Elisha Ferry is inaugurated as Washington's first state governor on November 18, 1889.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 3/03/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22413
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On November 18, 1889, one week after Washington's admission as a state, its new government is officially installed as Governor Elisha P. Ferry (1825-1895) and the other new state officers take the oath of office at the capitol building in Olympia. Their inauguration and the achievement of statehood are celebrated in daylong festivities, attended by thousands from the local area and around the state, beginning with a morning parade to the swearing-in and concluding late in the evening with an inaugural ball and more music and dancing.

The New State

Washington Territory became the State of Washington on November 11, 1889, when U.S. President Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) issued a proclamation formally declaring its admission. The proclamation followed a February 1889 act of Congress enabling Washington's admission, the drafting of a new constitution for the state over the summer, and voter approval of the constitution on October 1. In that October 1 vote, Washington citizens also elected a governor and other executive officials for the first time -- territorial governors and other officers had been appointed by the president. Washington was heavily Republican at the time, and Republicans swept that first election.

Elisha Ferry, who had served two terms as territorial governor, easily defeated Democrat Eugene Semple (1840-1908), also a former territorial governor, to become Washington's first state governor. Born in Michigan, Ferry became a lawyer and began his legal and political career in Illinois. During the Civil War, he served as assistant adjutant-general on the staff of the Illinois governor and in the course of that service he became friends with General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885). In 1869, soon after becoming president, Grant appointed Ferry surveyor-general of Washington Territory. Grant named Ferry governor of the territory in 1872 and reappointed him in 1876, making Ferry the only person to serve two terms as territorial governor. While he had his critics, Ferry and his accomplishments in office were viewed favorably by much of the electorate, and he was an obvious choice to head the Republican ticket in the first state election.

The other winning candidates were Lieutenant Governor Charles Laughton (1846-1895), Secretary of State Allen Weir, State Auditor Thomas M. Reed, State Treasurer A. A. Lindsley, Attorney General William C. Jones, Superintendent of Public Instruction Robert B. Bryan, and Commissioner of Public Lands W. T. Forrest. Five justices of the state supreme court were also elected statewide. In contests for the first state legislature, Republicans won large majorities in both the House and Senate.

Certified copies of the new constitution and results of the election approving it were dispatched to President Harrison in Washington, D.C., on October 25, and officials in Olympia expected the statehood proclamation by the first few days of November. But the president wanted additional documentation, which didn't reach the White House until November 11. When news that Harrison had finally signed the proclamation arrived by telegraph that afternoon, spontaneous celebrations broke out in the capitol building and across Olympia.

Making Preparations

However, even though they had been awaiting the proclamation with increasing impatience for a week or more before it arrived, the incumbent territorial officials and newly elected state officers chose to wait another week for the formal transfer of authority to the new state government. The time was needed to prepare a grand parade and other ceremonies celebrating statehood and the inauguration of the state officers, and the effort evidently paid off. The parade and other ceremonies were described in contemporary accounts and later histories as the largest and most magnificent in Olympia's history to that point.

In the days before the celebration, multiple units of national guard infantry and cavalry, along with several military bands, assembled in Olympia for the parade. Citizens poured in to take part in the festivities. There were organized excursions by steamer and train from Tacoma, Seattle, and other population centers, and many more traveled on their own from around the state. The weather that week was typical of Western Washington in November -- chilly, rainy, and windy.

Parade to the Capitol

There were cloudy skies but no rain on the morning of Monday, November 18, 1889. However, the preceding days' storms had left the streets such a sea of mud that a last-minute change was made in the parade route from downtown to the capitol building, where the inauguration would take place. Instead of proceeding down Main Street (now Capitol Way) to the capitol on 13th Street, the parade traveled to 13th along Adams Street, three blocks east of Main. Spectators were already lining the planned route, so when it started, on time at 11 a.m., along the new one, "there was a general exodus from Main to Adams" ("Garb of Statehood," 1).

The parade's grand marshal, T. C. Van Epps, led the march, followed by a Tacoma national guard band. Behind them in a place of honor came a large number of "Pioneers of Washington" -- men and women who had moved to the region in the first years of Washington Territory, or even before its creation in 1853. Listed in the next day's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, they included many well-known names in early Washington history, including Ezra Meeker, Virginia and Thomas Prosch, James G. Swan, and Henry Yesler.

