Despite Sparse Population, Wyoming Becomes Union’s 44th State
In 1890 two neighboring Rocky Mountain states, Idaho and Wyoming, were eager to gain statehood and join the Union. They both had been official U.S. territories for quite some time (Idaho Territory was established in 1863, Wyoming Territory in 1868), but sparse population had slowed their qualification for statehood. The population threshold was 60,000 residents—but by 1880 Idaho only had around 32,000 residents, and Wyoming barely 20,000.
By early 1890 Idaho had cleared the population barrier with more than 80,000 residents, and with a state constitution disfranchising Mormon polygamists, it was ready for statehood. Wyoming, too, had qualified, although barely reaching the population requirement of 60,000 (Wyoming to this day remains the least populated state). They both hoped to join the Union by the summer of 1890.
Wyoming was proud of some of the “firsts” in its history as a territory. In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was established, the world’s first national park. Three years prior to that Wyoming achieved another first that women suffragists were especially proud of: on Dec. 10, 1869, Wyoming women were given the right to vote—the first U.S. state or territory to grant women suffrage. In applying for statehood, Wyoming’s state constitution specifically sanctioned women suffrage. Because of this fact Wyoming’s official state nickname is the “Equality State.”
In fact, Wyoming Territory was the first to have women serve on juries, had the first woman court bailiff, and the first woman justice of the peace. After becoming a state, Wyoming had the first U.S. woman governor, when Nellie Ross took office in January 1925. A group of women suffragists in Wyoming Territory called for Wyoming’s statehood to become official on July 4, 1890, so that Wyoming could forever celebrate the Fourth of July as two occasions of independence and equality—but that deadline was just missed.
Idaho became the Union’s 43rd state on July 3, 1890, and the Wyoming women suffragists were hopeful. But their dream of July 4th was missed, as Wyoming officially became the Union’s 44th state on July 10, 1890, as described in the following three newspaper articles.
This article supports the statehood claims of Idaho and Wyoming while at the same time denying the rights of Mexican Americans and Mormons in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah territories. It was published by the Jackson Daily Citizen (Jackson, Michigan) on July 10, 1890:
Idaho and Wyoming
The ridiculously absurd objection made by the Democratic press that Wyoming and Idaho are not entitled to statehood because they do not compare in population with the older states is ably answered by the following:
“The real fact is that population has little or nothing to do with statehood. The population of any one of the six new states compares well with the population of any one of the thirteen British colonies which became states under the federal compact and formed the United States. Territorial conditions have always been regarded as abnormal since the formation of the government. The admission of states has been forced at times by political considerations, but it has always been made dependent upon the capacity and power of the people for self-government.
“As soon as the rude life of the frontier becomes the settled life of permanent civilization, the citizens of any territory are as much entitled to participation in all the affairs of the federal government through statehood as are the citizens of any one of the original thirteen states. It would be indeed an outrage on liberty and free government alike to refuse them such participation. Nor is it sufficient answer to this proposition to assert that in such an event New Mexico, Arizona and Utah are ripe for statehood and should be granted it. The mixture of Mexican and half-breed population in New Mexico and Arizona, which is not assimilable or capable of self-government, is so large as to create strong doubt in their cases whether they will be ready for statehood for years to come, and in Utah a great body of voters, sufficient to disturb and subvert popular government under statehood, has been for a quarter of a century in open defiance of the laws of the United States.
“New York did not have 5,000,000 people in 1776. She had a small population, inured by hardship in the battle of life and educated by their struggle for independence for fitness for ruling themselves, and she had room for population to spread and multiply. What was true of New York was relatively true of all the thirteen states. It is as true today of the thriving new commonwealths of the West and Northwest, and their stars in time will shine as brightly in the national escutcheon as any of the older states as ‘Westward the course of empire takes its way.’”
This article, taking another shot at the Mormons, also supports Wyoming’s statehood. It was published by the Northern Christian Advocate (Syracuse, New York) on July 10, 1890:
The Senate’s amendments to the bill admitting Wyoming to the Union were not radical, but they required the concurrence of the House, and Republican absenteeism in that body prevented such action last week. This was a disappointment to the woman suffragists, who had requested the President to sign the bill on the Fourth of July, in order that they might “celebrate the Fourth in honor of the beginning of a true republic, in connection with the events for which the day is already commemorated.” It would have been a happy coincidence if the gentle voters in Wyoming and their friends elsewhere could have dated their republic from the same day as ours. But they would have been kept busy through a good many of these anniversaries in explaining the significance of the occasion to a populace preoccupied with thoughts of ’76, and perhaps it is as well that they should have a national day all to themselves. While the public could not unanimously rejoice with them that the Constitution of Wyoming established woman suffrage, they doubtless were able to rejoice with the general public that the Constitution of Idaho disfranchised the polygamists who have come in from Utah and those who have joined them in their peculiar institution [i.e., polygamy]. Everybody had something to be happy over and the day was observed with about the usual racket.
This article was published by the New York Herald (New York, New York) on July 11, 1890:
Forty-Four States Now
Wyoming Made a State by the Signature of President Harrison
Corner Fifteenth and G Streets, N.W.,
Washington, July 10, 1890.
Wyoming entered the Union today. Judge Joseph M. Carey, who has for three Congresses represented the Territory, was the delighted witness of the act which admitted the Territory and made him a private citizen. Wyoming will have no representation in Congress until the election of her new officers under the State constitution, which will probably take place in the latter part of September. Judge Carey had asked the President to let him be present when the bill was signed giving birth to the new Commonwealth. He received a telephone message at the Capitol this afternoon that the President was ready to see him and he hastened to the White House.
“Well, I am ready to sign your bill,” said the President, and he promptly took up the pen.
He said that the Dakota people had come to him with a big gold stub pen, which they wanted him to use in signing their enabling act, but he was only able to write easily with small steel stubs, and he intended to sign the Wyoming bill with the same sort of pen.
Judge Carey expressed himself as entirely satisfied with this so long as he could keep the pen for preservation in the archives of the new State. There was a little talk about the terms of the bill which the Attorney General had declared were satisfactory, and the President drew the parchment into place and in a bold hand wrote the words, “Approved, Benjamin Harrison.” Handing the pen and the simple wooden holder to Judge Carey he remarked, “The deed is done!”
It was exactly half-past five o’clock by the watch which Judge Carey held in his hand, and within a few minutes he was walking from the White House to his hotel so exuberant with delight that he greeted everyone he knew as he went along with the exclamation, “Wyoming is a State at last.”
Judge Carey will go to Wyoming in a few days to join in the jollification over the admission of the State. He is likely to come back here at the next session of Congress as one of the two Senators to which the state will be entitled.
For more information, visit the official Wyoming website.