The Progressive Era (1896–1916) was a period of widespread social activism
and political reform
across the United States of America
that spanned the 1890s to the 1920s. Progressive reformers were typically middle-class society women or Christian ministers. The main objectives of the Progressive movement
were addressing problems caused by industrialization
, and political corruption
. Social reformers were primarily middle-class citizens who targeted political machine
s and their bosses. By taking down these corrupt representatives in office, a further means of direct democracy
would be established. They also sought regulation of monopolies (trustbusting
) and corporations through antitrust laws
, which were seen as a way to promote equal competition for the advantage of legitimate competitors. They also advocated for new government roles and regulations, and new agencies to carry out those roles, such as the FDA
. The Progressive Era played a pivotal role in US history.
Many progressives supported prohibition of alcoholic beverages
, ostensibly to destroy the political power of local bosses based in saloons
, but others out of religious motivation. Women's suffrage
was promoted to bring a "purer" female vote into the arena. A third theme was building an Efficiency Movement
in every sector that could identify old ways that needed modernizing and bring to bear scientific, medical, and engineering solutions; a key part of the efficiency movement was scientific management
, or "Taylorism
". In Michael McGerr's book ''A Fierce Discontent'', Jane Addams stated that she believed in the necessity of "association" of stepping across the social boundaries of industrial America.
Many activists joined efforts to reform local government, public education, medicine, finance, insurance, industry, railroads, churches, and many other areas. Progressives transformed, professionalized, and made "scientific" the social sciences, especially history,
and political science.
In academic fields, the day of the amateur author gave way to the research professor who published in the new scholarly journals and presses. The national political leaders included Republicans Theodore Roosevelt
, Robert M. La Follette
and Charles Evans Hughes
, and Democrats William Jennings Bryan
, Woodrow Wilson
and Al Smith
. Leaders of the movement also existed far from presidential politics: Jane Addams
, Grace Abbott
, Edith Abbott
and Sophonisba Breckinridge
were among the most influential non-governmental Progressive Era reformers.
Initially, the movement operated chiefly at the local level, but later it expanded to the state and national levels. Progressives drew support from the middle class, and supporters included many lawyers, teachers, physicians, ministers, and business people. Some Progressives strongly supported scientific method
s as applied to economics, government, industry, finance, medicine, schooling, theology, education, and even the family. They closely followed advances underway at the time in Western Europe and adopted numerous policies, such as a major transformation of the banking system by creating the Federal Reserve System
in 1913 and the arrival of cooperative banking
in the US with the founding of its first credit union
in 1908. Reformers felt that old-fashioned ways meant waste and inefficiency, and eagerly sought out the "one best system".
Originators of progressive ideals and efforts
Certain key groups of thinkers, writers, and activists played key roles in creating or building the movements and ideas that came to define the shape of the Progressive Era.
Muckraking: exposing corruption
Magazines experienced a boost in popularity in 1900, with some attaining circulations in the hundreds of thousands of subscribers. In the beginning of the age of Mass media
, the rapid expansion of national advertising led the cover price of popular magazines to fall sharply to about 10 cents, lessening the financial barrier to consume them. Another factor contributing to the dramatic upswing in magazine circulation was the prominent coverage of corruption in politics, local government, and big business, particularly by journalists and writers who became known as muckraker
s''.'' They wrote for popular magazines to expose social and political sins and shortcomings. Relying on their own investigative journalism
, muckrakers often worked to expose social ills and corporate and political corruption
. Muckraking magazines, notably ''McClure's
,'' took on corporate monopolies and crooked political machine
s while raising public awareness of chronic urban poverty, unsafe working conditions, and social issues
like child labor
. Most of the muckrakers wrote nonfiction, but fictional exposés often had a major impact as well, such as those by Upton Sinclair
. In his 1906 novel ''The Jungle
'' Sinclair exposed the unsanitary and inhumane practices of the meatpacking industry, as he made clear in the Jungle itself. He quipped, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident, I hit it in the stomach," as readers demanded and got the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act
The journalists who specialized in exposing waste, corruption, and scandal operated at the state and local level, like Ray Stannard Baker
, George Creel
, and Brand Whitlock
. Others such as Lincoln Steffens
exposed political corruption in many large cities; Ida Tarbell
is famed for her criticisms of John D. Rockefeller
's Standard Oil Company
. In 1906, David Graham Phillips
unleashed a blistering indictment of corruption in the U.S. Senate. Roosevelt gave these journalists their nickname when he complained they were not being helpful by raking up all the muck.
The Progressives were avid modernizers, with a belief in science and technology as the grand solution to society's flaws. They looked to education as the key to bridging the gap between their present wasteful society and technologically enlightened future society. Characteristics of Progressivism included a favorable attitude toward urban-industrial society, belief in mankind's ability to improve the environment and conditions of life, belief in an obligation to intervene in economic and social affairs, a belief in the ability of experts and in the efficiency of government intervention. Scientific management, as promulgated by Frederick Winslow Taylor
, became a watchword for industrial efficiency and elimination of waste, with the stopwatch as its symbol.
The number of rich families climbed exponentially, from 100 or so millionaires in the 1870s to 4000 in 1892 and 16,000 in 1916. Many subscribed to Andrew Carnegie
's credo outlined in ''The Gospel of Wealth
'' that said they owed a duty to society that called for philanthropic giving to colleges, hospitals, medical research, libraries, museums, religion, and social betterment.
In the early 20th century, American philanthropy matured, with the development of very large, highly visible private foundations created by Rockefeller
, and Carnegie
. The largest foundations fostered modern, efficient, business-oriented operations (as opposed to "charity") designed to better society rather than merely enhance the status of the giver. Close ties were built with the local business community, as in the "community chest" movement. The American Red Cross
was reorganized and professionalized. Several major foundations aided the blacks in the South and were typically advised by Booker T. Washington
. By contrast, Europe and Asia had few foundations. This allowed both Carnegie and Rockefeller to operate internationally with a powerful effect.
Middle class theory
A hallmark group of the Progressive Era, the middle class became the driving force behind much of the thought and reform that took place in this time. With an increasing disdain for the upper class and aristocracy of the time, the middle class is characterized by their rejection of the individualistic philosophy of the Upper ten
. They had a rapidly growing interest in the communication and role between classes, those of which are generally referred to as the upper class, working class, farmers, and themselves. Along these lines, the founder of Hull-House
, Jane Addams
, coined the term "association" as a counter to Individualism
, with association referring to the search for a relationship between the classes. Additionally, the middle class (most notably women) began to move away from prior Victorian era
domestic values. Divorce rates increased as women preferred to seek education and freedom from the home. Victorianism was pushed aside in favor of the rise of the Progressives.
