DATES: 1958-1968

SIZE: 238.75 linear feet


ACQUISITION: The Quentin Burdick Papers were deposited in the Orin G. Libby Manuscript Collection by Quentin Burdick on June 13, 1972. The collection was opened for research following Burdick's death on September 8, 1992.

ACCESS: Open for inspection under the rules and regulations of the Department of Special Collections.


Source: Quentin N. Burdick, Late a Senator from North Dakota: Memorial Addresses Delivered in Congress. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.

"Quentin Northrop Burdick was born in Munich, North Dakota on June 19, 1908. His parents were Usher L. Burdick and the former Emma C. Robertson of Park River. The family moved to Williston when he was 2.

Quentin Burdick enjoyed breaking wild ponies on his father's ranch in Williston. He was president of his class and captain of Williston High School's undefeated football team in his senior year. He continued his football career at the University of Minnesota, where he blocked for future Hall-of-Famer Bronko Nagurski. Besides football and wrestling honors, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Science, Literature and the Arts and graduated from law school with a Letters of Law degree. Both his parents had received degrees from the University of Minnesota.

Mr. Burdick entered law practice in Fargo with his father in 1932. As head of the North Dakota Holiday Association which advised farmers to take a holiday against foreclosures, Usher Burdick told farmers who couldn't afford an attorney to go see his son, who could help them stall for time. In 1934, Usher Burdick was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served 10 terms, from 1934 to 1944 and 1948 to 1958.

Mr. Burdick married Marietta Janecky of New Prague, Minnesota, in March 1933. They had four children-Jonathan, Jan Mary, Jennifer and Jessica.

"Young Burdick" quickly became immersed in politics, becoming active in the new Non-Partisan League (NPL), which was allied with the Republicans until 1956. The progressive-populist group nominated him for State's Attorney twice, in 1934 and 1940, and for State Senator from Cass County in 1936. He ran for Lt. Governor as a Republican in 1942. He lost all four races.

Thinking that the NPL was dividing the State's progressive vote, Quentin Burdick began to advocate filing in the Democratic column. He lost his fifth campaign, this time as a Democratic candidate for Governor.

When Henry Wallace launched his third-party crusade for President in 1948, Mr. Burdick, as counsel for the Farmers Union, was chosen as a delegate to the National Convention. Mr. Burdick's other major clients as a lawyer included several rural electric and telephone cooperatives.

In 1956, both the Democrats and the NPL endorsed Quentin Burdick as their candidate for the U.S. Senate. It was his sixth and final defeat. In 1958, the same year he lost his wife to cancer, he received the Democratic-NPL endorsement for Congress and became the first Democrat to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from North Dakota. Congressman Burdick was rightfully proud of his role in switching the NPL to the Democratic column and bringing order to North Dakota politics.

Congressman Burdick focused on agriculture and water projects. He was appointed to serve on the House Interior Committee. He sought that assignment to promote the Garrison Diversion Project to provide North Dakota with Missouri River water to compensate the State for losses associated with the construction of the Garrison Dam, which provided flood control for downstream states. He never lost that commitment to Garrison Diversion.

In his maiden speech in the House of Representatives in February 1959, Mr. Burdick told his colleagues about a Fargo city resolution calling for the resignation of Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson. Mr. Burdick told his House colleagues, "The dissatisfaction with the farm policies of this administration, which has existed in rural areas for some time, now appears to be in evidence in the cities also...It should be the duty of this Congress to enact legislation which will bring about parity of income to the farmer, and increase purchasing power on the main streets of our cities and towns."

After serving less than two years in the House of Representatives, Quentin Burdick ran in a June 1960 special election to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Senator William "Wild Bill" Langer. It was a close election, with the winning edge coming in the late returns from the Indian reservations. Mr. Burdick beat John Davis by just 1,118 votes.

Nine days after winning the special election, Senator-elect Burdick married Jocelyn Birch Peterson of Fargo and adopted her two children, Leslie and Birch. They had one son, Gage, who was killed in a tragic accident.

Senator Burdick was reelected to the Senate in 1964, 1970, 1976, 1982 and 1988, giving him a 7-6 record of election wins for his career. In 1988, he won 60 percent of the vote against North Dakota House Majority Leader Earl Strinden.

