This Week Then: How Washington State University Got Its Start

Plus: Famous presidents make stops in Washington state

By Alan Stein


September 26, 2019

This story was originally published at HistoryLink.orgSubscribe to their weekly newsletter.

Planting a Seed

On September 27, 1876, Thurston County pioneer William Owen Bush won a top prize for grain at the nation’s centennial exposition in Philadelphia, and he would later attend three other American expositions, winning prizes at each. Bush’s interest in agronomy took root at an early age, and the fruits of his labor not only helped promote Washington’s crops, but also led to the creation of Washington State University.

Bush was the son of George W. Bush, who in 1845, along with Michael T. Simmons, was one of the first Americans to settle north of the Columbia River in what is now Washington. At the time, Oregon Territory prohibited African Americans from settling south of the river, hence Bush’s decision to stake a claim near what is now Tumwater. He began farming his land with his 13-year-old son, William, by his side.

Owen, as he preferred to be called, proved to be an apt student, and by the time he and his brothers took over the family farm after their father’s death, he had become one of the territory’s most celebrated farmers. In 1872 he and his family were founding members of the Western Washington Industrial Association, which organized fairs to promote agriculture. His farming expertise persuaded the territorial legislature to fund his appearance in Philadelphia.

Upon his return, Bush continued to farm, but he also entered the world of politics, serving from 1889 to 1891 in the first legislature convened in the new state of Washington. While there, he pushed for the state’s first civil-rights act and advocated for the creation of a state agricultural college, which would later become WSU. In 1904, three years before he died, the Olympia Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution praising Bush’s contribution to agriculture

Welcome, Indeed

This week marks a number of noteworthy visits to our state by our nation’s presidents. On September 30, 1909, President William Howard Taft visited the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. On October 1, 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the state, taking a trip around the Olympic Peninsula before heading east to tour the construction site of Grand Coulee Dam.

On September 26, 1963, more than 30,000 people greeted President John F. Kennedy at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, where he participated in groundbreaking ceremonies for the N Reactor. The next day, an equally large crowd came to hear him speak at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium. This was Kennedy’s last visit to Washington; he was assassinated in Dallas two months later.


Saying Hello

The Donation Land Claims Act took effect on September 27, 1850, luring many settlers to the Northwest. Exactly one year later, scouts from the Denny Party arrived at the mouth of the Duwamish River, where they met up with the Collins Party, which had been there for more than a week. The next day, scouts David Denny and Lee Terry made claims out on Alki, while John Low returned to Portland to fetch the rest of their party.

Four in a Row

Four Washington cities that celebrate anniversaries this week are South Bend, which incorporated on September 27, 1890; Granger, which had its incorporation approved on September 28, 1909; Stanwood, which voted to incorporate on September 29, 1903; and Okanogan, which incorporated on September 30, 1907.

To School We Go

On October 1, 1912, the Gonzaga School of Law started training lawyers in Spokane. Vancouver Junior College opened its doors on October 2, 1933, and exactly one year later Lower Columbia Junior College held its first classes. The University of Washington opened its medical school on October 2, 1946, and Evergreen State College‘s Tacoma Program started classes on September 26, 1983. On October 1, 1990, UW opened branch campuses in Bothell and Tacoma, and UW Tacoma opened its permanent location in the downtown warehouse district on September 27, 1997.

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