Individual activists' efforts and works
Politicians and government officials
* President Theodore Roosevelt
was a leader of the Progressive movement, and he championed his "Square Deal
" domestic policies, promising the average citizen fairness, breaking of trusts, regulation of railroads, and pure food and drugs. He made conservation a top priority and established many new national parks
, and monuments
intended to preserve the nation's natural resources. In foreign policy, he focused on Central America
where he began construction of the Panama Canal
. He expanded the army and sent the Great White Fleet
on a world tour to project the United States' naval power around the globe. His successful efforts to broker the end of the Russo-Japanese War
won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. He avoided controversial tariff and money issues. He was elected to a full term in 1904 and continued to promote progressive policies, some of which were passed in Congress. By 1906 he was moving to the left, advocating for some social welfare programs, and criticizing various business practices such as trusts. The leadership of the GOP in Congress moved to the right, as did his protege President William Howard Taft. Roosevelt broke bitterly with Taft in 1910, and also with Wisconsin's progressive leader Robert M. La Follette
. Taft defeated Roosevelt for the 1912 Republican nomination and Roosevelt set up an entirely new Progressive Party. It called for a "New Nationalism" with active supervision of corporations, higher taxes, and unemployment and old-age insurance. He supported voting rights for women but was silent on civil rights for blacks, who remained in the regular Republican fold. He lost and his new party collapsed, as conservatism dominated the GOP for decades to come. Biographer William Harbaugh argues:
:: In foreign affairs, Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy is judicious support of the national interest and promotion of world stability through the maintenance of a balance of power; creation or strengthening of international agencies, and resort to their use when practicable; and implicit resolve to use military force, if feasible, to foster legitimate American interests. In domestic affairs, it is the use of government to advance the public interest. "If on this new continent", he said, "we merely build another country of great but unjustly divided material prosperity, we shall have done nothing".
* President Woodrow Wilson
introduced a comprehensive program of domestic legislation at the outset of his administration, something no president had ever done before. He had four major domestic priorities: the conservation
of natural resources, banking reform, tariff
reduction, and equal access to raw materials, which would be accomplished in part through the regulation of trusts. Though foreign affairs would increasingly dominate his presidency starting in 1915, Wilson's first two years in office largely focused on the implementation of his New Freedom domestic agenda.
: Wilson presided over the passage of his progressive New Freedom
domestic agenda. His first major priority was the passage of the Revenue Act of 1913
, which lowered tariffs
and implemented a federal income tax
. Later tax acts implemented a federal estate tax
and raised the top income tax rate to 77 percent. Wilson also presided over the passage of the Federal Reserve Act
, which created a central banking system in the form of the Federal Reserve System
. Two major laws, the Federal Trade Commission Act
and the Clayton Antitrust Act
, were passed to regulate business and prevent monopolies. Wilson did not support civil rights and did not object to accelerating segregate
of federal employees. In World War I, he made internationalism a key element of the progressive outlook, as expressed in his Fourteen Points
and the League of Nations
--an ideal called Wilsonianism
* Charles Evans Hughes
, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, played a key role in upholding many reforms, tending to align with Oliver Wendell Holmes
. He voted to uphold state laws providing for minimum wages, workmen's compensation, and maximum work hours for women and children. He also wrote several opinions upholding the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause
. His majority opinion in the ''Baltimore & Ohio Railroad vs. Interstate Commerce Commission'' upheld the right of the federal government to regulate the hours of railroad workers.
His majority opinion in the 1914 Shreveport Rate Case
upheld the Interstate Commerce Commission
's decision to void discriminatory railroad rates imposed by the Railroad Commission of Texas
. The decision established that the federal government could regulate intrastate commerce when it affected interstate commerce, though Hughes avoided directly overruling the 1895 case of ''United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
* Gifford Pinchot
was an American forester and politician. Pinchot served as the first Chief of the United States Forest Service
from 1905 until 1910 and was the 28th Governor
, serving from 1923 to 1927, and again from 1931 to 1935. He was a member of the Republican Party
for most of his life, though he also joined the Progressive Party
for a brief period. Pinchot is known for reforming the management and development of forests in the United States and for advocating the conservation of the nation's reserves by planned use and renewal.
He called it "the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man." Pinchot coined the term conservation ethic
as applied to natural resources. Pinchot's main contribution was his leadership in promoting scientific forestry and emphasizing the controlled, profitable use of forests and other natural resources so they would be of maximum benefit to mankind.
He was the first to demonstrate the practicality and profitability of managing forests for continuous cropping. His leadership put the conservation of forests high on America's priority list.
Authors and journalists
* Upton Sinclair
was an American writer who wrote nearly 100 books and other works in several genres. Sinclair's work was well known and popular in the first half of the 20th century, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
in 1943. In 1906, Sinclair acquired particular fame for his classic muck-raking
novel ''The Jungle
'', which exposed labor and sanitary conditions in the U.S. meatpacking industry
, causing a public uproar that contributed in part to the passage a few months later of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act
and the Meat Inspection Act
. In 1919, he published ''The Brass Check
'', a muck-raking exposé
of American journalism that publicized the issue of yellow journalism
and the limitations of the "free press" in the United States. Four years after publication of ''The Brass Check'', the first code of ethics
for journalists was created.
:He is well remembered for the line: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." He used this line in speeches and the book about his campaign for governor as a way to explain why the editors and publishers of the major newspapers in California would not treat seriously his proposals for old age pensions and other progressive reforms. Many of his novels can be read as historical works. Sinclair describes the world of industrialized America from both the working man's and the industrialist's points of view. Novels such as ''King Coal
'' (1917), ''The Coal War
'' (published posthumously), ''Oil!
'' (1927), and ''The Flivver King
'' (1937) describe the working conditions of the coal, oil, and auto industries at the time.
* Ida Tarbell
, a writer and lecturer, was one of the leading muckraker
s and pioneered investigative journalism
. Tarbell is best known for her 1904 book, ''The History of the Standard Oil Company
.'' The book was published as a series of articles in ''McClure's Magazine
'' from 1902 to 1904. It has been called a "masterpiece of investigative journalism", by historian J. North Conway, as well as "the single most influential book on business ever published in the United States" by historian Daniel Yergin. The work would contribute to the dissolution of the Standard Oil
monopoly and helped usher in the Hepburn Act
of 1906, the Mann-Elkins Act
, the creation of the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) and the Clayton Antitrust Act
* Lincoln Steffens
was another investigative journalist and one of the leading muckraker
s. He launched a series of articles in ''McClure's
'', called ''Tweed Days in St. Louis'', that would later be published together in a book titled ''The Shame of the Cities
''. He is remembered for investigating corruption in municipal government
in American cities and leftist values.
Researchers and intellectual theorists
* Henry George
was an American political economist
and journalist. His writing was immensely popular in the 19th century, and sparked several reform movements. His writings also inspired the economic philosophy known as Georgism
, based on the belief that people should own the value they produce themselves, but that the economic value derived from land
(including natural resource
s) should belong equally to all members of society. His most famous work, ''Progress and Poverty
'' (1879), sold millions of copies worldwide, probably more than any other American book before that time. The treatise investigates the paradox of increasing inequality and poverty amid economic and technological progress, the cyclic nature of industrialized economies
, and the use of rent capture such as land value tax
and other anti-monopoly
reforms as a remedy for these and other social problems.
