Censuses are conducted in order to collect the personal data of citizens, but once all the names and numbers and details are recorded in long rows and columns, the information appears quite impersonal. While transcribing so much data, we tended to focus on reading and deciphering the handwriting of the census taker, which was particularly illegible in the case of the 1880s census sheets, rather than being aware of the individuals described. Now that all of the data has been re-recorded and we are able to look through it more easily, we have begun to find interesting trends and anomalies. and see that the 1880 residents of W. 9th Street had very diverse and intriguing occupations.
One of the most unexpected results that we found by observing the occupation data was the apparent socio-economic stratification on W. 9th Street in 1880. The occupation field is some of the only information included in the census that gives clues to residents’ education and wealth (other fields only asked whether individuals had been in school in the past year, could read, and could write). Our street was home to lawyers and physicians, presumably highly trained and educated people. There were both merchants, who owned businesses and stores, and the clerks and salespeople, who were employed by them. Finally, there were landlords, who managed buildings and residents, and their household staff of cooks and maids. Though this list of occupations is certainly not comprehensive, it shows the range of class levels found on the street.
Another thing we found interesting when looking at the resident’s occupations was the different ways in which they described their jobs. It would seem that the census taker recorded the occupation in each individual’s own words, rather than using a standard term. For example, some people choose to term themselves “milliner,” while others simply called themselves “hat makers” or “hat trimmers.” The most commonly listed women’s occupation was “keeping house” or “housekeeper,” but some women choose to say instead “care of family.” While we don’t know why these people choose to use different terms, it would be interesting to investigate.
But, interestingly, many of the women who lived on W. 9th Street in 1880 had jobs outside the home. Some of these other occupations were still somewhat domestic skills, such as “seamstress” and “laundress.” Others were less traditional, such as “Daugerrean artist” (photographer) and “artist,” “actress,” and “opera singer.” Still others worked in jobs also held by their male neighbors, such as “bookkeeper,” “teacher,” “salesperson” and “clerk.” Most of the women who worked outside of the home were single and young, but some older, widowed women also took on the responsibility of managing a boarding house to provide for their family.
Immigration trends are also quite visible. A significant percentage of 9th Street residents and/or their parents were born in other countries, and one can see the generations changing. Seventy-three percent were born in the United States while about sixty-five percent of their parents were native born. Half of the immigrant parents were from Ireland, while thirty-eight percent of the immigrant children were Irish. Most of the other countries of origin were in western and northern Europe, with a smaller percentage from southern Europe, mainly Italy. Very few had emigrated from the Americas – some Canadians and Cubans and a tiny minority from Venezuela. Overall, New York and New England were the main places of birth for the majority of people living on 9th Street in 1880.
Working with the census data for the Pastmapper project has introduced us to these interesting trends. Soon an interactive map of W. 9th Street from 1880-1940 will be available online, which will make it possible to visualize how the people who lived on one street in the heart of Greenwich Village changed over time.
– Aly DesRochers, Shannon Elliott, Charlie Steiner