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The 1918-1919 Influenza in Minnesota

By Molly Riley & Elaine Settergren

Victory Celebration Postponed in Minneapolis due to Influenza - Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 13, 1918.Outbreaks of influenza (flu), poliomyelitis (polio), diphtheria, and typhoid fever have all impacted Minnesota, especially in the earlier days of statehood. Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, many have wondered about the state’s response to the influenza outbreak of 1918-1919.  

During that outbreak, the first case of flu was discovered in Minnesota in September 1918 and cases peaked during the fall of 1918. In The People’s Heath: A History of Public Health in Minnesota to 1948, author Philip D. Jordan chronicles how flu impacted the state.   

He describes measures taken then that echo our current circumstances in many ways. In 1918, large public gatherings in churches and theaters were prohibited for a time, and health officials strongly recommended schools close, though not all schools did. Dr. Henry Bracken, the head of the State Board of Health, ordered that flu patients could not ride trains without wearing a mask. According to Jordan, public places in Minneapolis, like saloons and soda fountains, remained closed during Armistice Day celebrations in November. 

The Legislature did not meet in 1918 because they only met in odd-numbered years in those days. In 1919, the Legislature met in regular session from January 7 to April 24. Although the Legislature passed a few bills related to public health during the 1919 session (see Laws of Minnesota 1919, chap. 38 and chap. 479), we haven’t been able to determine if those laws were passed in direct response to the flu outbreak. Likewise, there is little reported in the paper about any direct actions taken by the Legislature in 1919 to address the outbreak. In those days, it seems to have been more common for local health departments, sometimes in conjunction with the State Board of Health, to play a leading role in responding to public health issues.

These sources offer a deeper dive into how the influenza outbreak of 1918-1919 impacted Minnesota: 

Legislative Proceedings in Unusual Circumstances

By Molly Riley, Elaine Settergren, and Elizabeth Lincoln

Senate Floor Session showing social distancing, April 7, 2020A few years ago we wrote about the rare occasions the Legislature has met in session outside a State Capitol building. Minnesota has had three Capitol buildings, all located in St. Paul, since the first was built in 1853. In 1881, after the first State Capitol caught fire, the Legislature met in Market House in downtown St. Paul. During the most recent renovations to our current Capitol, the House and Senate held floor sessions in committee hearing rooms in the State Office Building and the Minnesota Senate Building, reconfigured into chambers to suit the needs of a floor session. 

While we haven't found any evidence that the House or Senate have ever held floor sessions outside the city of St. Paul, the Legislature has held committee and informational hearings outside St. Paul many times over the years, including this year. The House and Senate have also held mini-sessions throughout the state.

In all these cases - floor sessions, committee hearings, informational hearings, mini-sessions - participation has largely been an in-person affair. But as the Legislature seeks to adhere to social distancing guidelines in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this session has looked much different.

The pandemic has prompted unusual House and Senate floor sessions this week. Senators rotated into the chamber in small groups to cast votes on a bill. The House allowed members to participate remotely by phone. It has not been unusual to see legislators and staff wearing face masks.

And last week the House of Representatives held its first hearing primarily through "remote participation" by both legislators and testifiers. The newly established House Rule 10.01 makes this possible, and the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee was the first House committee to hold a meeting since the rule was adopted.

The Senate has also been holding meetings remotely. The Senate’s COVID-19 Response Working Group has scheduled several meetings to discuss aspects of the global pandemic, using videoconferencing software to facilitate and broadcast those meetings. This week the Senate adopted SR229, which will allow for remote committee hearings to take place in that chamber as well.

Photo credit: David J. Oakes

COVID-19 Guide

By Betsy Haugen

The Library has put together a new Minnesota Issues guide to state and legislative action regarding the coronavirus disease. To address this quickly evolving situation, the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Walz have implemented a variety of measures to address the impacts of the disease on the lives of Minnesotans. The guide compiles a brief history of action, provides statutory references, and links to relevant reports and news items. We are updating our COVID-19 guide daily.

What is the History of Presidential Primaries in Minnesota?

By Robbie LaFleur, updated by Elaine Settergren

Stack of Newspaper Clippings

The Minnesota Legislature has passed a presidential preference primary law four times; three were repealed. Four presidential preference primaries have been held: 1916, 1952, 1956, 1992, and soon a fifth will be held: 2020.

1913

Governor Eberhart promoted the presidential primary in his inaugural speech in 1913, and the Legislature passed a law that year, Chapter 449.

1916

The primary was held on March 14 (election results). Winners: Democrat, Woodrow Wilson; Prohibition, William Sulzer; Republican, Albert B. Cummins

Two days before the election, the Duluth News Tribune wrote about the upcoming contest, including "The crazy quilt presidential primary has befuddled everybody from the rummy to the justices of the Supreme Court."

In 1947, former Morning Star Tribune reporter Charles Cheney recalled the primary in "The Story of Minnesota Politics: Highlights of Half a Century of Political Reporting." "Minnesota tried the presidential primary once, in 1916, and that was enough. It was a lot of grief and expense.... The 1917 Legislature repealed the presidential primary freak, and few tears were shed."

1917

The law was repealed, Chapter 133.

