It read, “An act to provide for the division of the territory of Dakota into two states and to enable the people of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington to form constitutions and state governments and to be admitted to the union on an equal footing with the original states.” This phrase may not sound too exciting, but to the people of Dakota Territory, Section One of the Omnibus Bill was sheer poetry on this date in 1889. The wait was finally over. It was at 4:00 PM on February 20th that the conference report on the Springer Omnibus Bill reached the Senate, having passed the House. Immediately, Senator Platt moved for its adoption. For two agonizing hours, debate swirled around the lack of Women’s Suffrage along with a few minor points, and finally, at approximately 6:00 PM the final vote was taken.
A wild scene erupted in the chamber on passage of the bill. Some of the more enthusiastic members snatched papers on their desk and threw them high in the air. Springer, who had followed the bill in from the House, was heartedly congratulated on effecting the compromise
The following morning a copy of the bill was presented to President Cleveland. There was also a request from Congress that he wait to sign the bill on February 22nd, Washington’s Birthday, for not only did it included the admission of the State of Washington, 1889 was also a centennial year. One hundred years earlier, Washington had taken his oath of office and the first Congress had convened in the spring of 1789. The four new states would be known as the “Centennial States”.
When the news reached Dakota Territory, in the Council they joined in the song, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” but the state didn’t see a repeat of the wild celebration that accompanied Harrison’s election to the presidency. Cold and snow kept many inside in the east, and at Bismarck, public gatherings were banned due to a scarlet fever scare. However, many legislators did accept a free train ride to Helena where they celebrated heartedly with their Montana counterparts.
For women, there was little in which to rejoice. Another attempt to revive the Women’s Suffrage bill had been defeated in the Legislature. A further setback came when Territorial Attorney General T. L. Skinner, using a Washington Territorial court decision concerning the qualification of electors, declared women were not even citizens. Their hopes would now lay in the constitutional convention in July.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Daily Argus, (Fargo) February 25, 1889
The Bismarck Weekly Tribune, February 22, 1889