Olaf H. Thormodsgard is best remembered as the long-time dean of the University of North Dakota Law School. He was born in Carrington, North Dakota, on September 25, 1891. He attended elementary school in Mount Vernon, South Dakota, and received his high school diploma from Spokane Academy, Spokane, Washington. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Spokane College in 1913. He subsequently earned a Master of Arts from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, in 1916, and taught high school in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Prior to attending law school he enlisted in U.S. Army and served with the 91st Division in France from 1918 to 1919, earning the medaille d'honneur des epidemies from the Republic of France in the process. He received his Juris Doctor from the University of Chicago in 1923. Following the completion of his J.D., he was awarded a teacher's fellowship by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to conduct advanced graduate work in international and constitutional law at Harvard Law School, finishing his course of study in 1925. His thirty-six year career at the University of North Dakota began in 1926 when he joined the faculty as an associate professor of law. On June 9, 1928, he married Marie Bentegeat, a native of Bordeaux, France, who came to North Dakota as an international exchange student, and subsequently stayed on as a language instructor at the University. In 1929, Thormodsgard became a full professor, and in March 1933, he became dean of the law school - a post he would continue to hold until his retirement in 1962.
Over the course of his long and varied career, Dean Thormodsgard served on numerous bodies including the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, the North Dakota Judicial Council, and the State Bar Association Executive Committee. During the Second World War, he was a member of both the National War Labor Board and the Office of Price Administration. Other organizations with which he was affiliated include the Grand Forks County Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the American Law Institute, American Legion Post 6 (Grand Forks, North Dakota), the Order of the Coif law honor society, Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity, and the Tau Kappa Epsilon men's social fraternity. A 33rd degree mason, Thormodsgard also served as Illustrious Potentate of the Kem Temple of the Shrine (Grand Forks, North Dakota). In addition, he was a founding member of the Fellows of the University of North Dakota, Inc., and a one-time president of the United Lutheran Church Council.
In 1962, Dean Thormodsgard retired from the University and joined his wife in her native France. He remained there for the remainder of his life, dying in July 1975 at age eighty-three in Bordeaux. In recognition of his work on behalf of the University of North Dakota Law School, the University named the Thormodsgard Law Library (est. 1972) in his honor.
The O. H. Thormodsgard Papers consist primarily of essays, articles, and lectures by Dean Thormodsgard. However, it also includes a large quantity of personal and professional correspondence, academic theses, and various diplomas and certificates, as well as reports by committees on which Thormodsgard sat. Unfortunately, Thormodsgard often did not sign and/or date the documents he kept, so many documents have been preserved as part of this collection on the assumption that they were written by him, but without conclusive proof thereof.
In addition to documents, this collection also contains a World War I-era blue star banner. A blue star banner consists of a white field edged in red with one or more blue five-pointed stars centered on the white field. In the United States, it is traditionally displayed by families, communities, and organizations with members currently serving in the armed forces, and the number of stars corresponds to the number of members serving. This particular banner has the number "103" superimposed on the star, suggesting that 103 men from that organization or community were serving at the time the banner was made. It is unknown which community or organization this banner represented, but the fact that Thormodsgard was teaching high school in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, at the time the First World War broke out suggests that the banner may have originated in that community. Alternatively, the banner may have also represented individuals affiliated with the University of North Dakota or the UND Law School who were serving in uniform, and later found its way into Thormodsgard's possession when he became dean of the law school.