NARA expects to digitally release the 1950 population census schedules for researcher use on April 1, 2022, which is 72 years after the official 1950 census day. This is the 36th in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.
Every 10 years, the Census Bureau faced the monumental task of hiring, training, and supervising hundreds of thousands of qualified temporary employees, including enumerators, clerks, coders, keypunch operators, and supervisors. Of these, the people on the front line – the enumerators – were arguably the most important since the accuracy and completeness of the information they collected would inevitably influence the statistics generated from the later work of the coders, keypunch operators, and career statisticians.
An earlier post, 1950 Census: A Message to Job Applicants!, discussed the requirements and desired skills for qualified census enumerators: A U.S. citizen with a high school education or better, who can (1) write legibly, (2) do simple arithmetic quickly and accurately, and (3) interact with, and gain the cooperation of, all kinds of human personalities. How do you find and hire people like these? Can you name one large group of laborers in 1950 who had these qualifications?
Answer: School teachers.
School teachers were mostly U.S. citizens, educated, could do arithmetic, and (hopefully) wrote legibly. Daily they exercised skills in interacting with, and obtaining the cooperation of, students and parents. They were known and generally respected in their communities. Their membership in national, state, or local education associations meant that it would be efficient to get information to them about the census and the need for their skills. Thus, the Census Bureau devoted resources to a “Teacher Participation Program” to recruit school teachers to be 1950 census enumerators. This post will be our “first look” at the program based on some of the 1950 census teacher participation program records that have been digitized thus far.
The bulk of the Teacher Participation Program work was carried out by Curtis E. Warren, who signed his letters either as “Educational Consultant, Bureau of the Census” or “Consultant to the Field Division, Bureau of the Census.” Dr. Warren was a former high school principal and former superintendent of the public schools in Marysville, Burbank, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco, California.
Dr. Warren began his project by contacting Charles H. Lake, a consultant to the Cleveland, Ohio, Board of Education, who may also have been a personal friend. On December 1, 1948, Warren wrote to Charley Lake to inform him that he had travelled 25,000 miles, and had visited all the states west of the Mississippi River as well as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maine. Thus, he said, “I have now covered 24 states and the cities of Chicago, Omaha, Lincoln, Denver, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Salt Lake City.” More importantly, he noted that “I have had an unusually fine response, by and large, and so far the superintendents in the big cities have been very willing to cooperate.” (Curtis E. Warren to Charles H. Lake, December 1, 1948, image 6 in “Binder 35 – Ohio Section – Correspondence with Public School Officials, Ohio” (NAID 205683270).
The opportunity to earn money was an inducement to some teachers to participate. May Ruth, a teacher at New Martinsville, West Virginia, and former Census Bureau employee, wrote in November 1948, that she was “very much interested” and “the wages would supplement their regular income, which is often too low.” (May Ruth to Census Bureau, Nov. 1948, images 8-11 in “Binder 35 – West Virginia Section – Correspondence with Public School Officials, West Virginia” (NAID 205683284)).
|Discussion of the Teacher Participation Program in Annual Report of the Bureau of the Census, July 1, 1947-June 30, 1948, page 2.||First page of letter from May Ruth, New Martinsville, West Virginia, November 1948 from NAID 205683284.|
Nebraska school leaders seemed eager to cooperate. For example, George P. Moore, Supervising Principal of the public schools in Oaklyn, Nebraska, reported to Director of the Census J. C. Capt on January 4, 1949, that “All of our teachers have expressed their willingness to participate in this project one hundred percent. As of this date you may depend upon 31 volunteers from the Oaklyn Schools.” (George P. Moore to Director of Census, January 4, 1949, image 12 in “Binder 34 – Nebraska Section – Correspondence with Public School Officials, Nebraska” (NAID 205683262)).
However, some teachers were unenthusiastic or opposed to being an enumerator because it would interfere with their much-needed spring break week or their after-school tasks like grading homework and tests. In Connecticut, local education associations showed “a disappointing lack of enthusiasm for the project, particularly in the larger communities.” (Lyndon U. Pratt, Executive Secretary, Connecticut Education Association, to Mr. Warren, Census Bureau, April 14, 1949, image 3 in “Binder 33 – Connecticut Section – Correspondence with Public School Officials, Connecticut” (NAID 205683241)).
In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, public school teachers had conducted city-wide censuses every year since 1944 to help the school district's planning efforts. Blank city census forms and recent statistical data were sent to Dr. Warren for his information. (“Binder 35 – Wisconsin Section – Correspondence with Public School Officials, Wisconsin” (NAID 205683285)). No specific information in the file is given regarding their level of interest in the federal census, however.
Perhaps the greatest teacher involvement occurred in Fort Worth, Texas, where teacher participation allowed many standard Enumeration Districts (EDs), such as ED 261-284, to be subdivided into multiple pieces, such as 261-284A, 261-284B, 261-284C, 261-84D, 261-284E, 261-284F, and 261-284G, with each piece handled by a different enumerator. (Please note that subdivision of EDs into A, B, C, etc., subparts – which happened in many places across the United States – does not necessarily imply that teachers were the enumerators of those subparts. Subdivision of an ED often occurred when an on-site supervisor of the census found that the “planned” ED had a larger population than was expected and therefore needed more enumerators to get it completed.)
In Fort Worth, the teachers began census enumeration work on Friday, April 7, 1950, and continued until the job was completed. They were expected to work “at least eight hours a day” and, “with the exception of a few call-backs” should be able to complete the assignment by Thursday or Friday evening.” The piece-pay rate was “designed to produce earnings of $8 to $10 per day for diligent workers” and total $50 to $60 for their time training and enumerating. Teachers would be assigned an area as near their residence as possible but not within the district of the school to which the teacher was presently assigned. (Brochure, “The 1950 Census Plan for Fort Worth: A Message to School Teachers” in “Binder 71-A – 1950 Census Brochures” (NAID 206240475)).
Did the Teacher Participation Program work? How many school teachers became 1950 census enumerators? How successful were the Census Bureau’s efforts? Answers to these questions will require further research.
A future blog post will take a second look at the Teacher Participation Program. In the meantime, we invite you to explore digitized records relating to the 1950 Census Teacher Participation Program. Perhaps you will find a record relating to a school district, teacher, principal, superintendent, or other educational leader in which you are interested.