Jobs in 1860 and Today

Students will examine a list of occupations from 1860 census manuscripts, look up unfamiliar terms in a dictionary, and explore reasons why some occupations are less common today than yesterday.

Instructional Objectives
Materials, Equipment, and Student Background Required
Historical Background
Follow-up, Extension, and Assessment

Instructional Objectives

National History Standards

Virginia Standards of Learning

National Council for the Social Studies

Materials, setting, and student background required

This lesson is designed for the traditional (non-computer) classroom.

Print and copy List of Occupations in advance. Optional: print and copy Student Worksheet in advance.

A good dictionary or, preferably, a classroom set of dictionaries, is necessary for this lesson.

Historical Background

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census be taken every ten years. Census takers go door to door, interviewing the heads of each household and recording a variety of information about each individual lving there. In 1860, the census taker asked for the name, age, race (black, mullato, and white), occupation, birthplace, dollar value of "real wealth" (land and buildings), and the dollar value of "personal wealth" (such as slaves, books, furniture, tools). The census taker also assigned a family and a household number to each individual. There could be more than one family per household, and in general, servants, tutors, and farm hands who lived with their employers were not recorded as belonging to the same family as their employers.


Review with students how life in the 19th century was different from life today. (No cars, computers, etc.)

Ask something like this: "An important part of how people live is what their job is. What are common jobs today?" Write them on the board.

"Today we are going to look at a list of jobs from the year 1860." Hand out List of Occupations.

"What jobs from today are not on this list?"

"What jobs from the list have you never heard of before? Look some of these up in a dictionary." (Alternatively: have students do this in pairs. Give each pair a different job to look up, if possible. Have groups write their definitions on the board)

Discussion Questions:

Follow-up, Assessment, and Extensions

Write a research paper on American artisans in the nineteenth century, drawing on a variety of sources.

Use the Valley of the Shadow census search page to find characteristics of different occupational groups and to write a comparison between at least two of them. For example, students could compare bakers and blacksmiths, or seamstresses and maids.

Go back to "Valley of the Shadow in the Classroom" homepage.

This material was developed by Alice Carter for the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education.