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The Afflicted Classes

From: Eighth Annual Report Of The Bureau Of Statistics Of Labor
Creator: n/a
Date: March 1877
Publisher: Albert J. Wright, State Printer, Boston
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Part IV.


In the family schedules distributed by the census enumerators in the spring of 1875, information was solicited concerning certain afflicted classes in Massachusetts, -- the blind, the deaf, the deaf and dumb, the idiotic and the insane. The facts sought for were to embrace not only the actual number of individuals in each of those classes, but were to include also data of the causes of the disability. These accumulated facts touching the numbers, age, sex and locality of the people in this State affected as above mentioned, and touching also the causes and duration of their infirmity, have been submitted to an analysis of which it is the aim of this paper to give the results.


These afflicted classes are inevitably a burden upon society. In proportion to their disability, the blind, the deaf-mute, the idiotic and the insane are dependent upon their fellow for sustenance. They eat the bread which they do not earn, and consume what they have small part in producing. They are the unfortunate and pitiable objects of human commiseration. Happily, in these latter days, enlightened philanthropy has done unspeakable good in alleviating the condition of these, the unsound in mind and body; and the State does well to honor the memory and the labors of those who, with assiduous devotion, have wrought out the methods which give light to the darkened eye, reason and self-control to the clouded mind, and speech to the mute tongue.


It is one of the functions of the census to determine the statistics of these classes, to ascertain the amount of this burden upon the State, and to find its relative increase or diminution at intervals of ten years. This undertaking is of modern origin; it had no place in the census taken under the Servian constitution of Rome, nor in the enumerations under the Mosaic law. In England, a country to which we are accustomed to look for all that is excellent in these matters, it was not till 1851 that the afflicted classes were numbered; and it was not till 1871 that a complete enumeration, embracing lunatics out of asylums, and idiots and imbeciles, was made. Of 32 governmental census returns made between 1860 and 1870 in Europe and the United States, Dr. Jarvis found only 24 which gave statistics of the blind, 29 of the deaf and dumb, 16 of the insane, and 14 of the idiotic. It is believed that the recent census of Massachusetts attained in these respects a completeness as regards details and fulness of data beyond anything hitherto secured, at least in this country.


The "prior schedule," or "family schedule," used in this census, possessed especial advantages as a means of acquiring the desired facts, in that it permitted deliberation and family consultation preparatory to the filling of the blanks. Even in cases in which the head of the family failed for any reason to fill the schedule, the census enumerator found the information awaiting him and ready for his record with much less delay and inaccuracy, than would have been the case under the older method of house-to-house visitation, with the requirement of unpremeditated answers to personal, and in many respects, disagreeable questions. An inspection of the schedules, as returned to the bureau, shows abundantly that householders and heads of families appreciated the utility of the work to which they were called to contribute; an honest and conscientious purpose to fulfil the request made is apparent in almost every case.


It is to be remarked, however, that a valid claim of absolute accuracy can hardly be made in behalf of all this accumulated information. It is to be understood that these returns afford an approximation only to a correct statistical knowledge of the afflicted classes in Massachusetts; and while we have no hesitation in asserting that the present census has surpassed all previous similar attempts to gather this knowledge, we are yet free to grant the limitations to which all such endeavors are subject. To fulfil the requirements of scientific accuracy in results, would necessitate the application of scientific tests and methods in gathering the data for those results. The statistics here analyzed are supplied by the people themselves concerning their own physical condition, or that of kindred or dependents. In only a portion of the cases do we have the aid of professional medical skill in supplying the original facts. The hospitals and asylums give, indeed, the best information attainable with regard to certain of the classes under consideration; and it may be remarked, too, that in a great many individual instances we have the reflection of skilled medical opinion in the returns, the nature, degree and cause of the infirmity being entered in the schedule in accordance with the previously expressed view of the family physician, or of some specialist from whom relief was sought. But there, is a great mass of the material which is based substantially upon personal, unskilled judgment; sometimes, indeed, the basis has a flavor of the fanciful and the superstitious. (1)

(1) For the purpose of acquiring full Information of the classes here considered, the plan pursued in the Irish census of 1861 appears to have some special advantages, although it involves an increase of labor and trouble. The family schedule, which gave the name, age, sex and locality of the afflicted person, was supplemented by a new set of special Inquiries for each person so returned. This special requisition embraced facts with regard to causes, correlative infirmities, and many other circumstances touching the defect. The commissioners well remark that "had these minute inquiries been made upon the original householders' schedules, the returns thereto might, by imposing too heavy duties upon those who filled or collected the forms, have been either defective or have interfered with the accuracy of the general enumeration."

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