Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

MUNDT, KARL (1900-1974)

Karl E. Mundt was a prominent farm-state Republican who served in Congress for thirtyfour years (five terms in the House and four in the Senate). Born on June 3, 1900, in Humboldt, South Dakota, Mundt became a high school teacher and school superintendent in Bryant, South Dakota, after graduating from Carleton College (1923) and obtaining a master's degree from Columbia University (1927). In 1924 he moved to Madison, South Dakota, where he taught and coached the debate team at the Eastern State Normal School while also engaging in an investment business with his father. Although referring to himself as a liberal Republican in getting elected to Congress as representative of South Dakota's First District in 1938, he quickly identified with the conservatives in the party. His first major action as a congressman was a successful effort to remove from circulation the government documentary film The Plow That Broke the Plains, which depicted the devastating relationship between mechanized farming and the Dust Bowl.

World War II transformed Mundt from a staunch isolationist into a committed internationalist. Throughout his career he was known primarily to those outside his home state as an outspoken anticommunist. He teamed up with fellow congressman Richard Nixon on the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1940s and later stood loyally behind Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in his crusade against alleged internal subversion. Mundt maintained a strong electoral base in his home state by backing price supports for agriculture while maintaining a solid conservative record on other issues. He was a joiner who stayed in close contact with the electorate, a.liating with many organizations, including the Masons, the Elks, the Kiwanis, the El Riad Shrine, and the Methodist Church. He was also an enthusiastic conservationist and active in the Izaak Walton League. A crippling stroke in 1969 incapacitated him and forced his retirement three years later. Mundt died in Washington DC on August 16, 1974.

See also FILM: The Plow That Broke the Plains .

John E. Miller South Dakota State University

Heidepriem, Scott N. A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt, U.S. Senator. Madison SD: Karl E. Mundt Foundation, 1988.

Mundt, Karl E. Papers. Karl E. Mundt Library, Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota.

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