Preserving "A Fair Chance For a Free People" - Karl E. Mundt

Family Background

Childhood

Karl Earl Mundt was born June 3, 1900, in his parents' home in the back of a hardware store in Humboldt, South Dakota.1 His father, Ferdinand Mundt, was the son of Pastor Johann Wilherlm Mundt, a German immigrant who settled in Giard, Iowa in 1868. ChildhoodDuring his youth, Ferdinand dabbled in carpentry and was an amateur wheelright, but as he grew older, he took an interest in real estate. As a realtor, he became acquainted with Rose Schneider, another German descendant.2 Rose's mother, Martha Bernhard, was born in Kassel, Germany, but emigrated to the United States alone when she was 18 years old.3 ChildhoodAfter traveling up the Mississippi River by steamboat from New Orleans to McGregor, Iowa, Martha lived with various American families and became their "jane-of-all-trades."1 Soon, she happily settled into the home of Henry Schneider, Sr., a fellow German with six children. Although originally employed as a housekeeper, she later became his wife and the mother of four more Schneiders, the youngest being Rose, born July 10, 1874.2

Childhood

Rose and Ferdinand were married in March of 1898. Soon after, they left Giard and moved to the bustling little town of Humboldt, South Dakota. Rose quickly became involved in local organizations; she helped create the Union Ladies Aid. Ferd worked at the local hardware store, and he and Rose took residence in the back of the building. During their first two years of residence here, Rose gave birth to Karl Earl, blessing the Mundt's with their first and only child.1

Adolescence

When Karl was eight years old, his family moved to Pierre, South Dakota, to live near Ferd's brother, William. William was at that time a realtor, inventor, and promoter, but he invited Ferdinand to enter the land business with him as a partner. However the partnership between the brothers turned sour after two years, and Ferdinand, Rose, and Karl moved again, to Madison, South Dakota. This would become their home for life.1

Childhood

At the age of ten, Karl was enrolled in Lincoln Grade School. Although new to the environment, he was quickly accepted by all of his peers. Young Mundt developed an early interest in enterprise, and recruited new friends Jack Stahl and Donald Rothschild to spend their afternoons down by the creek that runs through Madison catching frogs. Later, they would sell their frogs to Charley Kelley, the local produce man. Not content, Karl began a new endeavor selling fresh produce (from his own vegetable garden) to the community.4

Childhood

At a young age, Karl also took a keen interest in politics. He read many books about Populist figures, friends of the common man, and bold reformers.5 Mundt's father was an avid speaker, often publishing speeches on economic reform and social conduct, and young Karl clung to his every word. Each morning as Ferdinand shaved, Karl observed from a stool in the washroom. Later, Karl recalled that his father "could not carry a tune, but he made up for this deficiency by blaring little self-composed solos while stroping his razor and soaping his nightly stubble."6 It was during these morning shaves that Karl was first introduced to the idioms and proverbs of the 1900s. His father also often recited Alexander Pope's caution from his Essay on Criticism: "Be not the first by whom the New are try'd, Nor the last to lay the Old aside."6 Later in life, Karl described this as 'the best advice I have ever had.'6 He also claimed that these words were the inspiration behind his political slogan, "A fair chance for a free people."6

Karl carried these childhood experiences with him always. His early dabbles in business would influence his attempts much later in life. His morning ritual with his father created an early attraction to politics and reform. In fact, his father would continue to be a great influence, both on his method of expression and the thoughts he would express. It is clear that Karl Mundt drew from many aspects of his early life and his desire to be active would play a large role in his later years.

  1. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt, United States Senator. Madison, SD: Leader Printing, 1988. p. 2.
  2. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt, United States Senator. Madison, SD: Leader Printing, 1988. p. 1.
  3. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt, United States Senator. Madison, SD: Leader Printing, 1988. p. 1-2.
  4. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt, United States Senator. Madison, SD: Leader Printing, 1988. p. 4.
  5. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt, United States Senator. Madison, SD: Leader Printing, 1988. p. 6.
  6. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt, United States Senator. Madison, SD: Leader Printing, 1988. p. 7.
SD State Seal

© Karl E. Mundt Historical & Educational Foundation and Archives, All rights reserved. Karl Mundt Library and Learning Commons
Dakota State University
820 N. Washington, Madison, SD 57042
Phone: (605) 256-5203

DSU