South Dakota and the Queen

Elizabeth II on her coronation day in 1953

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II yesterday is major worldwide news. Although a constitutional monarch, she is a major world leader, and the ascession of Charles III to the throne is the first change in British monarchs most people living today have ever witnessed.

There is no direct tie to South Dakota history in the Queen’s death. Neither she nor any member of the royal family, so far as I know, ever visited South Dakota. Our state, as a part of the Louisiana Territory, was a Spanish and French possession prior to its purchase by President Thomas Jefferson for the United States, never really under the administration of the British crown.

I did think it would be interesting, though to see how South Dakotans received the news about the last change in monarchs, when Elizabeth’s father, George VI, died in February 1952 and she took the throne. The news would have been received through newspaper and radio; South Dakota did not have a television station until KELO-TV began broadcasting in 1953.

Here are the front pages from the Sioux Falls Daily Argus-Leader, the Rapid City Daily Journal and the Mitchell Daily Republic from that day in 1952 (taken from newspapers.com):

For comparison, though, here are the same three newspapers from this morning, taken from the Freedom Forum:

The comparison is a stark reminder as to how media has evolved in the past 70 years. The newspapers themselves look very different, but of course, very few people will have received this news in their morning newspaper. It traveled the world almost instantly on television and via social media.

That’s just one of many ways that the world changed during Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign. South Dakota had only been a state for 63 years when she took the throne in 1952; her reign coincides with more than half of South Dakota’s 133 years of statehood. Our state was represented in Congress by U.S. Senators Karl Mundt and Francis Case, and by Congressmen Harold Lovre and E. Y. Berry – all Republicans. The year 1952 is still the all-time high watermark for South Dakota Republicans; that year, they would win all 35 state senate seats, and a 73-2 majority in the State House.

Our governor in 1952 was Sigurd Anderson; he had won his first term in 1950 against Joe Robbie, the future owner of the Miami Dolphins, and was seeking reelection against Sherman Iverson, the mayor of South Sioux Falls, a separate municipality that a few years later merged into Sioux Falls.

Speaking of Sioux Falls, it was the state’s largest city in 1952, with 52,696 people according to the 1950 census. Rapid City was, for the first time in 1950, the state’s second largest city, with 25,310; its population nearly doubled from 1940 to 1950 and it moved ahead of Aberdeen, which in 1950 had 21,051. Behind these three were Huron with 12,788, Watertown with 12,699, and Mitchell with 12,123; no other city had more than 10,000 people.

The state’s main highways, Interstates 29 and 90, did not exist in 1952; the Interstate Highway System would be a major proposal of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was elected President later that year. The Pick-Sloan plan for Missouri River dams was in its early stages; construction had begun on the Fort Randall Dam, which would be completed in 1953, and on the Oahe Dam, which was completed in 1962. Work had not yet begun on the Big Bend Dam or the Gavins Point Dam.

The state’s favorite son in 1952 was likely Joe Foss, a World War II hero and Medal of Honor recipient who ran for governor in 1950 but lost in the primary to Anderson – he would run again and win in 1954. Also prominent were Casey Tibbs, who won his first “World All-Around Cowboy Champion” title in 1951, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had published her final “Little House” book in 1943.

Mount Rushmore, the state’s most famous site, had been complete for just over a decade; construction was suspended after the outbreak of World War II and the monument was deemed complete. The Badlands were a national monument – the site gained that status in 1939 – but would not be a national park until 1978.

Elizabeth II is the last world figure who served in World War II and for her, as for so many Americans of “the Greatest Generation,” it was a major formative event in her life. Her passing gives Americans and South Dakotans the opportunity to consider the passing of that generation, and the new era that it signals in British, American, and world history.