Quentin Burdick believed in personal politics and once said he'd like to be remembered as a man of the people. He was credited with shaking more hands in North Dakota than any other politician.

Senator Burdick continued to fight for the Garrison Diversion Project. He fought several Administrations over Garrison Diversion funding and worked to reformulate the project in 1986. Senator Burdick was instrumental in winning Congressional authorization and funding for two other major North Dakota water projects-the Sheyenne Diversion Flood Control Project in Cass County and the Rafferty-Alameda Dams to provide flood protection for Minot.

Senator Burdick served on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee from 1960 to 1973. He transferred from the Labor and Welfare Committee to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1963, where he was a leader in rewriting bankruptcy legislation. He served on the Post Office and Civil Service Committee and would have become chairman in 1977, the year the committee was dissolved. He switched over to the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Because of his interest in public works, Senator Burdick joined the Public Works Committee in 1973, and became Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee in 1987. His first actions as chairman were to pass major highway and clean water legislation, having to override presidential vetoes in both cases. He was also a key player in enacting the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.

Quentin Burdick originally went to Washington hoping to help farmers, and agriculture was always his top priority. In 1987, he became Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Related Agencies. That role allowed him to direct millions of dollars in special project funding to the State and its universities. Proud of being able to provide needed Federal funds to his State, Senator Burdick never flinched when called the "King of Pork."

Besides chairing the Environment and Public Works Committee and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Burdick served on the Special Committee on Aging and the Select Committee on Indian Affairs. He also co-chaired the Senate Health Caucus which he founded with former Senator Mark Andrews (R-ND).

Senator Burdick was honored with the National Telephone Cooperative Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. Other honors include Minot State University's C.P. Lura Award, the Farmers Union Award for Meritorious Service to American Agriculture and the National Rural Health Association's Leadership Award, the Home Builders Institute's Policymaker of the Year in 1988, and the National Rural Water Association's Friend of Rural Water in 1987.

On September 8, 1992, Senator Burdick died in Fargo, ND. He was 84 Years old. Senator Burdick is survived by his wife Jocelyn; six children: Jonathan, Jan Mary, Jennifer, Jessica, Birch and Leslie; seven grandchildren; a brother, Judge Eugene Burdick of Williston, and a sister, Eileen Levering of Ohio.

Mrs. Burdick was appointed by the Governor of North Dakota on September 12, 1992 to fill the seat caused by Quentin Burdick's death. She was sworn into office on September 16 and served until a special election was held on December 4, 1992, to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the unexpired term."


The Quentin Burdick Papers consist of 191 boxes, dating from 1958-1968. The material has been divided into two series; the Box and Folder Inventory for each sub-series within the two series has its own web page as follows:

Series I: House of Representatives, 1958-1960

 Sub-Series A: Correspondence
 Sub-Series B: Bills and Legislation
  1. House Resolutions (HR)
  2. House Concurrent Resolutions (HCR)
  3. Miscellaneous
 Sub-Series C: Subject Files

Series II: Senate, 1960-1968

 Sub-Series A: Personal Files  
 Sub-Series B: Legislation, House Bills
  1. 1963-1964
  2. 1967-1968
 Sub-Series C: Legislation, Senate Bills
  1. 1963-1964
  2. 1967-1968
 Sub-Series D: Burdick Legislation
  1. 1961-1962
  2. 1965-1966
  3. 1967-1968
 Sub-Series E: Committee Files
 Sub-Series F: Subject Files
  1. 1961-1962
  2. 1963-1964
  3. 1965-1966
  4. 1966-1967
  5. 1968
 Sub-Series G: North Dakota Files
  1. 1961-1964
  2. 1966-1967
  3. 1968
 Sub-Series H: Academy Files
  1. 1960-1963
  2. 1965-1968
 Sub-Series I: Office Files/Miscellaneous

 Original Donation: 1958-1968 
Additions to the collection:
1st addition: 1960-1977 2nd addition: 1961-1978
3rd addition: 1973-1975 4th addition: 1966-1972
5th addition: 1960-1982 6th addition: 1960-1976
7th addition: 1977-1984 8th addition: 1983-1986
9th addition: 1987-1989 10th addition: 1992
11th addition: 1982 and 1988 12th addition: 1990-1992

Return to: Politics

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