The 1915 census sure was diverse, with lots and lots of different shades of white. With numeric, textual, and geographic data, it sure was a riot to look through! It includes the names of the citizens of Albany in 1915, their birth year, their birth place, age, sex, relationship to the rest of the house, their skin color, and their address. 1,216 rows of this, to be exact! A hoot! A holler! Fun for the whole family! The names and genders include men and women, because that was all that existed back then. Ages ranged from 0 years to 4 years to 20 years to 70 years, showing that it was not just old white people in Albany at the time- there were plenty of young white people, too! Relationships range from head of household to the wife to the children, to apprentices and patients laid up (presumably, hopefully) in a doctor’s house. Race ranged anywhere from white to white to white, with a good handful of black or brown people thrown in there, because that means it is not racist. Citizens came from a wide range of European places, including Germany, Holland, and Finland. I guess these were the immigrants that were juuuust white enough to be allowed into the city. (Though, this was also during the Great Migration, which we did cover in class- so if there were any new black citizens moving to Albany, they were listed as being born in the United States.)
Although occupations is included in the descriptions, not many people seem to have a listed occupation. This might be because there was a lot of unemployment at the time, or it might be because we simply do not have the data to put into the tables. About 20% of the census has an occupation listed with them (although quite a few occupational inputs also list “no occupation”), but I have a hard time believing that Albany had an over-80% unemployment rate at any point in its history, much less when other cities were likely starting to experience some sort of economic boom related to preparing for World War I. Everyone who does have an occupation listed, however, is listed as living in only a handful of places- namely, McCarthy Avenue, South Pearl Street, and Kenwood Road. (This is especially interesting in regards to whoever did their midterm walking tour on Pearl Street, and maybe they could better answer why this was one of the few designated places where employed people live. Is it part of the push towards the suburbs? Moving the employed, usually white people into their own “safe” areas?) Surprisingly, every person who is listed with the “relationship” of being a student is a female. I would assume that this is because if a male was listed as being studying under a certain subject, he was listed as an apprentice of that subject. So though a woman and a man might both be studying medicine, the woman would likely be listed as just a student (or maybe, just maybe, a nurse), while the man was likely listed as either a doctor or an apprentice in a house whose head of household was a doctor. Similarly, everyone listed as a servant is female- i.e., there were no male maids, only female. There was also a surprising number of older people living in Albany, and a lot of older people living in a lodging house. Maybe this term was used differently and meant something more like what we would think of as a nursing home or an assisted living home? It’s just hard to imagine a bunch of old 70- and 80-year-olds living two or three in a room in any other situation. They are all listed as being patients, so I guess that explanation makes sense.
Speaking to the New York Factory Investigating Commission in 1914, Pauline Newman stated that “a working girl is a human being with a heart, with desires, with aspirations, with ideas and ideals and when we think of food and shelter we merely think of the…necessities…Have we thought of providing her with books, with money for…a good drama?…Have you thought about a girl providing herself with a good room that had plenty of air, proper ventilation in a somewhat decent neighborhood. Do you think of all these things when you think of a minimum wage? Let us not think of a piece of bread. Let us think of a working woman as a human being who has her desires to which she is entitled.” With the Fight for $15 still on-going today, it can be easy to see how the struggle for a sustainable minimum wage is something that has been fought over for a century or more. However, more so, the quote highlights the plight of working girls, the wages they were allowed to earn, and, intersected with my data, the jobs that they were even allowed to work.
When one thinks of the jobs that women typically worked before the boom of equality that came in the 1960, very few and very gendered occupations come to mind, from telephone operators, to secretaries, to housemaids. If a woman left the house to work, it was because she was young, and helping her household by earning a wage for her father, or her brother, or her grandfather, or any male relative that she lived with. Women were thought of as existing in the private sphere, within their own homes and perhaps in the homes of their friends and relatives. Never did they venture into the public sphere for their own advantage, nor would they dare to venture out in the hopes of earning an education or a wage for their own advantage. If a woman left the house to earn a wage for her household, we typically think of gendered jobs such as secretarial work, house work, or school work. While the beginning of World War I saw a boom in the occupations that were acceptable for women to work in, this was mostly limited to European women- America didn’t join the fight until 1917, and as we all know, it was pretty pointless for us to join at that point.
