Happy birthday, Washington: Here’s to the next 125

The word of the day is “quasquicentennial,” referring to a 125th anniversary.

OK, so it doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as “centennial” or “bicentennial,” but it’s what we’re commemorating today: the 125th anniversary of Washington becoming the 42nd state.

A celebration begins at 1 p.m. at the state Capitol in Olympia. In a place of honor is the only known Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington in the state, a painting that will also be seen in this weekend’s opening of the Haub Family Galleries wing of the Tacoma Art Museum.

November 1889 was a big month not only for Washington but also for the Union. The last state to have been admitted was Colorado, 13 years before. But in the space of 10 days in 1889, statehood was granted to four territories: North Dakota and South Dakota (Nov. 2), Montana (Nov. 8) and Washington (Nov. 11).

It was the end of the Gilded Age, a time of robber barons and the expansion of railroads. Women couldn’t vote, so all of the 75 delegates who convened on July 4 to draw up a state constitution were male.

They may have lacked diversity of gender and race, but not of occupations; the cohort included lawyers, farmers, businessmen, doctors, bankers, cattlemen, teachers, lumbermen and even a fisherman. They completed their work on Aug. 22. Then it was up to voters to approve their work.

A major opponent of the proposed constitution was the state Grange, an organization of farmers that described the document as “fraught with so much peril to the public welfare.” Some of the group’s concerns echo today: too many state offices, salaries that are too high and only increase, legislators’ extravagant expenses and “secret sessions.”

The Grange also warned against creation of an “office-seeking class” and “machine politics of the most corrupt and offensive character.”

Despite the Grange’s concerns, state voters approved the constitution Oct. 1 by a margin of more than 3 to 1. At the same time, voters rejected prohibition and women’s suffrage (which wouldn’t occur for another 21 years.)

The constitution has since been amended 104 times, most recently in 2010 — evidence that it is a living document that is guided by its framers but not limited to the time in which they lived. Here’s to the next 125 years.