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

High School

School Yeras

Karl Mundt attended Madison High School, currently the site of Madison Middle School. He participated in many school activities, including athletics, public speaking, and debates. As an athlete, he enjoyed basketball and tennis, and played well in each. However, his true talent and zeal remained in the classroom. Mundt excelled in oratory and debate, giving impressive speeches at competitions before audiences and judges. His debate partner was Albert Parker, who became Karl's closest friend throughout school and life1.

As Mundt's enthusiasm for speaking grew, so did his confidence. In1918, he decided to campaign for junior class president. His opponent was none other than Albert Parker. Parker was an outstanding athlete but only a mediocre speaker. The campaign delivered three tied ballots. On the fourth ballot, Parker acquired one additional advocate and won the election. This was Mundt's first political defeat. Upon announcement of the winner, Mundt told Parker, "You son of a gun, you voted for yourself." Parker denied the allegation, and both he and Mundt enjoyed the story for years to come. Mundt often recalled that first election race in his speeches if Parker was in the audience.1

Despite losing his first race,School Yeras it seemed he was destined for leadership. In addition to his growing interest in politics, he soon became an advocate for the war. When the United States formally entered World War I, Mundt badly wanted to enlist. His parents objected, insisting he finish high school. This did not deter Mundt, however, and he and pal Parker schemed to enter the service. Mundt owned an old jalopy, and he and Albert drove to Mitchell to the Students' Training Corps on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University. However, they were intercepted while in line by the President of DWU, and he sent them home with instructions to complete high school. Mundt and Parker did finish school, graduating in the spring of 1919, but the war had ended several months before on November 11, 1918.1

During his free time, Karl joined his friends Parker, Cliff Norton, Jack Stahl, and Donald Rothschild on hunting and fishing trips in Lake County. His early wildlife endeavors contributed to his support of conservation during his times in Congress. Much later in life, a friend quipped, "'He just loved to hunt, but he conserved most of the game because he couldn't hit it.'"1

College

Due to his successful high school career, Karl Mundt was able to select from several different scholarships from several different institutions. He chose Carleton College as his alma mater, and began classes in the fall of 1919.2

Carleton College, located in the small farming community of Northfield, Minnesota, imagined itself as a "New England college in the Middle West." It was originally founded by Congregationalists and named Northfield College, but the name changed when William Carleton, of Charlestown, Massachusetts, made a large cash donation. The school was established with a solid reputation. The emphasis was heavily placed on scholarly work, and students were expected to be disciplined in thought and have firmness of character.2 Mundt quickly "fell into the rhythm of being a 'Carl' with all the enthusiasm and good intentions of the post-war college student. [He] believed it was a time of limitless possibility for anyone capable of common sense and hard work."3

The atmosphere at Carleton suited Mundt very well. He benefited from the "small, disciplined idyll of the private, isolated liberal arts curriculum."4 As a result, his freshman marks were high and he attained a reputation for a strong ambition. As in high school, he excelled in speech, especially individual oratory and debate. Early speeches commented on postwar optimism and introduced his notions of peace. He also incorporated his Methodist religion, once encouraging a congregation that "Christianity meant more than attending Sunday services School Yeras and reading the Bible occasionally."4 He encouraged his audience to instead live life as if the "'spirit of Christ is radiated from us.'" 4

Aside from his active speaking schedule, Mundt joined the staff of the Middle Border, a quarterly magazine published by the students of Carleton. The magazine contained literature, art, and humor. Although not an outstanding writer, he did serve well as business manager. It was here that he developed his acquaintance with Mary Moses, or Mose, as her friends called her. Mary was a native of Northfield and a member of the Methodist Church that Karl attended. The pair had first met through the church youth group. The Middle Border provided them with common ground, as well as room for Karl to romantically pursue her.4

Most people at Carleton considered Mary Moses to be bright, confident,School Yeras and mature beyond her years. She was a proficient writer, and penned for all college publications. She was attractive as well, with striking blue eyes and beautiful auburn hair. Mundt went out of his way to woo Miss Moses. Once, he asked her to attach a string to her finger and hang it out her bedroom window so that the next morning, he could awaken her by tugging on the string and take her on an early morning picnic. Mundt and Moses continued their relationship through college; she was studying to be a drama teacher, he, a social science teacher. 4 The summer after he graduated from college, the pair wed in Northfield.5

During the summers of his college years, Mundt earned a living as a traveling salesman. School Yeras He spent much of his time in Butler County, Indiana, but his travels took him as far east as New York City. He sold everything from fire extinguishers to People's Home Libraries. Mundt enjoyed this career because it allowed him to turn obstacles into opportunities. He was determined to never accept a refusal, and his persistence consistently paid off. This inclination to sell stemmed from his childhood days in his father's hardware store, as well as his own frog and vegetable enterprises.6

During his final year at Carleton, Mundt's classmates displayed their admiration by printing a satirical issue of the Middle Border claiming "Karl named Carleton President." The paper marked Mundt as one of the top distinguished educators in the country, and cited his activities as '"teaching two years at the high school at Muddy-Hole, South Dakota, and serving as a member of the national People's Home Library Fraternity.'" 5 The quote below his 1923 yearbook picture quips, '"Could doff his scholar's gown, to peddle wares from town to town."'5 His classmates clearly appreciated his predilection for sales and his ability to persuade. The yearbook cited Mundt as president of the senior class, vice president of the junior class, and champion debater nicknamed Cornelius; Mundt finished college with a major in economics.5

  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. 4.
  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. 7.
  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. 7-8.
  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. 8.
  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. 10.
  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. 9.
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