Top Five Fifty-First States That Never Were

Autostraddle 5th B'day_Cats plus changes_Rory Midhani_640px (1)
We’re celebrating Autostraddle’s Fifth Birthday all month long by publishing a bunch of Top Fives. This is one of them!

I learned the states at the public library with a wood puzzle that I did maybe 1064 times over the course of my childhood. I can now name all fifty states, fill them in on a map, or, if a map isn’t available, draw the map myself. I am perfectly ok with bragging about this.

This is the puzzle. via Orvis

This is the puzzle via Orvis

Fifty states. It’s a good round number – easily divisible by ten, five and two, makes the number in the Senate round out to an even 100. Unless you were born before 1959 (shout out to my grandparent readers), you’ve always known the reliable fifty. I think it’s part of that whole American exceptionalism thing we have going on – there’s something normative and secure about the number fifty that contrasts against our northern neighbors that have 13 provinces and territories and our southern neighbors with 31. And also – where the fuck would that star go on the flag?

Well let me disrupt your fifty-state narrative. Here are the five states that might have been (and still could be):

Baja Arizona

In an attempt to wiggle away from the influence of racist, homophobic draconian laws and the conservative establishment centered in Phoenix, Pima County – which is where Tucson is located, and is, in land-mass, bigger than New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut – has teamed up with other southern AZ counties tried to form the state of Baja Arizona. It hasn’t happened. Yet.

South Jersey

The light blue is Ocean County - they're the county that didn't pass the vote.

The light blue is Ocean County – they’re the county that didn’t pass the vote.

This was literally proposed as a joke in a newspaper in 1980, and then the idea took off, even reaching a non-binding referendum vote that was passed by six of the seven counties that would have been part of the new state.


Initially I guessed that the proposed name for this hypothetical state that would make up the Upper Peninsula of Michgan and a bit of Northern Wisconsin came from the inferiority complex that the UP must have acquired from always being left out when people remember Michigan because it’s shaped like a mitten. But then it was pointed out to me – it borders Lake Superior. The people of the UP/Superior region sometimes call Lower Michiganders “trolls.”

Northern Colorado

The alternate name for this state was "Tetris." via Outside the Beltway

The alternate name for this state was “Tetris.” via Outside the Beltway

So yeah, Colorado decriminalized pot, and it also did some other cool things like passing more stringent gun control laws, and tighter restrictions for energy consumption and agricultural practices, and the rural parts of Colorado with less representation in the state legislature were like, HEY, NO, STOP. And then they tried to make their own state.


Not to be confused with the movement for Cascadian independence, the proposal for the State of Jefferson would include various counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California. The Jefferson region has been vaguely considered a thing since the 19th Century, and is largely defined by its libertarian politics, ecotourism, a legacy of gold-mining and public radio.

feature image from Etsy

Header by Rory Midhani

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Maddie has written 100 articles for us.


  1. Hah South Jersey.

    I was expecting to see Puerto Rico on this list! But I guess it isn’t quite in the category of “never was” (although that’s true?) because it still could happen.

    • Yeah I decided to limit this to already existing states that wanted to break up with themselves.

      I also learned while making this list that at one point circa the seventeenth century, the Jersey area was split into East and West Jersey, which, as a North Jersey native, pretty much blew my mind.

  2. I am 100% for the existence of Superior. I went to college up there and wow does it get forgotten and neglected by the state government. It’s also the most beautiful place on earth, sidenote. It deserves it’s own government.

  3. And y’know, DC and Puerto Rico. As a resident of one and huge fan/at times frequent visitor of the other, I have many feelings about statehood.

    Also, viva Cascadia!

  4. As someone from Oregon who now goes to school on the east coast where no one knows that the west coast has more states than just Washington and California, I would welcome a new forgotten state of Jefferson.

  5. The Daily Show had a great segment a few years ago about people who wanted Long Island to secede from New York and form its own state. Whose state bird would be “the bird,” obvi.

  6. i’m alllll for south jersey (I’m from north jersey)… they’re basically two different states anyway.

  7. I was hoping Jefferson would be mentioned. It just makes sense. Southern Oregon is very different from northern and northern California is very different from southern. They have more in common with each other and I really think Jefferson should be a state.

