KGUN 9NewsSpirit of Southern Arizona


HBD, AZ: Arizona celebrates 112 years of statehood!

Arizona's long journey to statehood celebrated today
Arizona Turns 112, Historical Society Centennial Quilt
Posted at 5:56 PM, Feb 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-15 15:35:35-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — 112 years ago today, President William Howard Taft sat in the Oval Office with a decision to make. In front of him, for the second time, sat legislation to make the Territory of Arizona the 48th state in the Union. This time, Taft signed it, ending Arizona’s long journey to statehood.

But why was that journey so long?

Though people have lived on the land where Arizona now sits for thousands of years, Arizona Historical Society’s Staff Historian Jaynie Adams said there were three major reasons that the United States federal government was apprehensive to add Arizona to the country.

1. Population density: The federal government worried that Arizona didn't have a dense enough population to send representatives to Congress.

2. Concerns of Confederate sympathies: Arizona was briefly part of the Confederacy during the Civil War, so many of its residents were either Democrats, Confederate sympathizers or Confederates themselves.

3. What Adams calls "good, old-fashioned racism": Due to its history as part of Spain and Mexico, some members of the federal government were concerned about how many Spanish-speakers there were in Arizona, as well as how many indigenous peoples lived within its borders.

Why did President Taft veto Arizona's first attempt?

Arizona's first constitution was what Adams called "big 'P' progressive." It backed child labor laws, votes for women, prohibition, citizen referendum and, most controversially, judge recalls.

In 1911, President Taft vetoed Arizona's statehood.

"The judge recall was scary to the federal government," Adams said. "They thought that it was a violation of the checks and balances system."

Taft convinced Arizonians to remove the judge recall from their constitution, and, a year later, granted Arizona its statehood. Almost immediately after, Arizonans used the channel of citizen referendum to reinstate their ability to recall judges.

Where did the name "Arizona" come from?

"Nobody can agree," Adams said. "Nobody knows. I've heard a million different stories."

Some of the more popular ideas are that Arizona, or Arizonac, is a Spanish derivative of the native O'odham word for "small spring," or that Arizona comes from a Basque word meaning "the good oak."

To Adams, however, the name's origin doesn't matter, and the mythology is more interesting than any possible truth.

"History is based on interpretations, based on the lived experience of the storyteller," she said. "There is no such thing as complete history. There's only a more complete history. We have to take everyone's lived experience into consideration. Of course you're going to have a million different takes on the same events, same person, same whatever. "

How can you celebrate Arizona's Birthday?

The Arizona History Museum and the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe are free to visit until Saturday, Feb. 17. On the final day, the Heritage Center is holding an open house with crafts, a scavenger hunt and activities for kids to commemorate Arizonan statehood.