Census Enumerators: Advised To Show Politeness and Friendliness 1900

Up to 3 o'clock this afternoon not a single census man had been killed. Over 600 enumerators each with a multitude of questions, a prying curiosity and a large stock of affable politeness were abroad in Brooklyn early this morning. The affable politeness is the most important part of the census taker's outfit, as it is all that saves him from immediate annihilation. Past experience at census gathering evidently impressed this on Washington authorities, for the strictest instruction given to the enumerators is that they must be both friendly and polite to their victims. Insofar as it has been within the scope and power of the enumerators, this instruction has been carried out to the letter; in fact, it was a quite unnecessary direction, for self preservation is the first law of nature and no census man is fool hardly enough to go up and fire his questions at even the weakest and most helpless looking man without first establishing friendly relations.

Three census men quit their jobs almost before they got started. When they applied for the places they expected to have a nice easy snap, where there would be nothing to do except go around and write down a few names, with possibly the home addresses of the heads of families. They got the appointments and then the printed instructions and blanks began to arrive by installments. They would have resigned at once had not one of the printed letters consoled them with this cheering and encouraging exhortation:

"Do not be frightened at the number of forms and the quantity of printed instructions that you will receive, because after you have carefully read them you will find that they are all based on common sense."

It was plain that it took an awful lot of common sense to furnish a foundation for so much printed stationery and the appointees were incredulous, but they held their commissions. This morning a small taste of census taking proved to much. They reported to Supervisor Walter B. Atterbury that they had pressing business engagements and would not carry out their contract to count Brooklyn people. Mr. Atterbury says he was surprised at the small number that took fright at the work and quit. He expected that quite a number would throw up the sponge at the very start off, and he believes yet that there will be many vacancies. In fact, he proposes to create vacancies where-ever a census taker does not prove himself to be highly efficient.

A vast array of statistics concerning Brooklyn families, their possessions in the way of pigs, cows, tomato and cabbage, matters of deep interest, has already been accumulated by Mr. Atterbury's industrious enumerators. Encouraging reports have been received from the majority of the 577 districts. Up to noon it had not been necessary in a single instance to call in the aid of the police in counting a man..

But all of the census men were having woes of their own. they met trouble on every hand. They found people who could not talk English and people who could not talk at all. They also found a few who could talk in one or more languages, but who refused to contribute to Uncle Sam's census statistics. Judicious urging usually brought these obdurate persons around and in no case was there an instance of inborn obstinacy and perversity that could not be overcome by the arguments of the young diplomats selected for the work.

The men who could not talk English furnished the greatest trouble. There were so many of these that the thirteen interpreters commissioned to assist the enumerators proved entirely inadequate to meet the demand. In many cases the man to be counted could talk some English, but when the census man had got fairly started with the working of putting the man and his pedigree on paper the linguistic ability of the victim would prove insufficient to answer the great assortment of questions. Then there would be a long delay. Telephone messages would have to be sent to headquarters and an interpreter secured to ask the foreigner the full list of questions. Mr. Atterbury was over worked this morning.

"This is the last time I shall ever undertake to gather a census," said the supervisor as he mopped his forehead and tried to look cool while a dozen enumerators were making demands upon him all at the same time.

"It's a great task, and______"

Here the telephone bell would start up on a new key, and the girl would announce that one of the men simply had to talk to Mr. Atterbury and no one else would do.

"Hello! This is John Blank, No. 965, down on the water front, and I want a Norwegian interpreter here quick before I'm murdered," the voice would say over the telephone. After determining the exact location of Number 965 Mr. Atterbury would dispatch the Norwegian interpreter and then some other enumerator would call up and say:

"Send me an interpreter down to the foot of Rapelye street, South Brooklyn, in a hurry."

"What kind of an interpreter do you want?" Mr. Atterbury would ask.

"Oh, I don't know. The man can't talk any kind of language that I ever heard before, I don't know whether he's Dutch, French, Russian or Yiddish. You might send down all kinds, except a Chinese. I know he's not a Chinaman."

And so it was all day long. The enumerators had to get additional instructions and some of them wanted to know if they could resign without throwing the affairs of the government into irremediable chaos. Many dozen of them talked very faintly, as if more than sick of their jobs.

The census man making the round of the houses furnished a show such as is rarely seen. He would go up to a door with a timid air, first reconnoitering to determine whether or not he would have to include a bulldog in the statistics of that household; then he would give the bell a weak pull, as if he was afraid the baby was sick and he would disturb it by a loud ring. While waiting for the door to open he would stand nervously first on one leg and then on the other, at the same time making cautious surveys of the premises to be sure that no attack was being attempted from the rear.

