A Female Head of Household in 1920?

A Female Head of Household in 1920?

by Kerry Scott on 2 April 2010

If you’ve filled out your 2010 census form (you have, right?), you might have noticed that it asks you for the names of the people who live in your house.  It doesn’t ask you who the “head of household” is, because in 2010, not many families have such a person.  It’s kind of a retro concept.

It wasn’t always that way.

Past censuses listed the “head of household” first, and then the other family members, along with their relationship to the head.  In families in which there was a husband/father, he would be listed as the head.  The only time you’d typically see a female head of household is if there was no husband/father present.

So I was surprised to find this in the 1920 Census for Seaside, Clatsop County, Oregon (enumeration district 85, page 24):

This couple lists Mae A. Ackermann as the head of the household.  Her husband, Frederick E. Ackermann, is listed second.  I’ve never seen that before.

Was Mae an early feminist?  Was she making a statement about Fred or about their relationship?  Or was this the census-taker’s commentary on the politics of the Ackermann household?  I don’t know.  No other married couple on the page is listed this way.

Fred and Mae (listed variously as Mabel Pool, Mabel Poole, and Mae Oliver Pool) had been married five years when this census was taken.  There were no children in the household, and Mae has an occupation listed here:  owner of a candy factory (unusual in a time when women were mostly listed as “housewife.”)  Fred also had a job, as a traveling wholesale drug salesman.

The only thing I know about them after this is that Fred was listed as divorced on his death certificate from 1962.  I don’t yet know when they were divorced, or what happened to Mae afterward.

I suspect this will be an interesting couple to research.

UPDATE: The comments for this posts raised some interesting questions, which I addressed here.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Deli Kate April 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Am I right that Mae was just 24 years old as well?! I’m so proud of Mae.


Susan Tiner April 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I wonder if it’s because she owned their property or owned some kind of property?


Kerry Scott April 2, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Susan—I have other woman property owners who are not listed as head of household. The convention at the time was to list the male first on the census (and even now you see this–pull out the deed to your house, for example. Your husband’s name, if he owns the house with you, is probably listed first.).

Deli Kate—I don’t know enough to know whether I’m proud of her or not. In 1920, this would have been…not necessarily a nice thing to do. It’s hard to see it by modern standards, but in 1920…a whole different thing.


Nancy April 2, 2010 at 9:47 pm

What an interesting find. Are these ancestors of yours? If so, I hope you’ll share what you find with the rest of us.
.-= Nancy´s last blog ..April Fool =-.


Kerry Scott April 3, 2010 at 7:57 am

Fred is a collateral ancestor of mine…his grandfather was the brother of my 2nd great-grandfather. I’ll definitely be working on them some more, so stay tuned.


Dae Powell April 3, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Perhaps the lass inherited the property from her previous husband or a relative? Perhaps the lad was away when the questions were asked?

Happy Dae·
ShoeString Genealogy


Kerry Scott April 5, 2010 at 6:27 am

Dae—I’m going to look up the original instructions to enumerators and see if I can find out whether property ownership would be a factor here. If I can find them, I’ll do a separate blog post with the results.


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