However, the early 20th century was still a point of revolution for women in America, and the 1915 census shows the starting point of changes in gendered American society. The 19th Amendment was only a few years away, and the Seneca Falls Convention, over 60 years earlier, had produced numerous succeeding generations of supporters of women’s rights, the same way that today we would think that the hippie movement has led to a more liberal generation, having been parented and grand-parented by previous hippies. The 1915 census sees an increase in occupations employed by both male and female workers, from semi-“genderless” jobs such as song writer and painter, to surprisingly diverse jobs, such as horse dealer and ironworker. These latter occupations might typically be thought of as more male-orientated, being business-driven and more opt to physical labor. While there is an equal amount of male and female ironworkers (i.e., one of each), there are six female horse dealers in the data set, as opposed to only one male worker.
Going off of this surprising difference in expectations and reality, 69 males are listed as having an occupation at this point, while 60 females are listed as occupied- a surprising difference of only 9 out of a total of 129 employed. However, out of the 60 females that were listed as occupied, only 25 of them are listed in an occupation that isn’t listed as “housework.” What exactly does the census mean as housework? While it would be nice to think that these are women who were still occupied in some fashion, such as leaving the house to go clean someone else’s house, it was likely that “housework” within their own home was still considered the woman’s job- i.e., it was her full-time job to stay home, take care of the house, cook meals, and take care of her kids. So while more occupations were beginning to be available to women, we still had a long way to go, if it was considered the job of the woman- most likely the mother- to take care of the kids of the house.
While it is all too easy to look at the differences in the preconceptions that we might have about this time period and the few dalliances that the data actually shows, women’s work was certainly cut out for them. While the spike in amount of women dealing with “housework” shows the expectations placed upon women in the private sphere, the majority of listed occupations in this dataset further speaks to the expectations placed upon women even in the public sphere, where, having proven that they were at least capable of stepping into sunlight and not bursting into flames, they were still given jobs that mostly would have subjected them to little to no physical labor, or spoke to the expectation that women were homebodies whose main purpose is to nurture and care for others. Jobs like school teacher and nurse played into this, with the expectation that, while a woman simply could not handle the power of the headmaster of a school or (heaven forbid!) go to university to become a doctor, they could still subject themselves to lesser degrees of this workload.
So while the opportunities available to women were beginning to expand at this time, we still had a long way to go. European women were afforded opportunities that wouldn’t be available to American women until the beginning of World War Two, when American men left for the frontlines and women were left to take their places in factory jobs. The past few decades of women’s rights movements had led to a more open-minded approach for quite a few generations, and this likely led to a small opening in the types of jobs “appropriate” for women.
I think there’s a few interesting points to take away from the graphic and data behind occupations in Albany in 1915. There’s a few jobs that no longer exist or are called different names now, plus a surprising difference in the number of women and men who worked (or at the very least, were listed as working) at the time. I purposely chose “gendered” colors for the bar graph, but I think the story behind that has to go in a separate part of the final post. But there are a few interesting stories behind the data itself.
I’m assuming no one here really knows what a “teamster” is (or maybe you do, being history buffs and all). Today we’d use the plebeian term “truck driver.” But it’s hard to imagine an 18-wheeler peeling down the dirt roads of Albany a hundred years ago; a little more research shows that these were the men who delivered goods to stores, usually on an animal-driven vehicle. A whopping 13 men in this data set were blessed with sitting behind the back-end of an ox or horse for a living, twice the number of the next most popular listed job in the city. But I’m sure they weren’t only delivering groceries to the whopping 2 grocers in this data set at the time; out of 71 employed males of the set, about 12 of them weren’t directly related to selling or handling delivered goods (and that’s taking a good guess at what some of these other jobs are). So I’m sure these 13 men were nice and busy staring at these animals’ backsides all day as they delivered books, ice, and masonry tools.
Of course, when you first look at the graph the first thing you probably notice is the big pink bar shooting up highest. With only a dozen less listed workers than men, more than half of the women listed as employed are employed in “Housework.” What sort of housework? Not homeschooling, as school teachers are listed in another category, nor seamstressing, as dress and shirtmakers are categories unto themselves. Perhaps, even though it was work that was expected of them as women, house work within their own homes was considered an occupation?
There are some jobs which are surprisingly gendered occupations, ones that might expect from the other sex. The only listed gardener in the census is a male, while the only person in charge of manufacturing boxes in all of Albany is a woman (at least, according to the census). Weren’t they afraid that her wandering uterus would make her unable to deal with such a heavy workload? Only four occupations of the time had both male and female workers listed- horse dealer, painter, ironworker, and songwriter.
