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I am a student here at Southern Oregon University. I am conducting research into feminist interests regarding the US federal census. This will culminate in a scholarly paper hopefully to be published within the next year. I thought maybe I would contact you to ask for your input and any suggestions.

The main focus of the paper will be issues regarding fair representation of women in the US federal census and any negative consequences arising from unequal enumeration. Specifically, once a woman marries and assumes a husband's surname, she essentially becomes a number as far as the federal census is concerned. The census does not collect a woman's previous (maiden) surname, just her first name. This presents a problem for historians researching the lives of women in American history, because after a particular woman has married, the ability to determine where she lived and how she moved from place to place becomes hampered.

When one considers the fundamental impact the US federal census has as a major piece of historical documentation, this omission appears extremely disturbing. It is surprising that on the verge of the 21st century, after so much ground has been won in the struggle for fair representation in women's issues, the federal census still does not provide equal documentation of married women the same as it does for men.

I would like to ask you if you are aware of any time when this issue has been addressed before, or if there are any agencies or individuals who are addressing this issue now. Surely this would be an appropriate topic for lobbying groups in Washington DC dedicated to women's issues. Your kind assistance may pave the way for action to resolve this unfortunate oversight. Regards, Robert L. Williams, Senior, Southern Oregon University

Thanks for your note to FEMINIST.COM. There are many ways in which the census is unkind/unrealistic not only to women but to anyone what isn't a white, heterosexual, male. For instance, many Native Americans are outraged at how the census counts their segment of the population arguing that the way they ask the question--certain people are left out. Therefore, the Native American population is much larger than has been estimated by the Census Bureau. Also, it was not until the 1980 census that the Census Bureau conceded that "head of household" need not be a male.

Now, one of the problems--in addition to the maiden name problem--is that the choice of occupations isn't representative of the women who stay home and take care of their children. All of that is to say that there are many ways in which the U.S. Census Bureau still has its gender blinders on. As for the maiden name--you have a very good point--and since 70% of all women who marry take their husband's name--we are talking about a large portion of the population. As far as a group to take this on, I haven't heard of one--but a good candidate might be the Center for Women's Policy Studies (2000 P Street, NW, Suite #508, Washington, DC 20036; (202) 872-1770.) Also, if you can discover who was responsible for changing the "head of household" back in 1980--that might be a group worth enlisting. I don't have an answer to that--sorry.

I hope that helps--and if this does turn into your thesis--good luck and hopefully it will also turn into the census finally becoming representative of the people it is suppose to represent.


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