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About this collection

The Works Progress Administration Los Angeles Household Census Cards collection dates from 1939. The physical cards which number nearly half a million items are owned by the USC Libraries. More than a quarter of the collection has been digitized.

The household survey cards (or "dwelling schedules"), one for each street address in greater Los Angeles, document a wide variety of information ranging from the type of dwelling, the value of the property, the monthly rent or mortgage, to whether or not there were flush toilets. While these cards form the bulk of the collection, other digitized documents include "block face cards" and "block lists" -- documenting the census process -- as well as employee records which provide a fascinating view of the background and skills of the census takers themselves. Naturally, in this city of the car, the employee records include whether or not the employee owned an automobile.

WPA household census cards

A subset of the nearly half a million census cards which constitute the Works Progress Administration's 1939 household survey of greater Los Angeles. Three types of card are present: dwelling schedules (also known as "census cards"), block face cards, block lists.

DWELLING SCHEDULES (census cards) are by far the most numerous of the various types of cards. The vast majority are 5x7-inch cards with space on them for collecting three types of information, each type of which, in turn, is subdivided into various categories and subcategories. Specifically:

  • Administrative and identification data: Date, Enumerator, Street, Street no., Enumeration district, Block no., Structure no., Apartment no.
  • Data on the entire structure: Type of structure (single family detached, single family attached, two family side by side, two family two decker, three family three decker, four family double two decker, no. of units, apartment, business with dwelling units, other nonconverted, partially converted, completely converted), If converted (original type, year converted), Business units (none, no. of units), Exterior material (wood, brick, stone, stucco, other), Number of stories, Basement, Year built, Garage, If owner occupied (value of entire property, no. of major structures included in value, encumbrance (mortgate or land contract, no encumbrance), Persons per room & administrative data
  • Data on this dwelling unit: Occupancy (owner, tenant, vacant), Duration (time lived here (years & months), length of vacancy (years & months)), Monthly rent, Included in rent (furniture, garage, heat, hot water, light, cooking fuel, mechanical refrigeration, refrigeration fuel), Total rooms, Flush toilets, Bathing units, Running water (hot and cold, cold only, none), Heating (central steam or hot water, central warm air, other installed, none installed), Lighting (electric, gas, other), Cooking (electric, gas, other installed, none installed), Refrigeration equipment (electric, gas, ice, none), Number and age of all persons (total, under 1 year, 1-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-19, 20-64, 65 and over), Race of household (white, negro, mexican, oriental, other), Roomers, Extra families (no. of extra families, no. of persons).

BLOCK FACE CARDS are 5x7-inch cards which were used for administrative purposes only and to track the progress of the household census, recording such information as: enumeration district no., block no., no. of sheets of form A (Block list), no. of cards of form B (Dwelling schedule), no. of cards of form C, enumeration completed, FC-I study, draftsman checked/corrected/approved, checker checked/corrected/approved, coding checked, final inspection of forms, block tabulation of forms, general tabulation.

BLOCK LISTS are sheets (ca. 8x11-inches) used for administrative purposes only and track the collection of 13 specific pieces of data from the DWELLING SCHEDULES. This information was used to construct land use survey maps (a nearly complete set of ten oversize books containing a total of 345 maps of the Los Angeles area). They included: street name, street no., type of residential structure, no. of dwelling units in residential structure, residential structure no., description of non-residential uses, no. of business units occupied, no. of business units vacant, no. of stories, area of land not in permanent use, area of structure, use of continuous frontage in one use, feet of continuous frontage in one use.

WPA household census employee records

These employee records (mostly 5x7" cards) are principally hiring documents of the people who worked on the Works Progress Administration's 1939 household survey of greater Los Angeles (secretaries, typists, enumerators, supervisors, etc.). They include information such as: name, address, race, education, special training, foreign languages, experience, health, age, sex, telephone, pay rate, date of hire, date of interview, no. of dependents, whether or not they own an automobile.


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