For a man backed up by right and law and a great big government, he was the guiltiest and most frightened looking individual in all the world. He seemed suspicious of everything. When the door would be opened the census man would quickly assume an apologetic air and begin to express, with great volubility, his regrets at being forced to come around and count that family. Always, yes always, the census man thrust forward his credentials and badge the very first thing. Always he betrayed a burning anxiety to get on a friendly footing with the whole family and to assure the family that he was a mere machine; that he would be compelled to ask some few questions, but that he would forget the answers as soon as he noted them down in a book, and that they need not feel at all embarrassed because he was there. After twenty minutes of apologizing the census man would feel sufficiently secure to begin his onslaught of questions.

A kind and considerate census schemer, so arranged the questions as to put the least embarrassing first. The census man would have to stammer a little, notwithstanding this, when he would ask the name of the street.

"Might I ask the number of the house?" he would bravely inquire, having first asked the superfluous question about the street.

"Are you crazy?" the head of the household would frequently query in answer. "The idea of coming around asking the name of streets and the number of the houses, when you ought to know what's as plain as the nose on your face."

The it would be incumbent on the census man to explain that it was necessary that he give verbal utterance to every question. Next the census man would ask the name of every member of the family. This was easy, but sometimes the head of the family would remark that the baby hadn't been named yet. Then there would be more trouble. No provision had been made for nameless babies, and it did not look well to register a newly born citizen as simply Blank Jones or Blank Brown.

"Let's put him down as John, "the enumerator would bravely suggest.

"It's not a him," some of the older progeny would reply.

Long discussions would then arise over the right name of the baby. The fertile brained enumerator would pump his head dry suggesting names. Arguments would ensue between different members of the family and finally the new baby would be named a name that it never would have received had it been christened in the regular order of procedure. Dozens of babies were named on the spur of the moment to day. After ascertaining other important details the enumerator would blushingly inquire the color or race of the person under fire. This question had to be asked, even though the color was plainly apparent. Then, tremblingly, the enumerator would venture the embarrassing question as to the sex.

"What do you think I'm wearing a dress for if I'm a man?" the indignant house lady would demand. The poor census man would have to smooth over this trouble and proceed to the age. This was especially embarrassing to the young women, some of whom clearly committed perjury, rather than be registered at their true age. All seemed bashful on this point.

"Will my age be published in the census?" the daughter of the family would inquire.

After being assured that no young swains of Brooklyn would become possessed of that interesting information through the medium of the census the age would be reluctantly given. There were dozens of questions and it took a long time for the census man to count a large family. Beside getting statistics along the line of the above it is necessary to find out how many cattle, goats, horses and other live stock are owned by each city family.

Brooklyn appears to be a vast agricultural district. Hundreds of farms have been discovered by the census men. In some little districts more than one hundred farms have been found. For each of these farms it is necessary to have a special agricultural schedule. This schedule has questions about nearly every known vegetable grown in the civilized world.

One full blooded Indian has been found by the census men in Brooklyn. He is Elias Bunn and is a resident of the Twenty-third Ward. The government has issued special schedules for the Indians, but not many of these will be used by Supervisor Atterbury's men. The Montauk tribe down on Long Island is so intermingled with the negro race that there are few real Indians, and Elias Bunn of Brooklyn will, no doubt, be almost alone in the red men's statistics.

Every person in existence at the houses visited today is being counted. Even those babies who do not arrive before tonight will not be enrolled. The instructions are that only those persons alive on June 1 shall be counted. The census enumerators visiting houses two weeks from today will ask only for those who were alive on June 1. All persons alive today will be counted, no matter if they die before the census man visits their home, but all babies born after today will be ignored.

The enumerators who are counting the people down on Staten island and over in Queens County cannot possibly finish up in the limited time allowed them. Richmond County and Queens County are both agricultural counties, but unfortunately for the enumerators they are parts of a city of more than 8,000 population, and consequently, are out of the rural district class. The enumerators for Suffolk and Nassau counties have thirty days in which to count the population out there and get up the farming statistics for that part of Long island. The Richmond and Queens enumerators have only fourteen days, just as the enumerators in thickly populated Brooklyn and New York, although the conditions in Queens and Richmond are as nearly agricultural as in Suffolk and Nassau.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Census Enumerators; Advised to show Politeness and Friendliness 1900
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle June 1, 1900.
Time & Date Stamp: