This is part two of a three part series written by our visiting scholar, Stacy Cordery, in which she explores Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 visit to Fargo, North Dakota.
As part of his stopover in Fargo, former President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone at the brand-new Carnegie Library on the campus of Fargo College. Ten thousand people endured a steady rain to hear Roosevelt proclaim the virtues of education—in and out of the classroom—in a speech that reiterated the principles of his Square Deal philosophy. “The nation’s first consideration should be the average man’s welfare,” he asserted firmly. By 1910, Roosevelt had moved to the left of his Republican colleagues, and in the months leading up to his third-party presidential bid in 1912, he would preach just such a gospel, calling for leveling the playing field and curbing the power of “robber barons” and dishonest politicians.
The hour-long talk on Fargo College’s campus began with Theodore Roosevelt’s paean to North Dakota and how, according to the Fargo Forum, it put “the finishing touches on his career.” In retrospect, he felt his time roping and riding in the big western state was “his post-graduate course.” Roosevelt would be moved to even greater claims about North Dakota’s influence on his life later in the day.
But for the Fargo College address, he returned to education as a topic. “One of the most important assets of the nation is the education of its young men and women,” he noted, and emphasized that education was not worthwhile, as the Forum paraphrased, “unless it is productive and adds to the sum of the nation’s achievements.” Then, demonstrating his own unique blend of the academic and the pragmatic, Roosevelt scooped up mortar with a trowel and affixed the cornerstone himself. “He may not have had a union card,” the newspaper observed, but he showed “all the deftness and skill of a veteran stone mason.” College students began the hurrahs and thousands more joined in at the good-natured gesture by “the First Man of America.”
That cornerstone remained where Theodore Roosevelt placed it after Fargo College was closed in 1922, and even after the Carnegie Library was bulldozed in 1964. It resides now in the museum run by the Cass County Historical Society at Bonanzaville, U.S.A., in West Fargo. Today there is a plaque on the site where the college once stood, commemorating the time when North Dakota’s most famous adopted son returned to dedicate what he considered one of the world’s most supremely important buildings: a library.
Resources: “Corner Stone of the New Library is Placed,” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, September 5, 1910, p. 1.
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