Following the pioneers were Governor-elect Ferry and his staff, along with the officers of the various military companies, also all named in the P-I. More regimental bands and mounted troops came next, along with fraternal orders and then the incoming state officials and their outgoing territorial counterparts, followed by members of the new state legislature and lastly the general citizenry. When the parade reached the capitol, the military units drew up in formation while the officials assembled on a temporary platform in front of the building. The old two-story wood-frame structure, dating to the early days of the territory, had been white-washed for the occasion, and was elaborately decorated with flags, bunting, evergreen branches, massive flower bouquets, and even a stuffed bald eagle.

Inauguration in the Sunshine

Just as the crowd had assembled for the inauguration, the clouds gave way and "[t]he sun came out and cleared the sky at the opening of the exercises, a most auspicious omen for the destinies of the new state" ("Inauguration Day Incidents"). At noon, bands played "America," "the favored national anthem of the time" (Ficken, 1). Olympia Mayor John F. Gowey (1846-1900) welcomed the spectators, a minister led an invocation, and outgoing territorial Governor Miles C. Moore (1845-1919) gave a valedictory address.

Governor Ferry was greeted by applause and cheers at the start of his inaugural address, which, like the remarks of the other speakers, was printed in full in Tuesday's Post-Intelligencer. Ferry's lengthy speech, taking up more than two full columns across two pages of the paper, outlined the history of Washington Territory and detailed the new state's current circumstances and development in painting a rosy picture of its future:

"With resources superior to these of any other equal area, with a population as enterprising as it is courageous, with a climate which commends itself to all who experience it, occupying a position at the gateway of the ... commerce of the future, there is no reason why the state of Washington should not in the near future take rank among the most prominent states of the Union, nor why our people should not enjoy the priceless blessings of prosperity, health and happiness" ("Garb of Statehood," 2).

Following the speech, the bands played "Hail to the Chief" and Ferry took the oath of office, administered by a judge of the state supreme court. The other state officers were then sworn in, and Washington's new state government was complete.

Festivities Continue

The festivities, however, both formal and informal, continued throughout the day and long into the evening. With Olympia's restaurants packed well beyond their capacity, a citizens' committee that had helped organize the event provided a free lunch for 500 guests at the Firemen's Hall. The city's hotels were also full, and not all those who spent the preceding night in the city had done so in beds.

In the afternoon, Governor Ferry, joined by former Governor Moore, judges, and military commanders, "reviewed the militia from a balcony of the Woodruff block, one of the fancy new commercial buildings of downtown Olympia" (Newell, 126). The troops paraded and performed maneuvers on the muddy downtown streets in front of a large crowd.

In the evening a reception was held for Ferry and the other new state officials. A reception committee headed by Mayor Gowey presented hundreds of guests, who braved the downpour that had resumed, to the state officers. The reception was followed by the inaugural ball, music provided by an orchestra made up of members of the military bands. The P-I reported that dancing and merriment continued there and at other venues for many hours.


"Garb of Statehood: Ceremonies of Inauguration of the New Government," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 19, 1889, pp. 1-2; "The Oath of Office," Ibid., November 19, 1889, p. 2; "The Inaugural Ball," Ibid., November 19, 1889, p. 2; "Inauguration Day Incidents," Ibid., November 19, 1889, p. 2; Robert E. Ficken, Washington State: The Inaugural Decade, 1889-1899 (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 2007), 1-2; Gordon R. Newell, Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen (Seattle: Hangman Press, 1975), 124-27; Jennifer Crooks, "Lost Landmark: Washington's 'Temporary' Territorial and First State Capitol," ThurstonTalk website accessed February 25, 2022 (https://www.thurstontalk.com/2018/04/01/territorial-first-state-capitol/); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Ferry, Elisha P. (1825-1895)" (by Kit Oldham) and "Washington is admitted as the 42nd state to the United States of America on November 11, 1889" (by Kit Oldham), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed March 1, 2022).

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