:The mid-20th century labor economist and journalist George Soule
wrote that George was "By far the most famous American economic writer," and "author of a book which probably had a larger world-wide circulation than any other work on economics ever written."
* Herbert David Croly
was an intellectual leader of the progressive movement
as an editor, political philosopher
and a co-founder of the magazine ''The New Republic
'' in early twentieth-century America. His political philosophy influenced many leading progressives including Theodore Roosevelt
, as well as his close friends Judge Learned Hand
and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter
His 1909 book ''The Promise of American Life
'' looked to the constitutional liberalism as espoused by Alexander Hamilton
, combined with the radical democracy
of Thomas Jefferson
. The book was one of the most influential in American political history, shaping the ideas of many intellectuals and political leaders. It also influenced the later New Deal
. Calling themselves "The New Nationalists", Croly and Walter Weyl
sought to remedy the relatively weak national institutions with a strong federal government. He promoted a strong army and navy and attacked pacifists
who thought democracy at home and peace abroad was best served by keeping America weak.
:Croly was one of the founders of modern liberalism in the United States
, especially through his books, essays and a highly influential magazine founded in 1914, ''The New Republic''. In his 1914 book ''Progressive Democracy'', Croly argued that the liberal
tradition in the United States was compatible with anti-capitalist
alternatives. He drew from the American past a history of resistance to capitalist
wage relations that was fundamentally liberal, and he reclaimed an idea that progressives had allowed to lapse—that working for wages was a lesser form of liberty. Increasingly skeptical of the capacity of social welfare
legislation to remedy social ills, Croly argued that America's liberal promise could be redeemed only by syndicalist
reforms involving workplace democracy
. His liberal goals were part of his commitment to American republicanism
* Thorstein Veblen
was an American economist
, who during his lifetime emerged as a well-known critic of capitalism
. In his best-known book, ''The Theory of the Leisure Class
'' (1899), Veblen coined the concept of conspicuous consumption
and conspicuous leisure
. Historians of economics
regard Veblen as the founding father of the institutional economics
school. Contemporary economists still theorize Veblen's distinction between "institutions" and "technology", known as the Veblenian dichotomy. As a leading intellectual, Veblen attacked production for profit
. His emphasis on conspicuous consumption greatly influenced economists who engaged in non-Marxist critiques of capitalism
and of technological determinism
Activists and organizers
*Mary G. Harris Jones
known as Mother Jones, was an Irish-born American schoolteacher
who became a prominent organized labor representative
, community organizer
, and activist. She helped coordinate major strikes and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World
. Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever
in 1867 and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire
of 1871, she became an organizer for the Knights of Labor
and the United Mine Workers
union. From 1897 onwards, she was known as Mother Jones. In 1902, she was called "the most dangerous woman in America" for her success in organizing mine workers and their families against the mine owners. In 1903, to protest the lax enforcement of the child labor laws
in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a children's march from Philadelphia to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt
in New York.
Societal reformers and activists
* Jane Addams
was an American settlement
activist, reformer, social work
, public administrator
and author. She was a notable figure in the history of social work and women's suffrage in the United States
and an advocate for world peace
. She co-founded Chicago's Hull House
, one of America's most famous settlement houses. In 1920, she was a co-founder for the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU). In 1931, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
, and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States. Maurice Hamington considered her a radical pragmatist
and the first woman "public philosopher" in the United States. In the 1930s, she was the best-known female public figure in the United States. .
Key ideas and issues
Disturbed by the waste, inefficiency, stubbornness, corruption, and injustices of the Gilded Age
, the Progressives were committed to changing and reforming every aspect of the state, society and economy. Significant changes enacted at the national levels included the imposition of an income tax
with the Sixteenth Amendment
, direct election of Senators
with the Seventeenth Amendment
with the Eighteenth Amendment
, election reforms to stop corruption and fraud, and women's suffrage
through the Nineteenth Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution.
A main objective of the Progressive Era movement was to eliminate corruption within the government. They made it a point to also focus on family, education, and many other important aspects that still are enforced today. The most important political leaders during this time were Theodore Roosevelt, Robert M. La Follette, Charles Evans Hughes, and Herbert Hoover. Some democratic leaders included William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, and Al Smith.
This movement targeted the regulations of huge monopolies and corporations. This was done through antitrust laws to promote equal competition amongst every business. This was done through the Sherman Act of 1890
, the Clayton Act of 1914
, and the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914
Family and food
Progressives believed that the family was the foundation stone of American society, and the government, especially municipal government, must work to enhance the family. Local public assistance programs were reformed to try to keep families together. Inspired by crusading Judge Ben Lindsey
of Denver, cities established juvenile courts to deal with disruptive teenagers without sending them to adult prisons.
During the progressive era more women took work outside the home. For the working class this work was often as a domestic servant. Yet, working or not, women were expected to perform all the cooking and cleaning. This "affected female domestics' experiences of their homes, workplaces, and possessions, While the male household members, comforted by the smells of home cooking, fresh laundry, and soaped floors, would have seen home as a refuge from work, women would have associated these same smells with the labor that they expended to maintain order." With increases in technology some of this work became easier. The "introduction of gas, indoor plumbing, electricity and garbage pickup had a significant impact on the homes and the women who were responsible for maintaining them."
With the introduction of new methods of heating and lighting the home allowed for use of space once used for storage to become living spaces.
Women were targeted by advertisements for many different products once produced at home. These products were anything from mayonnaise, soda, or canned vegetables.
The purity of food, milk and drinking water became a high priority in the cities. At the state and national levels new food and drug laws strengthened urban efforts to guarantee the safety of the food system. The 1906 federal Pure Food and Drug Act
, which was pushed by drug companies and providers of medical services, removed from the market patent medicines that had never been scientifically tested.
With the decrease in standard working hours, urban families had more leisure time. Many spent this leisure time at movie theaters. Progressives advocated for censorship of motion pictures as it was believed that patrons (especially children) viewing movies in dark, unclean, potentially unsafe theaters, might be negatively influenced in witnessing actors portraying crimes, violence, and sexually suggestive situations. Progressives across the country influenced municipal governments of large urban cities, to build numerous parks where it was believed that leisure time for children and families could be spent in a healthy, wholesome environment, thereby fostering good morals and citizenship.
