Marshfield, January 1911: Count down
City leaders disappointed in 1910 census results
By Kris Leonhardt
The practice of a national census began in 1790 in the United States. As the nation’s leaders realized its value, the census grew into a decennial practice, which resulted in the official opening of the U.S. Census Bureau in 1902.
The 1910 census began April 15. Questionnaires had been distributed days earlier among cities with a previous population of 5,000 or more. This included the city of Marshfield.
The questionnaires were designed to prepare residents in the larger cities and speed up the enumeration process.
Census takers were given two weeks in Marshfield and other large cities and 30 days in the rural areas to process a multitude of questions regarding sex, race or color, age, marital status, years married, number of children born/still living, birthplace of individual and parents, citizenship status, language spoken, occupation, education, and more.
Lack of preparation by the residents, language barriers, and other complications created obstacles for the census takers. In addition, errors made by automated counting machines complicated and delayed results.
Finally, in January 1911, the results of the 1910 census were announced in the city of Marshfield. The proclamation was met with great disappointment as the city’s population was assessed to be 5,783.
The calculation was 543 higher than the 1900 census and 252 less than a census taken in 1905.
With construction constant in the past decade and every Marshfield residence declared to be inhabited, city leaders were dissatisfied and confused. They estimated that the census was off by approximately 1,000 inhabitants and that the population was closer to 7,000.
According to the numbers of the 1910 census, Marshfield was the No. 31 most populous city in Wisconsin, barely edging out Neenah, Rhinelander, Oconto, Portage, and Menomonie.
Dissatisfied with the census results, Marshfield city leaders talked of a recount. Like other pioneering city forefathers, Marshfield founders held a great deal of pride in their escalating community and wanted the numbers to reflect that growth.
Other municipalities around the nation saw variances in the census results, and in some cases a second enumeration was completed.