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Carroll Davidson Wright (1840–1909)

Carroll Davidson Wright was an internationally known statistician and labor expert. He served as the first US commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1884 to 1902 and as chief of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, the first such bureau in the United States, from 1873 to 1888.

Wright's statistical approach to the analysis of labor issues served as scientific data for the emerging labor reform campaigns and legislation of the period. By presenting human conditions in statistical format, Wright's method of analysis contributed greatly to the emerging study of social science in the areas of sociology, economics, law, and business.

Born in Dunbarton, New Hampshire, the third of seven children, Wright was educated in public schools, and later worked as a schoolteacher while studying law. In 1862, he abandoned his studies to enlist as a private in the Union army. During his time in the 14th New Hampshire Regiment, he rose to the rank of colonel, and during Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley campaign he served as the general's adjutant. At the close of the war, he returned to New Hampshire to complete his law studies, then moved to Massachusetts to set up practice, where he was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1871.

In 1873, at the urging of Massachusetts's Governor Washburn, who was concerned that politics were endangering its existence, Wright took charge of the recently established Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor. Wright's studies on working conditions were highly praised for their nonpartisan analysis. To gather comparative data, Wright traveled throughout the US and Europe. He also headed the 1875 Massachusetts census, noted as the most comprehensive US population study of the time.

As the first commissioner of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wright developed a bureau of economic research, dedicated to the study of all movements for the improvement of labor conditions, and oversaw the 11th Federal Census. While he served as commissioner, 34 US states established labor bureaus. Wright was also an active political influence in the major labor disputes of the time. Appointed by President Cleveland to serve as chairman of the commission to investigate the great Chicago Strike of 1894, Wright earned praise for his success in defusing what has been described as one of the most dangerous strikes in US labor history. During the Anthracite Strike of 1902, which threatened a national energy crisis, Wright served on President Roosevelt's commission to investigate and mediate the dispute among the miners and operators.

Wright organized the National Association of Bureau Chiefs, serving as its president from 1885 to 1905, and also served as president of the American Statistical Association, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and of the American Social Science Association. As an educator, Wright taught and lectured at Catholic University, Columbian College (later George Washington University), Harvard, John Hopkins, Michigan, Dartmouth, and Vassar and published over 350 titles, including studies, manuscripts, books, and articles. Wright retired as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor in 1902 and served as president of Clark College in Worcester, Massachusetts from 1902 until his death in 1909.

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  • Carroll Davidson Wright, OCP Immigration to the US collection. Provides links to more of Carroll Davidson Wright's publications.