1949

A presidential primary was established by Chapter 433, approved April 14.

1952

The primary was held on March 18 (election results). Winners: DFL, Hubert Humphrey; Republican, Harold Stassen

G. Theodore Mitau wrote about the primary in his 1970 version of the textbook Politics in Minnesota. "Stassen had led in the Minnesota Republican presidential primary, and most of the state's convention delegates were officially pledged to him. But a write-in campaign for Dwight D. Eisenhower, launched just a few days before the state primary, had resulted in what came to be called the "Minnesota miracle." With almost none of the advance publicity Stassen had enjoyed, and without the approval of the national Eisenhower organization, the campaign was phenomenally successful; 108,692 voters took the trouble to write in Eisenhower's name on the ballot, while Stassen, whose name was printed thereon, received only 20,000 more votes, 129,076."

1956

The primary was held on March 20 (election results). Winners: Democrat, Estes Kefauver; Republican, Dwight Eisenhower

Minnesota Politics and Government, a 1999 textbook by Daniel Elazar, Virgina Gray and Wyman Spano, explained: "In the 1956 presidential primary the leaders of the DFL tried to deliver the state for Adlai Stevenson by virtually dictating to the rank-and-file DFLers that they vote for him in the name of party unity. The spontaneous reaction of the voters was to give Estes Kefauver the victory, a message pointed toward Hubert Humphrey."  See also: "Primary History '56 Free-for-All Contest Had it All," by Jim Parsons, Star Tribune, Jan. 19, 1992.

Entire chapters were devoted to this primary race in Coya Come Home: A Congresswoman's Journey by Gretchen Urnes Beito (Los  Angeles: Pomegranate Press, 1990) and Hubert Humphrey: A Biography by Carl Solberg (St. Paul: Borealis Books, 2003).

1959

The presidential primary law was repealed, Chapter 67

Iric Nathanson wrote about the 1952 and 1956 primaries in a 2008 MinnPost article, "Political Mischief: Minnesota's 1950s Experiment with Presidential Primaries." About the repeal, he wrote, "The mainly Republican conservatives controlled the state Senate, and they moved first to vote repeal with only minimal debate. But repeal was more controversial in the House, where the liberal caucus, composed of DFLers, was in control. There, a repeal vote was delayed when primary supporters, many of whom had backed Kefauver in 1956, pushed unsuccessful to conduct one more direct primary in 1960 before scuttling the 1949 law entirely. But now DFL leaders were concerned that a 1960 primary, which permitted cross-over voting, could embarrass Hubert Humphrey and his bid for the 1960 presidential nomination." 

1989

A presidential primary bill, authored by Sen. Ron Dicklich, passed the Senate 48-16, and then the House 117-10, Chapter 291.

1990

Changes were made to the law. The date was pushed back from the last week in February to April 7, and voters were required to declare themselves for a particular party in order to get a ballot. Chapter 603. (Background: "Minnesota Primary Law Aims at Increasing Clout," by Gerald Kopplin, Hibbing Tribune, May 9, 1990)

1991-1992

The House and Senate voted to repeal the presidential primary, but Governor Arne Carlson vetoed the bill. His veto message described his support for a presidential primary. The Senate voted to override the veto, 56-9, but the House failed to override the veto, 77-49. See the veto page for detailed information. The primary remained in place. For background information, read: "The $4 Million Beauty Contest: Primaries and Caucuses 1992: Power to the People, Sort of," Roger Swardson, City Pages, February 26, 1992.

1992

The primary was held on April 7, 1992. Winners: DFL, Bill Clinton; IR, George H. W. Bush (election results). For more details, see: "Primal Yawn: Nation, and Most State Voters, Ignored Controversial Primary," by Dane Smith, Star Tribune, April 9, 1992.

1995

The presidential primary was put on hold until after 1999. More about the hold is described in: "Hopes Dashed for Presidential Primary, Election Overhaul," Jack B. Coffman, Pioneer Press, May 19, 1995).

1999

The presidential primary law was repealed in Chapter 250, Article 1, Section 115.

2016

Minnesota will move from a presidential caucus to a presidential primary for the 2020 election, Chapter 162.

2020

The presidential primary will be held March 3, 2020 on "Super Tuesday." This year, Minnesota will be one of 14 states with a primary on that day.

The Library has additional sources of information on the four Minnesota presidential primaries, including many news clippings on the 1992 primary and discussion of the issue during that decade. Another good source is for this timeline is: Dr. Eric Ostermeier's article for his Smart Politics blog, "A Brief History of Presidential Primaries."

It all began in the 1969 legislative session with one librarian, one support staff, a couple of small rooms in the State Capitol, and a handful of reports, newspapers, and magazines. And no computers. The Minnesota Legislative Reference Library now has locations in the State Office Building and the Minnesota Senate Building, six seasoned reference librarians, great support staff, a large collection of unique documents, lots of computers, and an extensive web site. How things have changed!

But one constant through the years has been our great library users. We've been privileged to work with many dedicated legislators and legislative staff and have been continuously challenged with interesting questions from them - and from our many other library users. Our celebration of 50 years would be incomplete without you. Please join us at an open house on Thursday, February 13 from 1:30-3pm to help us celebrate the first 50 years of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.