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Director Biographies

Directors 1921 - 1949

William Mott SteuartWilliam Mott Steuart (1921-1933): William Steuart was born in 1861 in Texas, on a ranch that his parents were homesteading. When his father died, a young Steuart and his mother traveled back east, settling in the District of Columbia. He graduated from George Washington University (then known as Columbian) in 1884, eventually being admitted to the District of Columbia and Maryland bars.

Steuart was deeply involved in census activities for much of his adult life. During the 1880 census, he worked as an assistant to superintendent Francis A. Walker, attending night school at the same time. He left his law practice in 1890 in order to become chief of the manufacturing division. In 1900, he was chief statistician for that division.

From when the Census Office became a permanent bureau in 1902 until 1917, Steuart served as chief statistician for census of manufactures. He was secretary and statistician at the U.S. Tariff Commission from 1917 to 1919, before returning to the Census Bureau to become assistant director, a position created by the 1920 Census Act.

When President Harding appointed Herbert Hoover his new secretary of commerce in 1921, Hoover replaced most of the agency heads under his control, including director of the census Samuel Rogers. Hoover replaced Rogers with Steuart, who was the assistant director at the time. Steuart served as director of the Census Bureau until 1933 - two years past the mandatory retirement age. He died in 1956.

William Lane Austin William Lane Austin (1933-1941): William Lane Austin rose through the ranks at the Census Bureau, climbing from clerk to director, over the course of his career. Born in Mississippi in 1871, he graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1897, earning his law degree a year later. However, Austin chose to become a teacher rather than pursue a career in law. In 1900, he accepted an appointment as a clerk for the Census Office, staying with the agency when it became the permanent Census Bureau in 1902.

From 1913 until 1917, Austin was chief clerk of the Census Bureau; from 1917 to 1932, he was chief statistician for agriculture, as well as chief statistician for cotton and tobacco statistics. For the first half of 1933, he was assistant director of the Census Bureau. In April of that year, after William Mott Steuart retired, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Austin director. As director, Austin oversaw eight years of experimentation and change in census and survey work, including the introduction of statistical sampling in the 1940 census.  He died in Mississippi in 1949.

James Clyde Capt James Clyde Capt (1941-1949): James Capt was born in Long Branch, Texas, in 1888 and later attended Baylor University. He served as a captain with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. After he returned to Texas, he set up a successful dairy business. During President Roosevelt’s first term he joined the Texas Relief Commission, where he came to the attention of Harry Hopkins, one of Roosevelt’s closest advisors.

Hopkins brought Capt into the Works Progress Administration to organize the information division. When Hopkins became secretary of commerce in 1939, he brought some of his subordinates from the WPA with him, including Capt. In July 1939, Capt became a confidential assistant to the director of the Census Bureau to organize and administer the workforce for the 1940 census. A good administrator, though not a statistician, Capt was appointed director in 1941, a position he held for eight years. In August 1949, he resigned because of poor health. He died less than a month later.

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