When Women Didn't Count

Reviews and Endorsements

Lori L. Smith, Gov-Stuff 4 U: One of the many reasons free government information is useful is that it can be analyzed to reveal fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, facts about our history. An excellent example of this is Robert Lopresti's new book, When Women Didn't Count: The Chronic Mismeasure and Marginalization of American Women in Federal Statistics.

In the book, society's (and government's) changing attitudes toward women are chronicled through statistics on marriage, motherhood, heads of households, occupations, health, crime, and military service, among other topics. The focus isn't on the statistics themselves, but on how and why they were collected as they were. It is, indeed, both fascinating and disturbing.

Margo Anderson, Distinguished Professor, History & Urban Studies, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee:  We live in a world of data, and navigating the plethora of numbers is a daunting task in the best of cases. In cases where social, ideological, and political issues shape what’s collected and why, the silences, confusions, omissions, and biases can discourage even the most dedicated data adventurer.
Robert Lopresti has come to the rescue of researchers looking for data on the situation of women in U.S. federal statistics since 1790. He has produced a comprehensive catalog of sources, subjects, and supporting literature, and organized the material into a accessible chapters by subject. Extensive footnotes and bibliography take the reader to additional information.
This is an essential book for anyone asking questions about data on women. Lopresti also explains how and why the data came to be as they are. No more, 'lies, damn lies, and statistics.' We can see how the history of women in America can be read through the federal statistical data collections, and even how the 'mismeasurement,' as he puts it, can help us understand the long struggle for the emancipation of women.

Donald A. Coffin, PhD, Emeritus Associate Professor of Economics, Indiana University Northwest: In ways we are not conscious of, decisions we make about what information to compile about people’s lives and how to store and present that information will influence how our lives will be perceived 100 or 200 years from now. In the same way, decisions made 100 or 200 years ago about what information to gather—largely by the U.S. Bureau of the Census—shape how we perceive the lives of the people who lived then, and how (and how much) they have changed. Robert Lopresti has taken a long, careful look at the Census data on women’s lives (and by extension, everyone’s lives), and what his work reveals seems to me to be essential for historians and readers of history interested in understanding those lives and in understanding how our lives are different.

Cassandra Hartnett, U.S. Documents Librarian, University of Washington Libraries: When Women Didn’t Count is a highly readable, thought-provoking investigation of U.S. federal government statistics gathering about women. Synthesizing sources such as instructions to Census enumerators about determining marital status, technical documentation with hypotheses on data limitations, and contemporary feminist scholarship, Rob Lopresti paints a vivid picture of misrepresentation and gender role reinforcement that is as American as apple pie. With an uncanny sensitivity about the nuances of government literature drawn from his longtime role as a federal documents librarian, the author leaves us more deeply informed about our statistical surroundings, and many of the ways in which we got here. Librarians, teachers, and scholars working in the areas of U.S. history, gender studies, social sciences, and cultural studies will find this to be an incredibly useful text.