Counting the Discounted: Identifying the Population of Insane and Feeble-Minded in the 20th Century United States

Margaret L. Charleroy, University of Minnesota

Medical aspects of historical demography have largely focused on morbidity studies and anthropometric histories of population. Data for these histories is typically gathered from military, and in more recent publications, prison records. These sources offer social, biological, and economic variables include height, weight, income, medical history, and place of birth. This paper will examine issues in calculating the insane population in the United States between 1840 and 1910 by comparing four US censuses (1840, 1880 with physician supplement, 1890, and 1910 special census of the insane and feeble minded) and the patient records of the Minnesota Asylum System. When compared, these records show that early estimates of insane and feeble-minded populations through the US Census were greatly skewed, but later special censuses reported more accurate estimates and profiles of the feeble-minded. Additionally, this paper will describe methods for estimating and evaluating insane and feeble-minded populations in 20th century censuses.

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Presented in Poster Session 9