor and Jennie (Sampson) Thoe.

Growing up, there were no female legislators. In fact, women didn’t even have the right to vote. Nevertheless, Rosamond became interested in politics because her father, Halvor, was actively involved in the Republican Party.

She graduated from high school in Devils Lake in 1922 and took a course at the state normal college in Valley City (now Valley City State University) to become a teacher. For the next three years, Rosamond taught at a one-room country school in central Ramsey County.

While teaching there, she met Harry O’Brien, who had grown up on a large farm near the school. After serving in World War I, Harry had returned to assist his father on the family farm.

The couple married on Dec. 31, 1923.

Harry decided to pursue a profession and attended the Dunwoody Institute, a vocational school in Minneapolis, where he studied journalism. After receiving his certification, Harry returned home, finding employment at the Devils Lake World. In 1927, he resigned from the World, and he and his wife toured Europe.

When they returned to North Dakota, Harry began working as a linotype operator for the Bottineau Courant. Rosamond frequently visited the Courant, where Harry trained her on the linotype.

When the Walsh County Press became available in 1930, the O’Briens acted quickly, taking out a $15,000 loan to purchase the paper.

On June 1, they moved to Park River, where the paper was published, and rented an apartment above the First State Bank for their new home. “Relatives and friends were skeptical” of this venture during the onset of the Great Depression, but Harry and Rosamond were determined to make it succeed.

In a short time, Harry established a reputation for his wit and wisdom. In the Press, he wrote a personal column titled “Read ‘Em and Weep,” and excerpts were frequently published in Colliers, the Saturday Evening Post, Readers Digest, Life and other national publications.

In 1934, he was persuaded to run for the North Dakota House and was easily elected to represent the western portion of Walsh County in District 3. He won re-election in 1936 and 1938.

Ed Lian, one of the very few Democrats in the state Senate, announced he wouldn’t run for re-election in 1940 in District 3. Fearing the loss of this seat, Democratic party leaders persuaded Harry to run, and he was successful. He was re-elected in 1944 and 1948.

While he was in Bismarck, Rosamond continued to put out the Press, “operating the linotype machine, laying out the paper, doing the editing and bookkeeping,” and writing her own column titled “Shortstops.”

Harry and Rosamond didn’t have any children, but they took in a number of foster children, and she bore most of the responsibility in raising them.

In 1952, Harry began experiencing serious health issues and decided not to seek a fourth term. At the nominating convention, he placed Rosamond’s name to run as his successor. She later claimed that she “was not aware of this until she read it in the morning paper.”

In November, Rosamond “was elected by a comfortable margin” and became the second woman to ever serve in the North Dakota Senate. She was assigned to the Natural Resources and the Industry and Business committees.

Rosamond’s first year in the Senate, 1953, was very trying and stressful. There was only one other Democrat, Hugh Work, and only one other woman, Agnes Geelan. That year, one of her foster children, Harold Hanson, drowned, and her husband, Harry, died.

In 1956, Rosamond ran for re-election and received 60 percent of the vote. That same year, she sold the Press to her nephew, Henry Kelly, who had run the paper while she was in Bismarck. During her second term, Rosmond began dating Kenneth Lowe, a Republican House member who was a movie projectionist from Grand Forks.

In 1959, they married, and since she would be moving to Grand Forks, Rosamond resigned from the Senate.

In 1961, Rosamond was appointed state chair of the Dakota Territory Centennial Commission, and in 1963, she founded the Grand Forks Woman’s Club.

Kenneth Lowe was elected to the state Senate in 1966 and died in office in 1971.

Rosamond O’Brien Lowe died on Feb. 6, 1974.

“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.