Barbara Everitt Bryant ’47 fulfilled many roles throughout her lifetime — Cornell student, mother, friend and, notably, first woman director of the United States Census Bureau.
Following her passing on March 3 at age 96, Bryant’s former colleagues and friends shared praises and stories of her accomplishments.
“I am sad to share the news of the passing of Barbara Everitt Bryant, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau and the first woman to hold that office, at age 96,” wrote current Census Director Robert Santos in a blog post on March 3. “Dr. Bryant was a trailblazer and a champion of quality survey methods.”
Bryant is survived by her three children, as well as her eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Bryant was born on April 5, 1926 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She went on to study physics at Cornell — the same school her parents, 1920 graduate William L. Everitt and 1923 graduate Dorothy Wallace, also attended — with hopes of becoming a science writer. After earning her B.A., she served as an editor for McGraw Hill’s “Chemical Engineering” magazine in 1947 before becoming a science journalist for the University of Illinois in 1948.
In 1949, Bryant decided to leave the workforce. She started a family with her husband, John H. Bryant, with whom she remained married for 48 years. The couple had three children: Lois Bryant, Linda Bryant Valentine and Randal Everitt Bryant.
Once her children grew old enough to enroll in school, Bryant reentered the workforce, taking a position at Oakland University in Michigan. She went on to earn two degrees from Michigan State University — an M.A. in journalism in 1967 and a Ph.D. in communications in 1970.
During the final weeks of her Ph.D. program, Bryant accepted a position at Market Opinion Research, a company now known as Escalent. There, she led various national projects, including surveys for the National Commission on Observance of International Women’s Year for President Gerald Ford and the Presidential Commission on World Hunger for President Jimmy Carter.
Leona Foster, a former colleague of Bryant’s at Market Opinion Research, started at the company in 1982 when Bryant was a senior vice president. Although she did not work directly with Bryant, Foster said she admired how Bryant commanded her role.
“As a woman in a leadership role, I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be just like her,” Foster wrote in a statement to The Sun. “She was strong, confident and had tremendous poise.”
On Sept. 27, 1989, President George H.W. Bush nominated Bryant to be director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census, a position for which she left Market Opinion Research. As director, Bryant led the enumeration of the 1990 Census and oversaw the adjustment of its figures when a population undercount of minority groups was discovered.
“I came in with an agenda of things I wanted to do,” Bryant said in a 1993 interview for the Census Bureau’s oral history program.
In the interview, Bryant outlined several goals with which she entered her directorship, including adapting methods of collecting and analyzing data for the census to more accurately reflect the changing population.
“I was very aware that the 1970, 1980 and 1990 census were basically of the same design. In the meantime, society has changed dramatically,” Bryant said. “I thought there now was the need to really take a whole new look at census taking, sort of start from zero base and see how you would build up a census-taking operation that fits what we expect the society to be like in 2000.”
After leaving the Census Bureau, Bryant pursued a position as a research scientist for the National Quality Research Center for the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. From 1994 to 2001, Bryant served as managing director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which the NQRC has just received startup funding to launch. Bryant continued to do research until her retirement in 2008.
Nancy Law ’84 met Bryant through the President’s Council of Cornell Women. As a member of Cornell’s Kappa Delta chapter — of which Bryant was also a part during her time at the University — Law lauded Bryant for exemplifying the chapter’s values.
“A strong, smart woman who took on challenges and spoke up for what she believed was right, even when unpopular,” Law wrote in a statement to The Sun. “I feel she is one example of how Cornellians, and our members, have lived [the chapter’s] beliefs. We were proud of her career and Cornell volunteer accomplishments.”
More than three decades have now passed since Foster and Bryant worked together, but a serendipitous event brought the two together again about five years ago — Foster said her ukulele band began to perform once a month for the residents of the facility where Bryant lived.
“She was genuinely happy to see me again and we started up where we left off the last time I had seen her,” Foster told The Sun. “She was always easy to talk with, and I am so thankful I had the good fortune to know her as a colleague and friend.”