OHMUSKIN-L ArchivesArchiver > OHMUSKIN > 2003-12 > 1071501860
From: "Al & June Jordan" <>
Subject: Re: [OHMUSKIN] Definition of "Idiot"
Date: Mon, 15 Dec 2003 10:25:12 -0500
This explanation was found at this site. Explanation below.
What is an "idiot" in the Census?
by Rhonda R. McClure
Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and
gives her expert answer here.
April 26, 2001
Q: Was that just a person uneducated or usually mentally deficient? -- SD
A: Beginning in 1850, when the census began to record information on
everyone in the household, additional questions were asked in regard to each
person in the household.
One set of questions that is often overlooked is the column asking if an
individual was "deaf and dumb, blind, insane, and idiotic." Perhaps we
ignore this column because we do not wish to know the answer.
Idiotic was one of the disabilities enumerators recorded.
How Was it Asked?
The first census to enumerate all individuals in a given household was the
1850 Census. The enumerator was also required to ask about the full health
of each individual living in the household.
Most of the years this question was asked, the information was recorded in a
single column. This includes the 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1910 Censuses,
although the recorded information has varied from year to year.
1850 - The enumerator was to record the exact ailment in the column.
Therefore if an inhabitant was blind, then in the column the enumerator was
to record the word blind.
1860 - The enumerator's directions were the same as 1850.
1870 - The enumerator's directions were the same as 1850.
1880 - There were separate columns for "blind," "deaf and dumb," "insane,"
and "maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled."
1910 - Two columns are listed asking "Whether blind (both eyes)" and
"Whether deaf and dumb."
What is Idiotic?
Enumerators were not just sent out with a bunch of forms to fill in. In
typical federal style, they were supplied with an abundance of
record-keeping rules. As the census forms increased in the number of
questions asked, and the information desired, so too did the directions
given to the enumerator.
Enumerators were given a specific definition for a person who was blind or
deaf and dumb. They were also given a specific definition for the term
"idiot." An idiot was "a person the development of whose mental faculties
were arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity." For us, in
a more enlightened age, a number of known disabilities would have fallen
under this category, including Downs Syndrome.
1880 Defective Schedules
While these questions were asked in a number of different census years, it
is only in 1880 that we find the Defective Schedules. Officially known as
the "Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes," this enumeration is more
commonly known as the "Defective Schedules" or the "3D Schedules."
Five separate schedules enumerated those individuals who were on the 1880
Population Schedule. This involved placing a check mark in one of the boxes
for blind, deaf and dumb, idiotic, insane, and maimed, crippled, bedridden,
or otherwise disabled. If you have discovered such an entry in a family you
locate in the 1880 census, you will then want to find the corresponding
entry in the Defective Schedules.
Questions in the Schedule of Idiots
Should you discover an individual enumerated as an idiot in the 1880 census,
you will get additional information in regard to that person from the
Defective Schedules. Some of the questions asked will give you insight into
how long the individual has suffered as well as some physical
Some of the questions asked dealt with prior institutionalization, the age
of onset of idiocy, the size of the head (whether large, small, or natural),
and if the person was self-supporting.
While we may not be comfortable with the terms used in these older census
records, such indications as "deaf and dumb" or "idiotic" may offer valuable
insight into the family. Additional, albeit institutional records, may exist
to aid in our research.