All in all, I think the most important and interesting piece of information to take away from the graphic is that there were an almost-equal amount of men and women listed as being employed in Albany a hundred years ago, when we usually imagine that the men went out to make the money for the family while the women sat at home and either tended to their children or made sure the house was comfortable for their husbands, fathers, and brothers to come home to.
There were plenty of options for mixing and matching which data sets to compare, and I had a lot of options with what to compare occupation to- birthplace, color, house number (i.e., which neighborhood they lives in, so which jobs lived in which neighborhoods/which neighborhoods had higher income and were “nicer”), age, or relationship within their household (i.e., sure, it’s technically mostly men who work, but are they the heads of their houses? Or are they in an apprenticeship?). But the relationship between sex and occupation had the most potential. As I said, I think most people imagine that the women of the time didn’t work at all or, as the data sort of supports, they did housework. But the census said differently, so I chose to compare these two sets. I at first not-so-deliberately chose the color scheme- I just instinctively felt that pink would work best for the female workers and blue would work best for the male workers. It took me about half a minute to realize this, and I started playing around with the colors a bit. But no two colors paired together quite as well, or had as much of an impact on the visualization. I tried red and green, and orange and blue, but nothing looked quite right; maybe I thought about it too much, but I imagined someone looking at the data and struggling to understand why those colors were chosen. And I wouldn’t have had much of an answer besides “well, it isn’t pink and blue, so that’s all that really matters.” Choosing these colors is a little easier on the eyes, and a little easier to get a quick idea of what the data is and what it’s trying to say. I even tried swapping the colors, but the point of data visualization is to make things easier to understand, not necessarily to make people question gender normativity. I lumped a few categories together, like “shirt maker” and “dress maker,” until I had an amount of graph area that you could look at without having to scroll around or zoom out too much. A bar graph, I think, best represents the visualization that I was trying to aim for- the idea that women weren’t quite as much of homebodies as we tend to think they were. The first thing that your eye goes to when you look at the graph is the big pink line rising up above everything else, pretty obviously stating that many women were occupied in this field. This pretty well supports the idea that women weren’t homebodies; hovering over the data and adding things up, there were only a dozen less female workers listed than males. The most populous female job, housekeeping, is three times more occupied than the highest male job, truck driving. Because it is such a small data set (out of 132 workers), a dozen is probably a little more significant than if it had only been a dozen out of two or three hundred; however, I still think it pretty strongly speaks to the female workforce of the time.
Place of birth of foreign-born Albany citizens
There are a few obvious spots that your eyes go to as soon as you see this visualization. Many immigrants came from Western Europe, with a stark and obvious lack of immigrants from anywhere south-east of Russia. Few to zero immigrants came from anywhere south of the American border, and over-all, just by looking, it’s obvious to see that most immigrants came from “safer” European nations.
By 1915, World War I was basically in full swing. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire had declared war on Serbia after (and supposedly because of) the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and much of Europe was in the midst of the turmoil of The Great War. However, despite the large portion of German citizens living in Albany, few- if any- migrated because of the Great War. Out of 91 German immigrants, only 6 had migrated since the previous census. After Germany, England, Ireland, and Canada all have the most immigrants- safe, white nations who, while questionable to most Americans, weren’t quite as questionable as, say, Guatemalans or Cubans, who only had 1 and 2 immigrants in 1915, respectively. There are less- but still more than zero- immigrants from more “unsafe” parts of Europe and Eurasia, such as Italy, Armenia, and Russia. Despite the massive size of Russia- and the numerous satellite states that it included at the time, such as Poland, or Ukraine, or Belarus, or Estonia- only two immigrants from the city of Albany were listed in this data set, and I imagine that that’s a pretty good indicator of the actual population size of the time.
While not quite as many as its European counterparts, there are still quite a few immigrants from Canada in Albany. After Germany, Ireland, and England, respectively, Canada has the most immigrants, and its massive size makes the slightly-dark coloration a bit more obvious.
Still, the most “unsafe” (and I use that term sarcastically) place that immigrants in Albany came from was Armenia, if this data set is truly representative of the overall population of Albany. There is a whole lot of gray area around the rest of the world- absolutely no immigrants from Africa (at least, none that were listed as citizens, if you know what I mean), none from Asia, and very, very few from South America.
