Monday, February 17, 2014

Idiotic or Dumb

As I decide whether enter the black hole project of researching genealogy, I previewed my free single document access of the 1880 census page listing my great grandparents - Charles Wisner and Mary Jane Castanien with their two children Harry and Dwell living in Blue Springs, Nebraska. 

As a statistician I was most interested in the data collected across the 26 columns that first day of June in 1880. 

(1) Personal Data - Name, Race, Sex, Age, Month born if in Census yr
(2) Relationship (for parties in same household)
(3) Civil Condition - Single; Married; Widowed/Divorced; Married during Census yr.
(4) Occupation - Description; # months unemployed during Census yr.
(5) Health -Sickness or Disability Description; Blind; Deaf/Dumb; Idiotic; Insane; Maimed/Crippled/Bedridden/Disabled;
(6) Education - Attended School during Census yr.; Can't Read; Can't Write
(7) Nativity - Place of Birth; Father's Birthplace; Mother's Birthplace

Wondering what "Idiotic" meant to the enumerator (Census taker), I looked it up:

What is Idiotic?

Enumerators were not just sent out with a bunch of forms to fill in. In typical federal style, they were supplied with an abundance of record-keeping rules. As the census forms increased in the number of questions asked, and the information desired, so too did the directions given to the enumerator.

Enumerators were given a specific definition for a person who was blind or deaf and dumb. They were also given a specific definition for the term "idiot." An idiot was "a person the development of whose mental faculties were arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity." For us, in a more enlightened age, a number of known disabilities would have fallen under this category, including Downs Syndrome.


I was going to say I was a dummy - but that would mean (e.g. the enumerator's definition of dumb), I could not speak.

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