Walter Francis Willcox

Last updated
Walter F. Willcox
Born(1861-03-22)March 22, 1861
DiedOctober 30, 1964(1964-10-30) (aged 103)
Nationality American
Education Amherst College
Columbia University
Children Alan Willcox
Academic career
Institution Cornell University
Richmond Mayo-Smith
Allyn Abbott Young

Walter Francis Willcox (March 22, 1861 – October 30, 1964) [1] was an American statistician. He was professor of economics at Cornell University. [2] He founded the statistical research office in the U.S. Census Bureau. [3]


Early life and education

He was born in Reading, Massachusetts, to William Henry Willcox, a congregational minister, [2] and Anne Holmes Goodenow. He was graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, in 1880, from Amherst College in 1884 with an A.B., and in 1888 received an A.M. degree from Amherst College. He received an LL.B degree (1887) and a Ph.D. (1891) from Columbia University. In 1906 he received an honorary LL.D. degree from Amherst College. [4]


Willcox was a Cornell University faculty member from 1891 to 1931. [2] He was initially an instructor in philosophy but became a professor of economics at Cornell. [2] He held the presidency of the American Statistical Association from 1911 to 1912 and of the American Economic Association in 1915.

He published The Divorce Problem, A Study in Statistics (1891; second edition, 1897). [5] In his research on divorce, he estimated that one in 12 marriages in the United States ended in divorce in 1909 and that if trends continued, approximately one in two marriages would end in divorce. [6]

He also published Supplementary Analysis and Derivative Tables, twelfth census (1906). He contributed the "Negroes in the United States" subsection to the "Negro" article [7] in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. (The main section, by Thomas Athol Joyce, is of interest today for the insight it gives into racial prejudices of the time.)

Willcox initiated the first statistics course at Cornell in 1892, one of the earliest university courses in statistics in the United States, and one among 16 universities with such courses in the 1890s. [8] His research interest was in vital statistics. Emil Julius Gumbel described his body of work, collected in Studies in American Demography, as "the type of old-fashioned writings which will continue to be of value notwithstanding all progress achieved in mathematical statistics." [9]

In 1911, Willcox claimed there would be "no children in the United States under five years of age" by the year 2020. Perpetuating ideas of race suicide, Willcox erroneously explained that the United States' birth rate meant that importing babies from France would be the only option for maintaining population levels. [10]

After serving as one of five chief statisticians for the U.S. Census in 1900, [11] [12] Willcox proved that for any method of apportionment that involves rounding, a priority list can be created by dividing the rounding point into each state's population, [13] by which each seat can be assigned in successive order based on each state's priority listings.

Willcox was an advocate for reducing the number of seats in the House of Representatives. [2] He proposed to reduce one seat per year. [2]

Willcox died in Ithaca, New York. [2]

His son, Alan Willcox, served as general counsel to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.


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  1. Rice, Stuart A (1964). "Walter Francis Willcox, March 28, 1861 - October 30, 1964". Revue de l'Institut International de Statistique / Review of the International Statistical Institute. 32 (3). ISI: 340–346. JSTOR   1401885.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Walter Willcox, an Economist, 103; Ex-Cornell Professor Dies —Aide for Census Unit". New York Times. 1964.
  3. Anderson, Margo J. (2001), Heyde, C. C.; Seneta, E.; Crépel, P.; Fienberg, S. E. (eds.), "Walter Francis Willcox", Statisticians of the Centuries, Springer, pp. 265–267, doi:10.1007/978-1-4613-0179-0_56, ISBN   978-1-4613-0179-0
  4. Leonard, William R. (1961). "Walter Francis Willcox: Statist". The American Statistician. 15 (1). American Statistical Association: 16–19. doi:10.2307/2682503. JSTOR   2682503.
  5. Edgeworth, F. Y.; Willcox, W. F. (1892). "The Divorce Problem". The Economic Journal. 2 (6): 341. doi:10.2307/2956158. JSTOR   2956158.
  6. "Divorce Statistics". New York Times. 1909.
  7. Joyce, Thomas Athol (1911). "Negro"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 344–346.
  8. Leonard, W.R. Op. Cit.: 16.{{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. Gumbel, E. J. (1941). "Review of Studies in American Demography". The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 218 (1). American Academy of Political and Social Science: 239. doi:10.1177/000271624121800175. S2CID   143243591 . Retrieved 2010-05-31.
  10. "2 Jan 1911, Page 2 - Fort Scott Daily Tribune and Fort Scott Daily Monitor at". 1911-01-02. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  11. "1890 Census, Delaware". 15 August 2016.
  12. Mitchell, Wesley C. (1900). "Preparations for the Twelfth Census". Journal of Political Economy. 8 (3): 378–384. doi:10.1086/250680. ISSN   0022-3808.
  13. Documents [ dead link ]