Finishing Up 1910

This morning I was watching an episode of The West Wing while working on finishing the database for the 1910 Harrisburg Census and it just so happened to be an episode about the Census. I just can’t escape it. But a quote from the episode truly resonated with me and how I feel some days while working on the Census:

Sam Seaborn: You don’t understand the census.
CJ Cregg: I don’t understand certain nuances.
Sam: Like what?
CJ: Like the census.

Some days after I’ve been working endless hours and making little to no progress, I feel like CJ from this scene. Other days, like today, I completely understand the Census and all that it has to offer for historical interpretation. I’m about a week’s worth of work away from completely finishing data entry for the 1910 Census, a process that started around this past Christmas. While it’s been a lengthy process, being this close to the end has led to some reflection.

1. Growth
At this point in the history of the city, the City Beautiful Movement was still going strong and people were still moving into the city. If you look at a comparison of 1900 or 1910 to today, the number of citizens residing in Harrisburg was larger in the early 1900s than it is now, despite there being a significantly larger population in the United States. In 1900, the approximate population of Harrisburg was 50,000, while in 1910 it was 58,500. Now, however, the population is 49,000. It is interesting to note this shift in population. While there was decent growth in the 10 year period between 1900 and 1910, largely due to the beautification efforts in the city, there has since been a decline in population.

2. Employment Changes
In the time between 1900 and 1910, many new professions emerge and the classic professions from 1900 are growing. While the railroad remains one of the largest employers throughout the city, working at places such as hotels becomes more popular during this time. While in 1900, only a handful of people work in or own hotels, there are several thousand who work in them come 1910. Additionally, there is a new field on the 1910 Census for the industry in which you work, creating some new and very interesting data for us to analyze. There seem to be many more proprietors in the 1910 Census as well as people who work from their homes, whether that is in sewing, tailoring, or laundering.

3. Divisional Changes
In 1900, the city is divided into ten wards, a simple subdivision based on location within the city. The wards also tend to have similar sizes in population, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 per ward. Wards closest to the river, such as Wards 1 and 2 tend to be the most prosperous and have people working at high paying and skilled labor positions. Those wards further from the Susquehanna tend to have less prosperity and residents work in low skill jobs or are unemployed, although unemployment was low at this time and included many retirees and disabled individuals, not just those who were unable to find work. In 1910, however, there are thirteen wards. The new thirteen wards of 1910 are divided in such a way that the populations are vastly different. Ward population size ranges from 3,000 to 12,000 with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Harrisburg is a constantly changing city, and it is incredible that I am able to work so closely with the city’s past in order to be able to see these changes the occurred over time and interpret them. So while I may not always understand the Census, I can always see the value in the work that I do.

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