Tulsans balked at some census questions in 1940
BY CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Saturday, June 02, 2012
6/02/12 at 5:37 AM
For more about the 2010 Census data.
Related story: 72 years of change.
That was the federal government slogan used to encourage citizens to participate in the 1940 census.
The word was included on a Census Bureau logo from the period that depicted an Uncle Sam-like person writing on what appeared to be a long scroll. The logo appears in the 79-page instruction manual provided to census enumerators.
Citizens were encouraged to answer census-worker questions, which at the time included where they worked and annual income.
But some bucked the cooperation line, with some questions on the list drawing scorn on the national and local levels.
One Tulsa women's club opposed some questions, saying it was unfair to ask "Have you ever been divorced?"
"We don't like this snooping and prying," club members said in letter sent to a New Hampshire U.S. senator and printed in the March 6, 1940, edition of the Tulsa World.
Another Tulsa World article from 1940 mentioned that a Mrs. J. Warren Burgess continued to oppose many of the questions, saying it wasn't the government's business to know "the number of children a woman might have borne."
The Tulsa World article quoted a census official as saying residents could face up to 60 days in the "clink" and a maximum $500 fine if they refused to answer a question. There was no indication whether such a penalty was ever levied.
After the 1940 count was over, census takers tallied some 193,363 residents in Tulsa County, including 142,157 people in the city of Tulsa.
Tulsa County included townships that have since faded, such as Boles, Dawson, Fry, Wekiwa and Willow Springs.
The north city limits in 1940 ended generally at Apache Street. Yale Avenue marked the east city limits, with the exception of the White City neighborhood, which extended the city limits a few blocks east of Yale Avenue between Admiral Boulevard and 15th Street.
The city's southern limits extended to 37th Street near Riverside Drive, or Memorial Drive, as it was referred to on 1940 maps. The limits tapered north as one went east so that the area of 31st Street and Harvard Avenue was considered outside the city limits.
West Tulsa included areas north and west of the Arkansas River. The southwest city limits extended to West 51st Street and South 37th West Avenue. The west city limits north of the Arkansas River extended to 65th West Avenue.
Downtown was heavily populated, with more than 5,000 people living in hotels, apartment and flophouses in the area roughly bounded by First, Eighth, Frankfort and Elwood streets.
At the time, the total population of Tulsa County was 90 percent white, while 9 percent of the Tulsa County population was black. Hispanics, who were counted among whites in the 1940 census, made up 11 percent of the population in 2010 while blacks were about 11 percent of the county population. Hispanic is treated as an ethnicity by the Census Bureau today.
The divorce rate among Tulsa men increased from 3 percent in 1940 to 12 percent in 2010. Among women, the divorce rate increased more compared to men, from 4.7 percent in 1940 to 18 percent in 2010.
Unemployment is about the same now as it was in 1940.
For those who did work, nearly 8,600 Tulsans were employed in the oil and gas industry, the most among any one of the industry categories in 1940 in the city.
Oklahoma had 1,385 blacksmiths, forgemen and hammermen in 1940, three of whom were female, according to census records.
Census workers also asked residents their annual income in wages and salary. For those who earned more than $5,000 annually, the equivalent of about $82,000 today, census workers were told to record the income as "$5,000+."
"Some persons who might otherwise be reluctant to report wages or salary would be quite willing to do so if they learn that the amount above $5,000 need not be specified," according to the instruction manual.
As for Mrs. Burgess, who had objected to such snooping, a Tulsa World review of the 1940 census records, made public April 1 after the requisite 72 years of secrecy, reflect answers were given to all the questions that applied to the 49-year-old married woman.
World Researcher Hilary Pittman contributed to this report.
Original Print Headline: Tulsans balked at some census questions
Curtis Killman 918-581-8471