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Census 2020 Resource Guide: History

Census 2020 Resource Guide, in English and Spanish, provides information and resources for students and New Jersey/Middlesex County/Rutgers University residents.

 

 President George Washington, Vice President John Adams, and Speaker of the House Frederick Muhlenberg signed the 1790 Census Act, March 1, 1790 

Authorizing Legislation

The first census began more than a year after the inauguration of President Washington and shortly before the second session of the first Congress ended. Congress assigned responsibility for the 1790 census to the marshals of the U.S. judicial districts under an act which, with minor modifications and extensions, governed census taking through 1840. The law required that every household be visited, that completed census schedules be posted in "two of the most public places within [each jurisdiction], there to remain for the inspection of all concerned..." and that "the aggregate amount of each description of persons" for every district be transmitted to the president.

Enumeration

The six inquiries in 1790 called for the name of the head of the family and the number of persons in each household of the following descriptions:

  • Free White males of 16 years and upward (to assess the country's industrial and military potential)
  • Free White males under 16 years
  • Free White females
  • All other free persons
  • Slaves

Under the general direction of Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State, marshals took the census in the original 13 States, plus the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee).

Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson expressed skepticism over the final count, expecting a number that exceeded the 3.9 million inhabitants counted in the census.

Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/overview/1790.html

Historical Images

Taking the census / after sketch by Thomas Worth.

In 1870, over 6,500 marshals and assistants counted the U.S. population, which had grown to over 38 million. It wasn't until 1880 that specially trained enumerators carried out the census.

(1870) Taking the census / after sketch by Thomas Worth. United States, 1870. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/93510014/.

The Census, 1890

Cartoon showing man taking census from old woman, who thinks he wants to take her senses. Illus. in: Harper's weekly, 1890 June 14, p. 470.

(1890) The Census. United States, 1890. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/90711903/.

1910 Census - Winnebago Indian Family in Wisconsin

This Winnebago Indian family in Wisconsin was asked over 32 questions by a census enumerator in 1910.

Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/census_instructions/

 

 

Taking Census, between 1918 and 1920

Taking Census. , None. [Between 1918 and 1920] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016819972/.

Census Taking

(1919) Census Taking. , 1919. [or 1920] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016851519/.

[Woman taking census of another woman at door of house]

Woman Taking Census of Another Woman at Door of House. , None. [Between 1909 and 1932] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2002695609/.

Winter day. Census taker man wearing a parka with his head framed by his fur-lined hood interviews a young woman hatless wearing a cloth coat.

1940 Census publicity photo.

Original caption: "L. to R.: William F. Arends of Fairbanks, Assistant to Alaska Supervisor, in charge of 4th Judicial District; Miss Ellen Bradley who lives five miles south of Fairbanks."

1940 Census publicity photo. 1940. Harry L. Hopkins Collection. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. Retrieved from http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/franklin/?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=4251

1940 cesus taker in a suit interviewing a farmer who is sitting on his plow in a field.

1940 Census publicity photo.

1940 Census publicity photo. 1940. Harry L. Hopkins Collection. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. Retrieved from http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/franklin/?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=4243

1940 Census publicity photo.

1940 Census publicity photo. 1940. Harry L. Hopkins Collection. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. Retrieved from http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/franklin/?p=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=4244

Woman operating the card puncher

"This is a card puncher, an integral part of the tabulation system used by the United States Census Bureau to compile the thousands of facts gathered by the Bureau. Holes are punched in the card according to a prearranged code transferring the facts from the census questionaire into statistics. [Woman operating the card puncher]"

Department of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Public Information Office. 1890 ?-4/1983. National Archives Catalog. Retrieved from https://catalog.archives.gov/id/513295

It's your America! Help the ten-year roll call--1940 census, U.S.A.

United States Bureau Of The Census, F. (1940) It's your America! Help the ten-year roll call-- census, U.S.A. United States, 1940. [? U.S. Government Printing Office] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/92503698/.

1950 Census Enumerator Interviewing a Family

Census Bureau enumerator interviewing mother with two children. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/photos/counting_people_1950.html

1970 Census

Enumerators in 1970 were only sent out to collect information from non-responding residents, as it was the first census to operate on a true mail-out mail-back system.

Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/photos/1970_census.html

[U.S. census enumerator knocking on door]

Jenkins, R. M., photographer. (1990) U.S. census enumerator knocking on door. United States, 1990. [3 May] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2019646344/.

Source: Whitney Kehl. Government Documents Bulletin Board, Alexander Library, Rutgers University.

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