James Wickersham, via Tanana-Yukon Historical Society

Wickersham, Alaska, and the Organic Act

I came across this recently on the Alaska Historical Society website (http://alaskahistoricalsociety.org/discover-alaska/this-month-in-alaska-history/):

 August 24, 1912 – President William Howard Taft signed the Organic Act which created the Territory of Alaska. The signing took place on the birthday of Delegate James Wickersham, author of the bill.

Here’s the story about how that happened:

When Alaska became a U. S. territory in 1867, it was a “customs and military district” controlled by Washington DC bureaucrats. The First Organic Act of 1884 created the federal judicial system and a school system for Alaska, but all the administrators were presidential appointees, and many positions were filled by unqualified men from the Lower 48. In 1906, Congress gave the territory the right to elect a nonvoting delegate in Congress, which was a step in the right direction. But Alaskans wanted more say in the governance of their home, out of reach of corrupt syndicates and Outside politicians who had no regard for Alaskans. After the Ballinger-Pinchot affair scandal, President Taft called for legislation that would allow the resources to be developed fairly, something Delegate James Wickersham had been wanting for years.

Wickersham had been a good district judge in Alaska, often traveled by dog sled across his district, and climbed Mt. McKinley in 1903. Wickersham was elected Delegate in 1908, and wrote and lobbied for the Second Organic Act in Congress, building favor for the measure he was not allowed to vote for himself.

The Second Organic Act of 1912 kept an appointed governor. However, it created a territorial legislature, with some limitations: they could not create bonds without permission of Congress, establish a judicial system, or regulate fish, game, and fur-bearing mammals. The First Territorial Legislature did give women the right to vote, created a head tax to pay for roads, and adopted laws on mining, banks, schools, and health and sanitation in the first year. The Act allowed Alaskans to lay the foundation of our state.

Wickersham didn’t rest on his laurels. He went on to advocate for Alaska statehood, help create Mt. McKinley National Park (now Denali National Park and Preserve), and play a part in funding the Alaska Railroad and the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (which became the University of Alaska). He served Alaska faithfully for many years, and in 1949, the Territorial Legislature honored his memory by designating his birthday, August 24, as Wickersham Day.


Wickersham is a minor character in Golden Days as he helps Fairbanks recover form a flood, and is mentioned for his role in establishing Mt. McKinley National Park in Gold Nuggets. Learn more about my YA/NA historical romances on my Library page or see them on the Prism Book Group site at http://www.prismbookgroup.com/#!teen-fiction/h1jxi.

I love to share my passion for Alaska and its history in my writing for young adults and their grown ups.

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