For the foreign-born citizens of Albany, I had two important decisions to make: what color to make the nations that citizens came from, and which nations would be appropriate to lump together. As with the occupation by sex, color gives an important message as soon as you see the visualization. Red seemed to scream that it was a bad thing that these nations had brought so many immigrants to our city, and unfortunately, try as I might, I couldn’t find a way to make the color of each nation that nation’s flag. So I went with green- any easy visualization that seems to say that more immigrants are better. I had to lump a few nations together, and had to decide if nations that were no longer standing and wouldn’t be labeled as they were in Tableau were appropriate to be labeled as they were. As of 1915, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire still stood, and would stay as such for another three years. But obviously it doesn’t at the point that this version of Tableau was published, so I had to decide if anyone born in the Empire ought to be listed as originating from Hungary or Austria. The same thing with Prussia and the Russian Empire. How many spheres of influence ought I to consider when throwing together Germany as one country, or Russia? How many “satellite states” that exist now were part of the Russian Empire in 1915? One person is listed as living in Lithuania- do I take that with a grain of salt, or list them as being from Poland? In the end, the only change that I made was grouping citizens listed as coming from England, Scotland, and Wales as being from only England, as this is the only country in the vicinity available for listing on Tableau.
Before you can look at specifics for immigrants- such as occupations or average wage or sex diversity- you have to know the actual number of immigrants from each country. If the average Russian immigrant makes $5 less a month (which is, you know, a whole lot in 1915) than his American counterpart for the same job, why may it have been or not have been such a big deal at the time? Of course, today we would say that paying anyone less for the same job because of any defining trait, such as birth place or, say, gender, is not only wrong, but, like, super illegal. However, in 1915, there was a lack of laws surrounding issues like this, and it might have been a whole lot easier to not listen to the protests of said Russian workers if there’s only 2 or so of them. However, it might be easier to understand a lower discrepancy in the pay of English workers if you understand that there a whole lot more of them than Russian workers, and it’s a little more difficult to tell an English-speaking immigrant that they aren’t making as much money as their American counterpart if they, you know, perfectly understand what you’re saying.
Further questions to consider:
Why were there so many Canadians in Albany? It seems weird today to think that so many Canadians would want to come to America. Perhaps there were better job opportunities in America at this point? Was Canada suffering from some sort of recession? I’m sure some digging around through Canadian economic records could answer this. If it wasn’t economics that brought them here, then what else was going on? Some research into Canada’s history in the early 20th century will probably answer that.
What about the Germans? Only a few of them were recent immigrants, and I assumed because of the beginning of the Great War. Most of the older immigrants had arrived somewhere between 30 and 50 years earlier, in the mid- to late-eighteenth century. Was there something happening in Germany at this time that would drive a mass migration? Some extra research would be nice, but through being a history minor I know that the Austrian-Prussian War was around this point. Austria was expelled from the German nation, so perhaps those who ended up moving to the United States listed Germany as their home country, despite being from Austria? I would be pretty upset if my nation had been at war and ended up losing; I might end up moving, too.
Why was housework considered an occupation for a woman? Wouldn’t it just be something that they were expected to do, instead of something that was their “occupation?” It probably wasn’t women whose job was to go take care of other people’s houses; as Dr. Kane pointed out, it was probably just stay-at home parents. But would that have been considered an occupation, housekeeping other peoples’ homes? There were a few wealthy families in Albany at this time, and I’m sure they had some hired help for around the house. How would these jobs be categorized? A better look at the total data set for the 1915 census, with the entire population of Albany listed, would probably answer this question. Who lived in the “richer” parts of Albany, and how many people did they have listed as living in their homes? What were these people’s listed relations/occupations? Did they simply work in the house that they were listed as living at, or were they actually related to the family who lived there?
What the heck was a paper box maker?? I feel like the obvious answer is TOO obvious. What did she make boxes for? Everyone? Only one company? Was she the only paper box maker in the entire city of Albany, responsible for putting together every paper box that the city needed? Again, I think a look at the entire data set of the 1915 census might at least help to answer some of these questions. Was it purely a female-orientated job, or was it more diverse? It sounds like a very factory-orientated job, I find it hard to believe that it was only one female who was working it.
The two song writers lived on the same street; were they in a relationship? What sort of songs did they write? Anything that I would have heard of? A look at alter censuses would answer at least some of these questions, and a search for their names might pop up songs that they wrote that became popular.