Barbara Everitt Bryant, the first woman to run the census, has died at the age of 96


Barbara Everitt Bryant, a market researcher who became the first woman to lead the Census Bureau and led controversy over the underrepresentation of minority groups in the 1990 census, who tried to overhaul the agency’s data collection practices, died March 3 in an assisted living facility. . Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 96 years old.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Linda Valentine, who did not give a cause.

Dr. Bryant began her career in survey research relatively late, at age 44, after raising three children, volunteering in community groups, and earning a doctorate in communications. For the next three decades, she was senior vice president of Market Opinion Research, a Michigan-based polling company, where she conducted research for presidential commissions on women’s rights, world hunger and recreation. outdoors.

When President George W. Bush was named director of the Census Bureau in December 1989, he had a reputation as a disarming figure and a master of unbiased polling with a no-nonsense approach to the job.

He was very fond of numbers – his grandchildren called him “Count” because he always mentioned numbers in conversation, such as the exact distance he swam in the pool, as well as the background of the relationship, which helped to defend the count during interviews. and public appearances.

“After 200 years of census and 30 census directors, I became the 31st director and the first woman, which increased my visibility quite a bit,” she said in a 1993 oral history for the office.

Jumping “on the bandwagon,” as he puts it, Dr. Bryant launched a decade-long study that involved more than half a million people and cost $2.5 billion.

Often described as the federal government’s largest peacetime mobilization effort, the census affects political redistricting, House seat allocations, and federal fund allocations, in addition to providing data on income, education, housing, and housing. disability.

Much of the planning for the 1990 census was completed before Dr. Bryant took office. But he soon faced questions about how the census would reach an increasingly disaffected audience, including millions of households who didn’t bother to fill out a mail-in survey, and how the agency would compensate for the admittedly small numbers of minority groups and big cities. residents, the issue has had a major impact in the battle for political control of statehouses and Congress.

The Bureau estimated that in the 1980 census, 99% of whites were white, but only about 94% African American. Officials said rising numbers of non-English speakers, undocumented immigrants and the homeless only made the 1990 census more difficult.

Citing evidence that the country’s population was 5.3 million higher than the official estimate of 248.7 million, Dr. Bryant supported a recommendation by the bureau’s steering committee to use statistical modeling to correct the estimates.

“For the first time in history, we have a tool to correct the census and make it more accurate,” he told his boss, Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher. “In my opinion,” he added in the post, “this is a denial of the existence of 5 million people.” It would be a grave mistake to dismiss any inaccuracy that this amendment might introduce.”

Mosbacher disagreed, abandoning the corrective method in 1991. Changing the numbers made the census process open to political manipulation, he said, and was unreliable for some states and local communities, although it appeared to be more accurate nationally.

His decision angered city leaders, including New York City, where Mayor David Dinkins said the decision not to change the census numbers would cost his city “billions of dollars over the next 10 years.”

New York and other communities have launched earlier lawsuits seeking to push the bureau to use statistical adjustments. The appeal reached the United States Supreme Court, which in 1996 upheld the validity of the 1990 census, stating that the government had no constitutional obligation to correct an undercount. (The Census Bureau has continued to grapple with accuracy issues, releasing a report last year that concluded the 2020 census undercounted Hispanics, African-Americans and other minority groups.)

Dr. Bryant – who was succeeded by Martha Farnsworth Rich, the only woman to lead the office – left the agency after a four-year term. His efforts have been praised by subsequent directors, including Robert Groves, who oversaw the 2010 census, who said he admired Dr Bryant’s “character and ingenuity”, particularly when it came to supporting statistical models to improve reporting.

“The benefits of identification remain a complex technical issue,” he wrote in an email, “but Dr. Bryant’s courage in supporting the technical staff’s recommendation will be remembered.”

The eldest of three children, Barbara Alice Everitt was born on April 5, 1926, in Ann Arbor and raised in Upper Arlington, Ohio. His mother, Dorothy, was a homemaker; his father, William, was a telecommunications expert who taught at Ohio State University and was dean of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Sometimes she would present her children with complex math problems, such as when she asked 8-year-old Dr. Bryant to find out how many needles had fallen from the family tree, giving him a scoop, a cup and a bucket. make an assessment. “It was his first lesson in statistical sampling,” said his daughter Valentine.

Dr. Bryant studied physics at Cornell University, where she was one of four women in her class to major in the subject, according to the Detroit Free Press. He also considered a career in science writing and worked as an editor for the student newspaper.

After graduating in 1947, he joined the staff of the New York-based trade publication Chemical Engineering. The following year, she married John Harold Bryant, an electronics engineer whom her father had met at a party for graduate students in Illinois.

They moved to New Jersey and then to Birmingham, Michigan, where Dr. Bryant focused on raising the children while her husband started a microwave electronics business. She helped with advertising, and after her youngest son entered elementary school, she decided to continue her career, taking a job as a science coordinator and director of public relations at nearby Oakland University. .

“His neighbors said his decision to work would cost him his children,” The New York Times reported decades later.

A few years later, he returned to school, walking 75 miles to Michigan State University, where he earned a master’s degree in journalism in 1967 and a doctorate three years later. His thesis attracted the attention of Robert M. Teeter, who invited him to join him in market opinion research and became the company’s president.

While Dr. Bryant focused on public opinion research, working with health care companies and transportation agencies, Teeter’s specialty was politics. He worked closely with Bush and nominated Dr. Bryant for the Census after the president’s first choice, redistricting analyst Alan Heslop, was criticized by congressional Democrats.

In his tribute, current Census Bureau Director Robert Santos described Dr. Bryant as a “pioneer and champion of qualitative research methods,” adding that he “worked to improve the quality of statistics and moved the Census Bureau away from pencil and paper.” interviews and computer-assisted data collection.

Survivors include her three children, Valentine of Louisville, Randall Bryant of Pittsburgh and Lois Bryant of Ann Arbor; sister; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1997.

After leaving the Census Bureau in 1993, Dr. Bryant joined the University of Michigan Business School and directed the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, a national economic indicator. He also devoted himself to recreational swimming, building a 50-foot-long, 3-foot-deep indoor pool at his home in Ann Arbor, which he called “The Trench.”

All news on the site does not represent the views of the site, but we automatically submit this news and translate it using software technology on the site, rather than a human editor.

Leave A Reply