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Director Biographies

Directors 1893 - 1909

Carroll D. WrightCarroll D. Wright (1893-1897): Wright was born in July 1840, in Dunbarton, New Hampshire. He was studying law when he deferred his education to enlist as a private in the Union army in 1862. He was quickly promoted, becoming a colonel in 1864 before ending the war as an adjunct general under General Sheridan. After the war, he was admitted to the bar of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and the United States.

In 1872, he won a seat in the Massachusetts Senate, where he served until becoming chief of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor and Statistics from 1873 until 1878.

Wright became commissioner of labor in 1885, which is the office from which he also led the census at the end of the 1890 publication period. In 1894, he served as chairman of the commission organized to investigate the Pullman Company strike in Chicago, Illinois. Eight years later, he sat on a similar commission, investigating a coal miners’ strike that had occurred earlier that year.

Wright took over leadership a the Census Office after the departure of Robert Porter, finishing the publication of reports from the census of 1890. He was a strong proponent of a permanent census office.

During his time in Washington, Wright was a professor at several universities, including Catholic University and Harvard. In 1902, he left Washington to take a position as the president of Clark College in Massachusetts, also acting as a professor of statistics and socioeconomics from 1904 until his death in 1909.

William Rush MerriamWilliam Rush Merriam (1899-1903): Born in 1849, the successful St. Paul banker was the Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives when a fissure within the state Republican Party led him to a surprise nomination and election for governor in 1888.

Merriam won reelection in a tight three-party race four years later, and was a strong supporter of William McKinley’s presidential campaign in 1896. When McKinley picked Merriam to be superintendent of the 1900 census, many critics cried foul. They complained that the former governor had no statistical experience and had been awarded the position only as a favor for his earlier support. McKinley, however, thought that Merriam’s business experience was just as valuable as statistical experience in leading a census.

Merriam was the first leader of the Census Bureau, guiding the office’s transition from a temporary to a permanent agency in 1902. Merriam set a precedent for the director’s office imitated by many of his followers by focusing on external issues while leaving technical operations to the experts. He retired to Florida, dying there in 1931.

Simon Dexter NorthSimon Newton Dexter North (1903-1909): North was born in Clinton, New York in 1848, graduating from Hamilton College in 1869. He went on to become editor of several newspapers, including the Utica Morning Herald and the Albany Express. In 1889, he became secretary of the National Association of Wool Manufacturers in Boston. This position gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in statistical analysis, especially the results of the manufacturing census of 1890. Additionally, North spent much of the latter half of the 1890’s in Washington, where he defended the interests of the wool industry during tariff revisions in 1894 and 1897.

North was the chief statistician of the 1900 census, and became director of the new Census Bureau in 1903. This was a critical time at the new agency; formed only a year before, it was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor.

As an agency within the Department of the Interior, the Census Bureau was given a large amount of free reign. This changed with its move to the new department, where North often disagreed with Secretary George Cortelyou, who took a more active supervisory role than his predecessors. North resigned shortly before the census in 1910.

After his time as director of the Census Bureau, North returned to publishing for a short time before becoming assistant secretary of the Carnegie Institute for Peace in 1911. He stayed at this position until he retired in 1921, dying in Connecticut three years later.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: January 05, 2022