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Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor

The Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor was founded in 1869 to gather economic data about employment and labor, thereby making Massachusetts the first state in the Union to create a bureau designed to monitor state labor conditions. It was embroiled in controversy from the very beginning, since labor activists wanted it to serve as a pro-labor lobbying organization, and business interests wanted the bureau to be neutral in economic disputes between labor and business.

In 1873, the Governor of Massachusetts appointed Carroll Davidson Wright to be the commissioner of the bureau in order to "make it or bust it." Although Wright did not have very much experience in either statistics or labor issues, he was determined to make the new bureau an objective, scientific organization that was free of political bias toward any side. Indeed, a friend claimed that Wright once said, "Figures won't lie, but liars will figure." Due to his effective leadership of the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor, Wright was later appointed to be the first director of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Thanks to Massachusetts's pioneering example, 12 other states founded labor statistics bureaus by 1883.

Annual Reports of the Bureau

Run of volumes of Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor reports prepped for cataloging and digitization
Selected MBSL volumes prepped for digitization.

The Annual Reports of the Bureau are a rich resource on the social issues of the time. More than compilations of data, the Annual Reports comprise serious research studies and analyses on a wide range of topics. The Bureau looked abroad to understand similar problems and conditions, and often commissioned studies by other organizations.

The Bureau studied the labor movement, working conditions in mill towns, Boston, and Cape Cod, immigrants, retail trade and manufacturing, tenement conditions, health of workers (women and children in particular) and published their research findings and recommendations in their Annual Reports.

Note: OCP digitized the published reports from 1869–1924 with the cooperation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Library and the State Library of Massachusetts, who kindly lent volumes from their collections in the effort to produce a complete run of the publication.

Browse annual reports:

  • All years, 1st (1869–1870) through 55th (1924), 25,550 pages
  • Index and Highlights to 1st through 55th, a reference guide with links to each issue

Browse Publications Digitized for Women Working

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