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Friday, March 13, 2009

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be A...

When someone calls the MLC reference desk and wants information from the U.S. Census, I could not be happier. The Census is one of my favorite tools and I find it totally fascinating. So when we got a question about the 1880 Census this week, I was happy to oblige—and even happier to spend a little time browsing the volume for additional treasures.

I’m always fascinated by the occupations section, especially when it goes into such detail. Did you know that in the United States in 1880, there were:

4,660 corsetmakers? 795 of them were men, and none of them lived in Mississippi. What was a custom corset-needing lady to do?

1,016 apiarists? That’s a beekeeper to you and me. And 17 of them were women! There were only three of them (all male) who lived in Mississippi.

1,543 billiard and bowling-saloon keepers? First, let us revel in the phrase “bowling saloon” for a moment. Sadly, there was only one billiard/bowling saloon keeper in our whole state.

2,992 actors? Now THIS is sad: in Mississippi, there were no female actors and only ONE male actor. I’m sure he put on quite a one-man show.

There were many professions that I made mental notes to avoid if I ever become involved in time travel. I just don’t think I’d be a good bleacher, dyer, or scourer, although there were 8,222 of them at the time. (I don’t even like scouring my tub once a week, much less as a part of my everyday duties.) I also think I would be a lousy flax dresser, which is a person who breaks flax and prepares it for the spinner (there is also an obstructive pulmonary disease called flax-dresser’s disease that one gets from inhaling the tiny flax particles; I wonder how many of the 1880 country’s 904 male and 990 female flax dressers came down with this after their careers were over?).

This category of worker sent me straight to the OED: Galloon, gimp, and tassel makers. There were 2,235 of them, most of them women, but what in the world is a galloon or a gimp? The tassel gives us a clue: a galloon is a narrow ornamental fabric, such as a braid or strip of lace and a gimp is a fabric twist with cord or a wire running through it used as a trimming. Two excellent new words you can use while choosing new throw pillows.

I also had to look up the category of Stave, shook, and heading makers. A stave is a wooden post used in the framework of a building or other structure; a shook is a set of staves used to make a cask (a wooden barrel made to store alcohol), and a heading is material for making cask-heads. It makes sense that all 4,061 of them were male in 1880.

(One more fun, completely random fact: there were two New Orleans dentists in 1880 between the ages of 10-15 years old. As terrifying as some people find the dentist, imagine how much worse it would be if your dentist was a surly preteen!)

United States. Census Office. 10th Census, 1880 Statistics of the Population of the United States at the Tenth Census (June 1, 1880). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883.

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