Labor policy and unions
Labor unions, especially the American Federation of Labor
(AFL), grew rapidly in the early 20th century, and had a Progressive agenda as well. After experimenting in the early 20th century with cooperation with business in the National Civic Federation
, the AFL turned after 1906 to a working political alliance with the Democratic party. The alliance was especially important in the larger industrial cities. The unions wanted restrictions on judges who intervened in labor disputes, usually on the side of the employer. They finally achieved that goal with the Norris–La Guardia Act
By the turn of the century, more and more small businesses were getting fed up with the way that they were treated compared to the bigger businesses. It seemed that the "Upper Ten" were turning a blind-eye to the smaller businesses, cutting corners wherever they could to make more profit. The big businesses would soon find out that the smaller businesses were starting to gain ground over them, so they became unsettled as described; "Constant pressure from the public, labor organizations, small business interests, and federal and state governments forced the corporate giants to engage in a balancing act." Now that all of these new regulations and standards were being enacted, the big business would now have to stoop to everyone's level, including the small businesses. The big businesses would soon find out that in order to succeed they would have to band together with the smaller businesses to be successful, kind of a "Yin and Yang" effect.
United States President William Howard Taft
signed the 4 March 1913, bill (the last day of his presidency), establishing the Department of Labor as a Cabinet
-level department, replacing the previous Department of Commerce and Labor
. William B. Wilson
was appointed as the first Secretary of Labor on 5 March 1913, by President Wilson. In October 1919, Secretary Wilson chaired the first meeting of the International Labour Organization
even though the U.S. was not yet a member.
In September 1916, the Federal Employees' Compensation Act
introduced benefits to workers who are injured or contract illnesses in the workplace. The act established an agency responsible for federal workers' compensation, which was transferred to the Labor Department in the 1940s and has become known as the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs
Civil rights issues
Across the nation, middle-class women organized on behalf of social reform
s during the Progressive Era. Using the language of municipal housekeeping
women were able to push such reforms as prohibition, women's suffrage, child-saving, and public health.
Middle-class women formed local clubs, which after 1890 were coordinated by the General Federation of Women's Clubs
(GFWC). Historian Paige Meltzer puts the GFWC in the context of the Progressive Movement
, arguing that its policies:
built on Progressive-era strategies of municipal housekeeping. During the Progressive era, female activists used traditional constructions of womanhood, which imagined all women as mothers and homemakers, to justify their entrance into community affairs: as "municipal housekeepers," they would clean up politics, cities, and see after the health and well being of their neighbors. Donning the mantle of motherhood, female activists methodically investigated their community's needs and used their "maternal" expertise to lobby, create, and secure a place for themselves in an emerging state welfare bureaucracy, best illustrated perhaps by clubwoman Julia Lathrop's leadership in the Children's Bureau. As part of this tradition of maternal activism, the Progressive-era General Federation supported a range of causes from the pure food and drug administration to public health care for mothers and children, to a ban on child labor, each of which looked to the state to help implement their vision of social justice.
Women during the Progressive Era were often unhappy and faked enjoyment in their married heterosexual relationships.
Middle-class women known for calling out change, specifically in cities like New York City, questioned the rethinking of marriage and sexuality. Women craved more sexual freedom following the sexually repressive and restrictive Victorian Era.
Dating in relationships became a new way of courting during the Progressive Era and moved the United States into a more romantic way of viewing marriage and relationships.
Within more engagements and marriages, both parties would exchange love notes as a way to express their sexual feelings. The divide between aggressive passionate love associated usually with men and a women's more spiritual romantic love became apparent in the middle-class as women were judged on how they should be respected based on how they expressed these feelings.
So, frequently women expressed passionless emotions towards love as a way to establish status among men in the middle class.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association
(NAWSA) was an American women's rights organization formed in May 1890 as a unification of the National Woman Suffrage Association
(NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association
(AWSA). The NAWSA set up hundreds of smaller local and state groups, with the goal of passing woman suffrage
legislation at the state and local level. The NAWSA was the largest and most important suffrage organization in the United States, and was the primary promoter of women's right to vote. Carrie Chapman Catt
was the key leader in the early 20th century. Like AWSA and NWSA before it, the NAWSA pushed for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women's voting rights, and was instrumental in winning the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
in 1920. A breakaway group, the National Woman's Party
, tightly controlled by Alice Paul
, used civil disobedience
to gain publicity and force passage of suffrage. Paul's members chained themselves to the White House fence in order to get arrested, then went on hunger strikes to gain publicity. While the British suffragettes stopped their protests in 1914 and supported the British war effort, Paul began her campaign in 1917 and was widely criticized for ignoring the war and attracting radical anti-war elements.
Women's self-defense movement
A lesser-known feminist movement in the progressive era was the self-defense movement. Wilma Berger, an aspiring nurse at the Henrotin hospital in Chicago, was struck by a male attacker during a nighttime stroll. Berger, then 20 years old, fought off her attacker and sparked a nationwide movement advocating for women to take self-defense courses. Berger's story was inspiring and she quickly became a local celebrity after newspapers picked up her story. Berger used her platform to push for women everywhere to take up self defense classes as she found them empowering on physical and emotional levels. As more women across the country began taking these self defense courses the mentality that women were physically inferior and needed protecting was slowly being broken down and turned into a new more empowering narrative. Sociological experts in the Progressive era argued that women who actively resist, fight back, or flee the attacker are more likely to deter an attacker as opposed to theories from other leading experts such as Frederic Storaska, that advised women "to submit to rape to prevent further harm."
Across the South, black communities developed their own Progressive reform projects. Typical projects involved upgrading schools, modernizing church operations, expanding business opportunities, fighting for a larger share of state budgets, and engaging in legal action to secure equal rights. Reform projects were especially notable in rural areas, where the great majority of Southern blacks lived.
Rural blacks were heavily involved in environmental issues, in which they developed their own traditions and priorities. George Washington Carver
(1860–1943) was a leader in promoting environmentalism, and was well known for his research projects, particularly those involving agriculture.
Although there were some achievements that improved conditions for African Americans and other non-''white'' minorities, the Progressive Era was the nadir of American race relations. While white Progressives in principle believed in improving conditions for minority groups, there were wide differences in how this was to be achieved. Some, such as Lillian Wald
, fought to alleviate the plight of poor African Americans. Many, though, were concerned with enforcing, not eradicating, racial segregation. In particular, the mixing of black and white pleasure-seekers in "black-and-tan" clubs troubled Progressive reformers. The Progressive ideology espoused by many of the era attempted to correct societal problems created by racial integration following the Civil War by segregating the races and allowing each group to achieve its own potential. That is to say that most Progressives saw racial integration as a problem to be solved, rather than a goal to be achieved. As white progressives sought to help the white working-class, clean-up politics, and improve the cities, the country instated the system of racial segregation known as Jim Crow
One of the most impacting issues African Americans had to face during the Progressive Era was the right to vote. By the beginning of the 20th century, African Americans were "disfranchised", while in the years prior to this, the right to vote was guaranteed to "freedmen" through the Civil Rights Act of 1870
Southern whites wanted to rid of the political influence of the black vote, citing "that black voting meant only corruption of elections, incompetence of government, and the engendering of fierce racial antagonisms."
