The census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation. The census helps our communities determine where to build everything from schools to supermarkets, and from homes to hospitals. It helps the government decide how to distribute funds and assistance to states and localities. It is also used to draw the lines of legislative districts and reapportion the seats each State holds in Congress.
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The Fourteenth Census Act of July 2, 1909, provided for the 1920 and subsequent censuses; however, numerous minor changes were sought prior to the census, so a new law was enacted on March 3, 1919. This act designated a 3-year decennial census period, beginning July 1, 1919. During this 3-year period, the act provided for an increased workforce at the Census Bureau’s head quarters in Washington, DC, and for the creation of a special field force to collect census data.
Section 20, of the Fourteenth Census Act, provided that the enumeration of the population should be made as of January 1, 1920.1 Under the direction of the Director of the Census, Samuel L. Rogers, the work of actual enumeration began on January 2, 1920. The census covered the United States, the outlying possessions (excluding the Philippines and the Virgin Islands, the military, Red Cross, consular services abroad, and the naval service abroad or in American waters, but not on a fixed station.)2
For the country as a whole and for states and political subdivisions within the country, the population enumerated was the resident population. The enumerators (according to the census law), were instructed to enumerate persons at their “usual place of abode”— i .e., their permanent home or regular lodging place. Persons were not always counted in the places where they happened to be found by the enumerators or where they transacted their daily business. Persons temporarily absent from their usual places of abode (i.e., on business, traveling, attending school, or in hospitals) were enumerated at the places where they habitually resided and the information for these people was obtained from relatives or acquaintances. Persons having no fixed place of abode were required by the census law to be enumerated where they slept on the night of January 1, 1920.
1The date was changed upon the request of the Department of Agriculture and users of agricultural statistics. The new date had advantages for the agricultural census—the past years work on all farms had been finished, and the new years work had not yet begun. The majority of farmers would have been occupying the farms they had the previous year, whereas, a few months later, many renters would have moved to other farms. Furthermore, the birth of livestock increases greatly during the Spring and early Summer. Therefore, a livestock census referring to January1, 1920, would be far more valuable than one taken several months later.
2No provision was made by the Fourteenth Census Act for the enumeration of the Philippines. Censuses of the Philippines were conducted by the Philippine Commission in 1903. A second was conducted by the Philippines Government on December 31, 1918 (but called the “1919 Census”). A special census of the Virgin Islands was conducted by the United States, November 1, 1917.
Published 1922-1931. A series of monographs designed to include analysis and interpretation of important subjects covered by the census.