Rilie R. Morgan, a transplanted North Dakotan, made his mark upon the state's newspaper industry, participated in the creation of a unique event in North Dakota's political history and had a long affiliation with numerous fraternal and masonic organizations. Born near the small town of Quenerno, Kansas, on November 24, 1891, Morgan's interest in printing news grew and at the young age of thirteen years, he became an apprentice janitor and newspaper peddler at the office of The Republican, one of the daily papers in Cherryvale, Kansas. Throughout the following four years, he worked as an apprentice typesetter and errand boy for the Daily Journal, the rival paper of The Republican.
Upon graduation from high school in 1908, Morgan entered the University of Kansas at Lawrence, where he attempted to continue his studies in journalism and printing. Lack of adequate funds and long hours at a newspaper office in Lawrence, as well as insufficient time for class preparation forced the college freshman to leave the University. The journeyman printer soon found employment as the foreman of the Winfield, Kansas Daily Courier. Before settling in North Dakota, Morgan worked for various newspapers in the states of Kansas, Montana and Washington.
On August 15, 1914, the twenty-three year old arrived in North Dakota as the new editor and publisher of the Starkweather Times. The paper was in a "badly demoralized condition" when Morgan arrived and he spent eight years rebuilding it. In 1922, Grant S. Hager, owner and publisher of the Walsh County Record at Grafton, North Dakota, offered Morgan the managership of his weekly paper. Morgan accepted the offer and after the death of Hager in 1923, Morgan purchased the entire property from Mrs. Hagen. Under his leadership, the Walsh County Record became "one of the largest and best known weekly newspapers in the Northwest."
Morgan's interests were not confined to the ink wall and newsroom. In 1923 he was elected President of the Grafton Civic Club. He was also a member of the town's school board from 1937 to 1942. In 1936 he was appointed to the Public Welfare Board of North Dakota. He resigned from that position in 1939 after he was elected to the North Dakota State Senate from the Fourth Legislative District. He served in that capacity for sixteen years. During his tenure as state senator, he served as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and in 1951 he became majority leader.
In the early 1940s, Morgan, along with three other influential state senators including Milton R. Young, Joseph Bridston and Fred C. Aandahl, launched a campaign to wrestle control of the Republican Party from the Langer dominated Nonpartisan League. The result of their efforts was a movement known as the Republican Organizing Committee (ROC). Morgan, who gave a name to the movement, formulated much of the policy and served as Chairman of the Advisory Committee. By the mid 1950s, the ROC had regained control of the Republican Party and had elected a number of ROC officials to high office. In 1954, Morgan retired from active politics.
Senator Milton R. Young, co-founder of the ROC, and personal friend of Morgan, commented on the political capabilities of the senator from Walsh County: "Rilie was a very effective legislator with a good mind. He was an excellent speaker and writer. I always felt, as did many others, that he should have been endorsed for one of the top positions in government, especially Governor.
Rilie never indicated, at least publicly, any desire for a high elected public office. If he had, he undoubtedly would have been endorsed and elected."
Fraternal and masonic organizations found Morgan to be an active participant. In 1943 he was selected as Grand commander of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of North Dakota. Two years later he was elected Grand Master of the Masons of North Dakota. In later years, he was honored with life memberships in several societies.
Rilie R. Morgan died in May 1977.
Donation; Acc. #79-567
Series 1: Correspondence and General Material
Series 2: Financial Material
Series 3: Separated Materials