Progressive whites found a "loophole" to the 15th Amendment's
prohibition of denying one the right to vote due to race through the Grandfather Clause
This allowed for the creation of "tests" that would essentially be designed in a way that would allow for whites to pass them but not African Americans or any other persons of color.
Actions such as these from whites of the Progressive Era are some of the many that tied into the Progressive goal, as historian Michael McGerr
states, "to segregate society."
Legal historian Herbert Hovenkap argues that while many early progressives inherited the racism of Jim Crow, as they begin to innovate their own ideas, they would embrace behaviorism
, cultural relativism
which stress environmental influences on humans rather than biological inheritance. He states that ultimately progressives "were responsible for bringing scientific racism
to an end".
Key political reform efforts
Many Progressives sought to enable the citizenry to rule more directly and circumvent machines, bosses and professional politicians. The institution of the initiative and referendums made it possible to pass laws without the involvement of the legislature, while the recall allowed for the removal of corrupt or under-performing officials, and the direct primary let people democratically nominate candidates, avoiding the professionally dominated conventions. Thanks to the efforts of Oregon State Representative William S. U'Ren
and his Direct Legislation League
, voters in Oregon overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 1902 that created the initiative
processes for citizens to directly introduce or approve proposed laws or amendments to the state constitution, making Oregon the first state to adopt such a system. U'Ren also helped in the passage of an amendment in 1908 that gave voters power to recall
elected officials, and would go on to establish, at the state level, popular election of U.S. Senators
and the first presidential primary
in the United States. In 1911, California governor Hiram Johnson
established the Oregon System
of "Initiative, Referendum, and Recall" in his state, viewing them as good influences for citizen participation against the historic influence of large corporations on state lawmakers. These Progressive reforms were soon replicated in other states, including Idaho
, and Wisconsin
, and today roughly half of U.S. states have initiative, referendum and recall provisions in their state constitutions.
About 16 states began using primary election
s to reduce the power of bosses and machines. The Seventeenth Amendment was ratified in 1913, requiring that all senators be elected by the people (they were formerly appointed by state legislatures). The main motivation was to reduce the power of political bosses, who controlled the Senate seats by virtue of their control of state legislatures. The result, according to political scientist Henry Jones Ford
, was that the United States Senate had become a "Diet of party lords, wielding their power without scruple or restraint, on behalf of those particular interests" that put them in office.
Reformers also sought to streamline government through the introduction of the short ballot
. By reducing the number of elected officials and consolidating their power in singular officials like a governor they hoped to increase accountability and clarity in government. Woodrow Wilson was at one point the President of the National Short ballot Organization.
A coalition of middle-class reform-oriented voters, academic experts, and reformers hostile to the political machines started forming in the 1890s and introduced a series of reforms in urban America, designed to reduce waste, inefficiency and corruption, by introducing scientific methods, compulsory education and administrative innovations.
The pace was set in Detroit, Michigan
, where Republican mayor Hazen S. Pingree
first put together the reform coalition. Many cities set up municipal reference bureaus to study the budgets and administrative structures of local governments.
Progressive mayors took the lead in many key cities, such as Cleveland, Ohio
(especially Mayor Tom Johnson
); Toledo, Ohio
; Jersey City, New Jersey; Los Angeles
; Memphis, Tennessee
; Louisville, Kentucky
; and many other cities, especially in the western states. In Illinois
, Governor Frank Lowden
undertook a major reorganization of state government. In Wisconsin, the stronghold of Robert La Follette
, the Wisconsin Idea
used the state university as a major source of ideas and expertise.
As late as 1920, half the population lived in rural areas. They experienced their own progressive reforms, typically with the explicit goal of upgrading country life. By 1910 most farmers subscribed to a farm newspaper, where editors promoted efficiency as applied to farming. Special efforts were made to reach the rural South and remote areas, such as the mountains of Appalachia
and the Ozarks
The most urgent need was better transportation. The railroad system was virtually complete; the need was for much better roads. The traditional method of putting the burden on maintaining roads on local landowners was increasingly inadequate. New York State took the lead in 1898, and by 1916 the old system had been discarded in every area. Demands grew for local and state government to take charge. With the coming of the automobile after 1910, urgent efforts were made to upgrade and modernize dirt roads designed for horse-drawn wagon traffic. The American Association for Highway Improvement was organized in 1910. Funding came from automobile registration, and taxes on motor fuels, as well as state aid. In 1916, federal-aid was first made available to improve post-roads, and promote general commerce. Congress appropriated $75 million over a five-year period, with the Secretary of Agriculture in charge through the Bureau of Public Roads
, in cooperation with the state highway departments. There were 2.4 million miles of rural dirt rural roads in 1914; 100,000 miles had been improved with grading and gravel, and 3000 miles were given high quality surfacing. The rapidly increasing speed of automobiles, and especially trucks, made maintenance and repair a high priority. Concrete was first used in 1933, and expanded until it became the dominant surfacing material in the 1930s. The South had fewer cars and trucks and much less money, but it worked through highly visible demonstration projects like the "Dixie Highway
Rural schools were often poorly funded, one room operations. Typically, classes were taught by young local women before they married, with only occasional supervision by county superintendents. The progressive solution was modernization through consolidation, with the result of children attending modern schools. There they would be taught by full-time professional teachers who had graduated from the states' teachers colleges, were certified, and were monitored by the county superintendents. Farmers complained at the expense, and also at the loss of control over local affairs, but in state after state the consolidation process went forward.
Numerous other programs were aimed at rural youth, including 4-H
clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. County fairs not only gave prizes for the most productive agricultural practices, they also demonstrated those practices to an attentive rural audience. Programs for new mothers included maternity care and training in baby care.
The movement's attempts at introducing urban reforms to rural America often met resistance from traditionalists who saw the country-lifers as aggressive modernizers who were condescending and out of touch with rural life. The traditionalists said many of their reforms were unnecessary and not worth the trouble of implementing. Rural residents also disagreed with the notion that farms needed to improve their efficiency, as they saw this goal as serving urban interests more than rural ones. The social conservatism of many rural residents also led them to resist attempts for change led by outsiders. Most important, the traditionalists did not want to become modern, and did not want their children inculcated with alien modern values through comprehensive schools that were remote from local control. The most successful reforms came from the farmers who pursued agricultural extension, as their proposed changes were consistent with existing modernizing trends toward more efficiency and more profit in agriculture.