  8. The Northern Colorado one makes me laugh so much. It was just rural farmers being upset that older white men weren’t being represented enough and the state legislature was only considering the cities on the Front Range (where the few major cities in Colorado are) and they knew better. I’m pretty sure it went to a vote, but no one took it seriously except the old, racist, homophobic white men.

    Also, dumbest state name ever.

    • I hadn’t heard about this! ha! they can have that miserable flat portion of the state for all I care.

  9. Having grown up in the 60s-70s Northern California, I’ve been exposed to a lot of talk about splitting up California since I was a child (usually along North-South lines somewhere around Big Sur). But Jefferson was proposed mostly by ultra-conservative rancher types who didn’t like the state meddling in their business (aka any form of regulation). The boundaries of Jefferson used to be waaay smaller, but they realized it wasn’t a variable state (we’re talking, like, 200,000 people tops) so they magically grew it to include Redding, Chico and other cities. My feeling is, do we really need another state named after a slaveholder (and rapist)? There’s not a chance in hell Oregon would allow itself to be chopped up and merged with part of California, nor do I think fairly progressive towns like Ashland would want to be joined with what’s likely to be a tea party state.

    I do think California should be split up into a couple of states just because it’s going to hit over 40,000,000 people in the next few years and that’s just too big. Never going to happen though because of water rights issues and Southern California’s reliance on Northern California’s water sources.

    • Well if it’s up to Silicon valley republican, California would be 6 different states. With Silicon Valley being one state, the bay area being another, California part of Jefferson being the 3rd, central valley/farm lands area being the 4th. L.A. being the 5th(because tech moguls don’t like the hippies and democrats in Hollywood), and San Diego, Orange and the I.E. being the 6th. The only problem there is entertainment industry makes more money than Silicon valley, that most L.A. who makes the money, which leaves San Diego, Orange, Ventura, and the I.E. to fend for themselves.

      Also, in SoCal we get some of our water from the Colorado river, and could easily open up a desalination plant, if the rich weren’t soo worried about their ocean viewing being obstructed.

      • Tim Draper (the Venture Capitalist behind that proposal… who was fictionally portrayed in The Social Network) is a total tool. He wants to break up the Bay Area into several states which makes no sense since it’s an area which has a lot of regional planning needs. It’s largely a plot to jettison as many impoverished people as possible (especially those in the Central Valley) so he and his “libertarian” millionaire buds don’t have to pay taxes to supposedly support them. Ugh. Hate to tell you, but a lot of “entertainment industry” jobs are leaving the LA area for New York and Canada. And the studios are owned by corporations headquartered in other locales.

  10. the northern colorado movement seems like the 51st state proposal i’m most familiar with– Lincoln, which would be Eastern Washington, which is much more conservative than the west side of the mountains and doesn’t like the seattle area turning WA into a blue state. actually, i think most of rural WA is fairly conservative. at least in my experience, you just need to get a few miles out of the cities (like Bham) to be in an entirely different political context.

    • and mostly i’m amused that they picked another presidential name.
      fun fact about Washington State- the confusion between it and DC is so damn irritating, esp considering the alternative name for the state was Columbia (I’m assuming for the Columbia River?) but someone thought THAT would be confusing with the District of Columbia. argh

  11. Hahahahahahaa South Jersey.
    So perfect.
    Also, if a state called Superior ever happened, that’d be the best thing.

  12. Recently Puerto Rico has come closer than ever to be a state.* According to my relatives (who may not be the best source on this, though they do live there) statehood actually won the popular vote last time. I think that’s the first time that happened. Puerto Rico actually has some representatives in US government albeit non-voting ones.

    *Disclaimer: I’m not as up to date on all of this as I should be. Most of my relatives live there. Apologies if I got any of this wrong. If anyone knows more about this I’d love to know! Thankies.

    • I’m not 100% informed about this either, but from what I do understand the majority of Puerto Ricans favor some change in status as far as their relationship to the U.S. and the majority of those in favor of a change voted for statehood in a referendum. It was kind of symbolic though, since the U.S. government I think has to extend an offer of statehood before it actually happens. But, it’s a step in that direction.

  13. If the State of Jefferson existed, it would be the poorest state in the country. Meth and pot would probably be legal, but gay marriage probably wouldn’t be. So, meh.

  14. Oh my god, I had that exact same puzzle!! Which is why I can never remember all the little Northeastern states. Multiple ones were lumped together on the same puzzle piece.

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