Luther W. Youngdahl Biography

One of ten children of a Minneapolis grocer, Youngdahl was a promising student at Gustavus Adolphus College, where he excelled in athletics and oratory and was active in campus government. He went on to study law at the Minnesota College of Law (now the Mitchell Hamline School of Law). In 1930 Governor Theodore Christianson appointed the young lawyer to a municipal judgeship, the first of several judiciary positions he would hold before and after governing the state.

In 1946, when he was an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, he was the Republican candidate for governor. He won that election and the following two, as well. When scoffers called him a “Sunday School governor,” Youngdahl turned a deaf ear. Minnesota’s twenty-seventh governor was determined to rid the state of its pernicious gambling problem and he began, during the first of his three terms, by outlawing slot machines. The action was typical of Youngdahl: swift, purposeful, and based upon a firm moral conviction.

Soon after dealing a sharp blow to racketeering, Youngdahl launched his “humanity in government” program. Appalled by the conditions of state mental hospitals, he introduced a more humane concept of care. His sincere efforts to improve the lives of troubled youth, enhance public education, and give returning World War II veterans a financial boost earned this Republican administrator bipartisan respect and support. So popular was Youngdahl that he won each successive gubernatorial election by an ever-larger margin. That some conservatives found him “too liberal” didn’t diminish his appeal or effectiveness.

In 1951, during Youngdahl’s third term as governor, President Harry S. Truman appointed him to a federal judgeship in Washington, D.C. Youngdahl resigned his state post and continued in public service as a federal district judge until 1978. Long a believer in the benefits of rigorous exercise, Judge Youngdahl was still hearing cases and hiking four miles a day in his early eighties. He died in Washington, D.C. in 1978.