The Progressives fixed some of their reforms into law by adding amendments 16, 17, 18, and 19 to the US Constitution
. The 16th amendment
made an income tax legal (this required an amendment due to Article One, Section 9 of the Constitution, which required that direct taxes be laid on the States in proportion to their population as determined by the decennial census). The Progressives also made strides in attempts to reduce political corruption through the 17th amendment
(direct election of U.S. Senators). The most radical and controversial amendment came during the anti-German craze of World War I
that helped the Progressives and others push through their plan for prohibition
through the 18th amendment
(once the Progressives fell out of power the 21st amendment
repealed the 18th in 1933). The ratification of the 19th amendment
in 1920, which recognized women's suffrage
was the last amendment during the progressive era. Another significant constitutional change that began during the progressive era was the incorporation of the Bill of Rights
so that those rights would apply to the states. In 1920, Benjamin Gitlow was convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917
and the case
went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices decided that the First Amendment applied to the states as well as the federal government. Prior to that time, the Bill of Rights
was considered to apply only to the federal government, not the states.
Government policy and roles
The Progressive Era was one of general prosperity after the Panic of 1893
—a severe depression—ended in 1897. The Panic of 1907
was short and mostly affected financiers. However, Campbell (2005) stresses the weak points of the economy in 1907–1914, linking them to public demands for more Progressive interventions. The Panic of 1907 was followed by a small decline in real wages and increased unemployment, with both trends continuing until World War I. Campbell emphasizes the resulting stress on public finance and the impact on the Wilson administration's policies. The weakened economy and persistent federal deficits led to changes in fiscal policy, including the imposition of federal income taxes on businesses and individuals and the creation of the Federal Reserve System. Government agencies were also transformed in an effort to improve administrative efficiency.
[Harold U. Faulkner, ''The Decline of Laissez Faire, 1897–1917'' (1951)]
In the Gilded Age
(late 19th century) the parties were reluctant to involve the federal government too heavily in the private sector, except in the area of railroads and tariffs. In general, they accepted the concept of laissez-faire
, a doctrine opposing government interference in the economy except to maintain law and order. This attitude started to change during the depression of the 1890s
when small business, farm, and labor movements began asking the government to intercede on their behalf.
By the start of the 20th century, a middle class had developed that was weary of both the business elite and the radical political movements of farmers and laborers in the Midwest and West. The Progressives argued the need for government regulation of business practices to ensure competition and free enterprise. Congress enacted a law regulating railroads in 1887 (the Interstate Commerce Act
), and one preventing large firms from controlling a single industry in 1890 (the Sherman Antitrust Act
). These laws were not rigorously enforced, however, until the years between 1900 and 1920, when Republican President Theodore Roosevelt
(1901–1909), Democratic President Woodrow Wilson
(1913–1921), and others sympathetic to the views of the Progressives came to power. Many of today's U.S. regulatory agencies were created during these years, including the Interstate Commerce Commission
and the Federal Trade Commission
were journalists who encouraged readers to demand more regulation of business. Upton Sinclair
's ''The Jungle
'' (1906) was influential and persuaded America about the supposed horrors of the Chicago Union Stock Yards
, a giant complex of meat processing plants that developed in the 1870s. The federal government responded to Sinclair's book and the Neill–Reynolds Report
with the new regulatory Food and Drug Administration
. Ida M. Tarbell
wrote a series of articles against Standard Oil
, which was perceived to be a monopoly. This affected both the government and the public reformers. Attacks by Tarbell and others helped pave the way for public acceptance of the breakup of the company by the Supreme Court in 1911.
When Democrat Woodrow Wilson
was elected president with a Democratic Congress in 1912 he implemented a series of Progressive policies in economics. In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment
was ratified, and a small income tax
was imposed on higher incomes. The Democrats lowered tariffs with the Underwood Tariff
in 1913, though its effects were overwhelmed by the changes in trade caused by the World War that broke out in 1914. Wilson proved especially effective in mobilizing public opinion behind tariff changes by denouncing corporate lobbyists, addressing Congress in person in highly dramatic fashion, and staging an elaborate ceremony when he signed the bill into law. Wilson helped end the long battles over the trusts with the Clayton Antitrust Act
of 1914. He managed to convince lawmakers on the issues of money and banking by the creation in 1913 of the Federal Reserve System
, a complex business-government partnership that to this day dominates the financial world.
In 1913, Henry Ford
dramatically increased the efficiency of his factories by large-scale use of the moving assembly line, with each worker doing one simple task in the production of automobiles. Emphasizing efficiency, Ford more than doubled wages (and cut hours from 9 a day to 8), attracting the best workers and sharply reducing labor turnover and absenteeism. His employees could and did buy his cars, and by cutting prices over and over he made the Model T cheap enough for millions of people to buy in the U.S. and in every major country. Ford's profits soared and his company dominated the world's automobile industry. Henry Ford became the world-famous prophet of high wages and high profits. A study was conducted by Robert and Helen Lynd on American society as the need and want for cars was increasing and were made affordable to Americans. They published a book titled "Middletown" in 1929. In this study they found how the automobile impacted American families. Budgets changed dramatically and the automobile has revolutionized how people spent their free time.
The influx of immigration
grew steadily after 1896, with most new arrivals being unskilled workers from southern and eastern Europe. These immigrants were able to find work in the steel mills, slaughterhouses, fishing industry, and construction crews of the emergent mill towns and industrial cities mostly in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 halted most transcontinental immigration, only after 1919 did the flow of immigrants resume. Starting in the 1880s, the labor unions aggressively promoted restrictions on immigration, especially restrictions on Chinese, Japanese and Korean immigrants. In combination with the racist attitudes of the time, there was a fear that large numbers of unskilled, low-paid workers would defeat the union's efforts to raise wages through collective bargaining. In addition, rural Protestants distrusted the urban Catholics and Jews who comprised most of the Southern and Eastern European immigrants, and on those grounds opposed immigration. On the other hand, the rapid growth of the industry called for a greater and expanding labor pool that could not be met by natural birth rates. As a result, many large corporations were opposed to immigration restrictions. By the early 1920s, a consensus had been reached that the total influx of immigration had to be restricted, and a series of laws in the 1920s accomplished that purpose. A handful of eugenics advocates were also involved in immigration restriction for their own pseudo-scientific reasons. Immigration restriction continued to be a national policy until after World War II.
During World War I, the Progressives strongly promoted Americanization
programs, designed to modernize the recent immigrants and turn them into model American citizens, while diminishing loyalties to the old country. These programs often operated through the public school system, which expanded dramatically.
Progressives looked to legal arbitration
as an alternative to warfare. The two leading proponents were Taft, a constitutional lawyer who later became Chief Justice, and Democratic leaders William Jennings Bryan. Taft's political base was the conservative business community which largely supported peace movements before 1914. The businessmen believed that economic rivalries were cause of war, and that extensive trade led to an interdependent world that would make war a very expensive and useless anachronism. One early success came in the Newfoundland fisheries dispute between the United States and Britain in 1910. In 1911 Taft's diplomats signed wide-ranging arbitration treaties with France and Britain. However he was defeated by former President Theodore Roosevelt, who had broken with his protégé Taft in 1910. They were dueling for control of the Republican Party and Roosevelt encouraged the Senate to impose amendments that significantly weakened the treaties. On the one hand, Roosevelt was acting to sabotage Taft's campaign promises. At a deeper level, Roosevelt truly believed that arbitration was a naïve solution and the great issues had to be decided by warfare. The Roosevelt in approach incorporated a near-mystical faith of the ennobling nature of war. It endorsed jingoistic nationalism as opposed to the businessmen's calculation of profit and national interest.
