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The 1840 U.S. Census Was Overly Interested in Americans’ Mental Health

Posted by Jean-Yves on May 16, 2019
 

The 2020 census won’t ask you about how many people in your family are “idiots” or “insane,” but in 1840 that was a question census workers had to answer for every household. The Census Bureau added the question at a time when reformers were interested in creating institutions to help people with mental disabilities. Yet near the turn of the century, scientists and doctors became less interested in helping these people and more interested in preventing them from reproducing. It was around that time that the census stopped asking about mental health.

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