The General Assembly enacted Public Law Chapter 577 in 1865 which provided for the taking of a decennial census of the inhabitants and voters of the state. The act authorized that a census be taken in cities by agents appointed by the board of aldermen and in the towns by the assessors. Subsequently the agents and assessors must deposit returns with the Secretary of State by July 1st of the same year. The Secretary of State was responsible for providing forms for the returns to the clerks of the several cities and towns on or before the first day of May. In order to carry out the duties enumerated in the law, the Secretary of State with the advice of the Governor, hired Dr. Edwin M. Snow as the Superintendent of the Census. Dr. Snow was given full power to implement the requirements of the law which included preparing forms and devising a plan for the collection of and tabulation of statistics to include, population, manufactures, business and agriculture. Aggregate data, as required, was published by the Secretary of State in 1867. In this report, the Secretary of State suggested that a Bureau of Statistics be established to provide statistics in relation to manufactures, agriculture, trade, commerce as well as other statistics determined to be useful on a yearly basis.
In 1875 Public Law Chapter 449 created the Census Board. The Census Board consisted of the Governor, the Secretary of State and a Superintendent of the Census who was appointed by the Governor. The Superintendent was responsible for printing the forms and providing instruction to enumerators and the board was responsible for appointing agents to conduct the census. As a result, a census for 1875 was conducted to include categories of information obtained for the 1865 census as well as any other information deemed necessary. Likewise a statistical report was published by the Board in 1877.
The 1885 census was conducted in much the same manner as the previous censuses. A census board was convened six months prior to the date of which the census was to be taken. The census board was also responsible for the implementation and management of the 1895, 1905, 1915 and 1925 state censuses.
In 1887, following the State’s third census, the position of Commissioner of Industrial statistics was established under PL 1887, chapter 621. Aside from tabulating statistical data regarding the state’s workforce, the Commissioner of Industrial Statistics also assumed the responsibilities of the Superintendent of the Census (see Chapter 63 of the 1882 Public Statutes). Additionally the commissioner was required to report statistical details to the General Assembly regarding “the condition of labor and business in all mechanical, manufacturing, commercial and other industrial businesses of the state especially in relation to the social, educational and sanitary condition of the laboring classes”.
In 1919 (Public Law Chapter 1741), the Commissioner’s title was changed to the Commissioner of Labor who took over all responsibilities formerly performed by the Commissioner of Industrial Statistics. The chapter also created the State Board of Labor whose duties was to report to the General Assembly any recommendations relating to the laws of the state regarding labor, promote mediation and conciliation of controversies and disputes between employees and employers and to avoid resort to strikes, lockouts, boycotts, blacklists, discriminations and legal proceeding in or arising out of such controversies and disputes and matters of employment. The board also prescribed rules of procedure and had the power to conduct investigations, to hold hearings and to summon witnesses. The commissioner reported monthly to the board in all matters relating to labor
In 1935 the Department of Labor was established by statutory authority in PL 1935, chapter 2250, Section 90. Upon creation, the department assumed the responsibilities of the former Commissioner of Labor and the Superintendent of Industrial Statistics existing before that title. This statute also abolished the Census Board whereupon the Director of Labor assumed all responsibilities and functions relating to conducting the decennial census and keeping statistics. The last census was taken in 1935/6 and the statute was repealed completely in 1985. The department gradually evolved over the following decades to include a variety of divisions, boards, and advisory councils related to all fields of labor. In 1996 PL 226 renamed the department as the Department of Labor and Training (RIGL §42.16.1)
The Department began with three divisions, the Division of Labor Relations, the Division of Industrial Inspection, and the Division of Personnel (Census and Statistics). In 1936 the Division of Women and Children was created under the Department per Chapter 2289 of the Public Laws of 1936.