Foreign policy in the progressive era was often marked by a tone of moral supremacy. Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan both saw themselves as 'Missionaries of Democracy', with the deliberate religious overtone. Historian Arthur S. Link
says they felt they were, "Inspired by the confidence that they knew better how to promote the peace and well-being of other countries than did the leaders of those countries themselves." Similar ideas and language had already been used previously in the Monroe Doctrine, wherein Roosevelt claimed that the United States could serve as the police of the world, using its power to end unrest and wrongdoing on the western hemisphere. Using this moralistic approach, Roosevelt argued for intervention with Cuba to help it to become a "just and stable civilization", by way of the Platt amendment. Wilson used a similar moralistic tone when dealing with Mexico. In 1913, while revolutionaries took control of the government, Wilson judged them to be immoral, and refused to acknowledge the in-place government on that reason alone.
Overseas possessions: the Philippines
were acquired by the United States in 1899, after victory over Spanish forces at the Battle of Manila Bay
and a long series of controversial political debates between the senate and President McKinley and was considered the largest colonial acquisition by the United States at this time.
While anti-imperialist sentiments had been prevalent in the United States during this time, the acquisition of the Philippines sparked the relatively minor population into action. Voicing their opinions in public, they sought to deter American leaders from keeping the Asian-Pacific nation and to avoid the temptations of expansionist tendencies that were widely viewed as "un-American" at that time.
Philippines was a major target for the progressive reformers. A 1907 report to Secretary of War Taft provided a summary of what the American civil administration had achieved. It included, in addition to the rapid building of a public school system based on English teaching, and boasted about such modernizing achievements as:
steel and concrete wharves at the newly renovated Port of Manila; dredging the River Pasig; streamlining of the Insular Government; accurate, intelligible accounting; the construction of a telegraph and cable communications network; the establishment of a postal savings bank; large-scale road-and bridge-building; impartial and incorrupt policing; well-financed civil engineering; the conservation of old Spanish architecture; large public parks; a bidding process for the right to build railways; Corporation law; and a coastal and geological survey.
In 1903 the American reformers in the Philippines passed two major land acts designed to turn landless peasants into owners of their farms. By 1905 the law was clearly a failure. Reformers such as Taft believed landownership would turn unruly agrarians into loyal subjects. The social structure in rural Philippines was highly traditional and highly unequal. Drastic changes in land ownership posed a major challenge to local elites, who would not accept it, nor would their peasant clients. The American reformers blamed peasant resistance to landownership for the law's failure and argued that large plantations and sharecropping was the Philippines' best path to development.
Elite Filipina women played a major role in the reform movement, especially on health issues. They specialized on such urgent needs as infant care and maternal and child health, the distribution of pure milk and teaching new mothers about children's health. The most prominent organizations were the La Protección de la Infancia, and the National Federation of Women's Clubs.
Although the Progressive Era was characterized by public support for World War I
under Woodrow Wilson
, there was also a substantial opposition to World War II
Some Progressives sponsored eugenics
as a solution to excessively large or underperforming families, hoping that birth control would enable parents to focus their resources on fewer, better children.
[Leonard, Thomas C. (2005]
Retrospectives: Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era
Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(4): 207–24
Progressive leaders like Herbert Croly
and Walter Lippmann
indicated their classically liberal concern over the danger posed to the individual by the practice of eugenics. The Catholics strongly opposed birth control proposals such as eugenics.
Prohibition was the outlawing of the manufacture, sale and transport of alcohol. Drinking itself was never prohibited. Throughout the Progressive Era, it remained one of the prominent causes associated with Progressivism at the local, state and national level, though support across the full breadth of Progressives was mixed. It pitted the minority urban Catholic population against the larger rural Protestant element, and Progressivism's rise in the rural communities was aided in part by the general increase in public consciousness of social issues of the temperance movement
, which achieved national success with the passage of the 18th Amendment by Congress in late 1917, and the ratification by three-fourths of the states in 1919. Prohibition was backed by the Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Scandinavian Lutherans and other evangelical churches. Activists were mobilized by the highly effective Anti-Saloon League
. Timberlake (1963) argues the dries sought to break the liquor trust, weaken the saloon base of big-city machines, enhance industrial efficiency, and reduce the level of wife beating, child abuse, and poverty caused by alcoholism.
Agitation for prohibition began during the Second Great Awakening
in the 1840s when crusades against drinking originated from evangelical Protestants. Evangelicals precipitated the second wave of prohibition legislation during the 1880s, which had as its aim local and state prohibition. During the 1880s, referendums were held at the state level to enact prohibition amendments. Two important groups were formed during this period. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union
(WCTU) was formed in 1874. The Anti-Saloon League
which began in Ohio was formed in 1893, uniting activists from different religious groups. The league, rooted in Protestant churches, envisioned nationwide prohibition. Rather than condemn all drinking, the group focused attention on the saloon which was considered the ultimate symbol of public vice
. The league also concentrated on campaigns for the right of individual communities to choose whether to close their saloons. In 1907, Georgia and Alabama were the first states to go dry followed by Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee in the following years. In 1913, Congress passed the Webb-Kenyon Act
, which forbade the transport of liquor into dry states.
By 1917, two-thirds of the states had some form of prohibition laws and roughly three-quarters of the population lived in dry areas. In 1913, the Anti-Saloon League first publicly appealed for a prohibition amendment. They preferred a constitutional amendment over a federal statute because although harder to achieve, they felt it would be harder to change. As the United States entered World War I, the Conscription Act banned the sale of liquor near military bases. In August 1917, the Lever Food and Fuel Control Act
banned production of distilled spirits for the duration of the war. The War Prohibition Act, November, 1918, forbade the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages (more than 2.75% alcohol content) until the end of demobilization.
The drys worked energetically to secure two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress and the support of three-quarters of the states needed for an amendment to the federal constitution. Thirty-six states were needed, and organizations were set up at all 48 states to seek ratification. In late 1917, Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment; it was ratified in 1919 and took effect in January 1920. It prohibited the manufacturing, sale or transport of intoxicating beverages within the United States, as well as import and export. The Volstead Act
, 1919, defined intoxicating as having alcohol content greater than 0.5% and established the procedures for federal enforcement of the Act. The states were at liberty to enforce prohibition or not, and most did not try.
