Archive for March 29th, 2010

1920 Census injustice in Fort Collins

by Tiffani Righero, Research Assistant, Fort Collins Local History Archive

Like households across the nation, you probably received your census survey in the past few weeks. Since 1790, when the first census was conducted, the nation has gathered information about the population every ten years, as instructed by the Constitution. This survey of the nation’s population not only counts the number of people living in the country, but also provides valuable information about business, economy, agriculture, home ownership, employment, education, etc.

Occasionally, the census sparks great controversy because of the questions asked, the methods of counting, or inaccuracies. Inaccuracies were the cause of great concern ninety years ago in Fort Collins. During the 1920 census, Fort Collins residents worried that many people were missed in the count after the U.S. Census Bureau announced the population at 8,734. Tracking a series of newspaper articles in the Fort Collins Courier, this fear of census injustice unfolds.

In 1920, census takers visited homes individually (census by mail did not start until 1960). The Fort Collins Courier printed an article on February 6, 1920 addressing concerns of Fort Collins residents who were not visited by the census taker. They were reassured that information was gathered from neighbors if they were absent when the census taker visited. However, many still feared that the numbers gathered were not correct and did not reflect the community’s growth.

A few months later, on May 12, another article in the Fort Collins Courier shared the sense of growth, stating the “city has expanded in every direction” and “you only have to hear a renter cuss to know that a vacant residence in Fort Collins is as scarce as hen teeth.” The 1910 census reported 8,210 residents in Fort Collins, so the city worried that the 1920 census, showing such little growth, would discourage people moving to the West from considering Fort Collins. The Commercial Club, a local organization, made an approximate count of 10,000 people living in Fort Collins, 2,000 more than the Census Bureau’s original count.

The city sent an appeal to the Census Bureau and a verdict arrived from Washington, D.C. in August. The revised population was 8,755, adding only 21 people to the original count. Residents had to accept this number as it was reported as the final population. Residents disappointed by the results of the 1920 census were probably pleased with the 1930 census which showed a larger leap; the population was recorded at 11,489.

After today’s Fort Collins residents return their surveys, the number of people living in Fort Collins will be calculated. What is your guess for the current population of Fort Collins?

March 2010

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