Inquiring Minds

A few years ago, a congresswoman who would enjoy a brief moment in the limelight and on magazine covers as a front-runner for her party’s presidential nomination, urged her followers to refuse to cooperative with what she characterized as “the Obama census.”  She may have only pretended to be unaware that the questionnaire then being circulated around the country was not an unprecedented invasion of privacy, the sort of thing Caesar Augustus might cook up.  It’s a head-count that’s been going on for a while now, one actually mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

Versions of the form in use before 1850 seemed to anticipate the Excel Spreadsheet.  The only person in the family who needed to be named in 1840 was the head of household, but following that solitary name came dozens of boxes to be filled in with the number of males and females who fit various age and employment categories, further broken down by race.  As for those not of the white race, are they slaves or free?  How many in the household are deaf and dumb?  How many are insane or idiots, and are the insane and idiotic living in public institutions or are they kept locked away in the attic?  Are there scholars in the house (Kindly specify the kind of school each attends)?  Please list the number of persons over 20 who cannot read or write.  Sorry, that last question is for white persons only.

And we think the NSA is nosy.

By 1850, the census form had been transformed into a concise, manageable document that would change only in a few details decade by decade through the next century.  Much to the relief of family historians, names, or at least initials, and exact ages now had to be provided for everyone in the household.  Well aware that its population was becoming increasingly mobile, the government now wanted to know exactly where their citizens had been born, and how much money the land they were currently living on was worth.  Ten years later they also wanted to know how much personal wealth each head of household had managed to accumulate.  In 1870 there was a simple yes-or-no question as to whether their parents were foreign-born.  By 1880 the place of birth of both parents had to be furnished.

Education was usually touched on, but it was not until 1940, the most recent census available to the public (Also a free one on the Ancestry website), that everyone responding was asked to name the last year of school completed.  It should come as no surprise that the children of Prof. Joseph Taplin Lovewell, “the science guy” of Kansas around the turn of the century, had been expected to complete four years of college, and had dutifully done so.  What about the descendants of the professor's cousin, Thomas Lovewell, the frontier scout whose own schooling might be described as a few widely-spaced visits?

Thomas’s daughter Josephine, the baby born at White Rock at the end of a year of Indian troubles in 1866, was by 1940 living in Wharton, Texas, with her husband, Walt Poole, a cattle rancher.  Josephine may have been the only one of Thomas and Orel Jane Lovewell's children without an 8th grade education.  She had apparently dropped out of grammar school at White Rock after completing the 7th grade.  After what may have been a rocky start, her younger brother Stephen had been singled out as the school’s most-improved student, and saw his schooling through to the end of a full eight years.  So did his second wife, Alta Perl Lovewell, twenty-two years her husband’s junior, and another grammar school graduate.  Daughter Bernice Lovewell, however, 18 years old, had completed four years of high school.

Simpson Grant Lovewell, born at Clifton in 1869, the year of the Dog Soldier attacks in Jewell and Republic counties, was also an 8th grade graduate, while his wife Coradell had two years of high school.  Like her mother, their daughter Pansy Wirth went to high school for two years, which was enough education to land her a position as a postal employee.  Out in Cody, Wyoming, Lulu Lovewell, the widow of Thomas’s son William Frank Lovewell, reported that she had attended the full eight years of grammar school.  Their boy James Franklin Lovewell had four years of high school under his belt, which appears to have been the norm among Thomas Lovewell's grandchildren.

Lillian Logan, born in 1887, was one of a crop of four grandchildren whom Thomas Lovewell had never seen until he found them living in poverty in St. Louis in 1893.  In 1940 she was living with her blacksmith husband, William, a grown daughter, Ruth, her youngest child, Lillian, still in high school, and a twenty-year-old son named Charles, who continued to list his parents’ home as his permanent address while he lived the itinerant life of a professional baseball player.  Baseball must have been in his blood.  His grandfather, Thomas Lovewell's friend James William “Billy” Logan, had coached youth baseball for decades.  Charles's father, William Finley Logan, had organized and managed local ball teams.  While William Finley Logan, like many of his generation, had only a grammar school education, his wife Lillian was a high school graduate.

We know nothing at all about the educational attainments of Lillian’s mother Juliana, or “Julia" who was Thomas Lovewell’s eldest daughter, born in Kansas Territory to his first wife Nancy in 1857.  A few years after her father’s life took a different path, she and her mother drifted from Iowa to Missouri.  She had just turned fourteen when she married an Irish railroad worker named Edward McCaul, eventually settling in Carbondale, Kansas, where she reared her growing family and perhaps put in an occasional shift at her husband’s restaurant.

Somewhere along the way, Julia must have inspired her children with either a love of learning, or a sense of the importance of education.  Her firstborn, Edward, Jr., took college courses for two years, while the middle McCaul child, William, graduated from a four-year college, and in 1940 was making a living as a personal secretary.  Julia's daughter Lillian may have gone no further than high school, but as soon as the Great Depression was over and cash was less scarce, Lillian and William Logan enrolled their youngest girl at the University of Kansas.

It’s a vivid picture of an evolving attitude toward higher education, and we’re treated to it courtesy of those inquiring minds at the Census Bureau. 


© Dale Switzer 2023