[David E. Kyvig,''Repealing National Prohibition'' (2000)]
Consumer demand, however, led to a variety of illegal sources for alcohol, especially illegal distilleries and smuggling from Canada and other countries. It is difficult to determine the level of compliance, and although the media at the time portrayed the law as highly ineffective, even if it did not eradicate the use of alcohol, it certainly decreased alcohol consumption during the period. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in 1933, with the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment, thanks to a well-organized repeal campaign led by Catholics (who stressed personal liberty) and businessmen (who stressed the lost tax revenue).
Prohibition , which also brought a rise to organized crime, who was able to profit off the sales of illegal alcohol. Al Capone
was one of the most well-known criminals to partake in illegal alcohol sales. There was a huge demand for alcohol, but most business owners were unwilling to risk getting involved in the transportation of alcohol. The business owners did however have little issue with selling the alcohol that the criminals like Capone provided.
was able to be successful due to their willingness to use intimidation and violence to carry out their illicit enterprises. During prohibition, the mafia was able to grow their stronghold on illegal activities throughout the United States. This illegal behavior began almost in conjunction with prohibition being voted into law. Within the first hours of prohibition, the police in Chicago reported the theft of medicinal liquor. The prohibition era gangsters outlasted the law and used it as a starting point to launch their criminal enterprises.
The reform of schools and other educational institutions was one of the prime concerns of the middle class during this time period. The number of schools in the nation increased dramatically, as did the need for a better more-rounded education system. The face of the Progressive Education Movement in America was John Dewey, a professor at the University of Chicago (1896–1904) who advocated for schools to incorporate everyday skills instead of only teaching academic content. Dewey felt the younger generation was losing the opportunity to learn the art of democratic participation and in turn wrote many novels such as ''The Child and the Curriculum'' and ''Schools of tomorrow''. A higher level of education also gained popularity. By 1930, 12.4% of 18 to 21-year-olds were attending college, whereas in 1890 only about 3% of this demographic had an interest in higher learning.
Women's education in home economics
A new field of study, the art and science of homemaking, emerged in the Progressive Era in an effort to feminize women's education in the United States. Home economics emerged at the end of the nineteenth century in response to the many changes occurring both at the level of material culture and practices and in the more abstract realm of gender ideology and thinking about the home. As the industrial revolution took hold of the American economy and as mass production, alienation, and urbanization appeared to be unstoppable trends, Americans looked for solutions that could soften the effects of change without slowing down the engines of progress. Alternatively called home arts, the major curriculum reform in women's education was influenced by the publication of ''Treatise on Domestic Economy'', written by Catherine Beecher in 1843. Advocates of home economics argued that homemaking, as a profession, required education and training for the development of an efficient and systematic domestic practice. The curriculum aimed to cover a variety of topics, including teaching a standardized ways of gardening, child-rearing, cooking, cleaning, performing household maintenance, and doctoring. Such scientific management applied to the domestic sphere was presented as a solution to the dilemma and the black middle-class women faced in terms of searching for meaning and fulfillment in their role of housekeeping. The feminist perspective, by pushing for this type of education, intended to explain that women had separate but equally important responsibilities in life with men that required proper training.
Children and education
There was a concern towards working-class children being taken out of school to be put straight to work. Progressives around the country put up campaigns to push for an improvement in public education and to make education mandatory. It was further pushed in the South, where education was very much behind compared to the rest of the country. The Southern Education Board came together to publicize the importance of reform. However, many rejected the reform. Farmers and workers relied heavily on their eldest children, their first born, to work and help the family's income. Immigrants were not for reform either, fearing that such a thing would Americanize their children.
Despite those fighting against reform, there was a positive outcome to the fight for reform. Enrollment for children (age 5 to 19) in school rose from 50.5 percent to 59.2 between 1900 and 1909. Enrollment in public secondary school went from 519,000 to 841,000. School funds and the term of public schools also grew.
Medicine and law
The ''Flexner Report
'' of 1910, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation
, professionalized American medicine by discarding the scores of local small medical schools and focusing national funds, resources, and prestige on larger, professionalized medical schools associated with universities. Prominent leaders included the Mayo Brothers
whose Mayo Clinic
, became world-famous for innovative surgery.
In the legal profession, the American Bar Association
set up in 1900 the Association of American Law Schools
(AALS). It established national standards for law schools, which led to the replacement of the old system of young men studying law privately with established lawyers by the new system of accredited law schools associated with universities.
Progressive scholars, based at the emerging research universities such as Harvard
, Johns Hopkins
, worked to modernize their disciplines. The heyday of the amateur expert gave way to the research professor who published in the new scholarly journals and presses. Their explicit goal was to professionalize and make "scientific" the social sciences, especially history
[Richard Hofstadter, ''The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington'' (1968)] economics
[Joseph Dorfman, ''The economic mind in American civilization, 1918–1933'' vol 3, 1969]
and political science
[Barry Karl, ''Charles E. Merriam and the Study of Politics'' (1975)]
Professionalization meant creating new career tracks in the universities, with hiring and promotion dependent on meeting international models of scholarship.
In the 1940s typically historians saw the Progressive Era as a prelude to the New Deal
and dated it from 1901 (when Roosevelt became president) to the start of World War I in 1914 or 1917. Historians have moved back in time emphasizing the Progressive reformers at the municipal and state levels in the 1890s.
End of the Era
Much less settled is the question of when the era ended. Some historians who emphasize civil liberties decry their suppression during World War I and do not consider the war as rooted in Progressive policy. A strong anti-war movement headed by noted Progressives including Jane Addams
, was suppressed after Wilson's 1916 re-election, a victory largely enabled by his campaign slogan, "He kept us out of the war." The slogan was no longer accurate by 6 April of the following year, when Wilson surprised much of the Progressive base that twice elected him and asked a joint session of Congress to declare war on Germany. The Senate voted 82–6 in favor; the House agreed, 373–50. Some historians see the so-called "war to end all wars" as a globalized expression of the American Progressive movement, with Wilson's support for a League of Nations as its climax.
The politics of the 1920s was friendly toward the labor unions and liberal crusaders against business, so many if not most historians who emphasize those themes write off the decade. Urban cosmopolitan scholars recoiled at the moralism of prohibition, the intolerance of the nativists and the KKK, and on those grounds denounced the era. Richard Hofstadter
, for example, in 1955 wrote that prohibition, "was a pseudo-reform, a pinched, parochial substitute for reform" that "was carried about America by the rural-evangelical virus". However, as Arthur S. Link
emphasized, the Progressives did not simply roll over and play dead. Link's argument for continuity through the twenties stimulated a historiography that found Progressivism to be a potent force. Palmer, pointing to leaders like George Norris
, says, "It is worth noting that progressivism, whilst temporarily losing the political initiative, remained popular in many western states and made its presence felt in Washington during both the Harding and Coolidge presidencies." Gerster and Cords argue that, "Since progressivism was a 'spirit' or an 'enthusiasm' rather than an easily definable force with common goals, it seems more accurate to argue that it produced a climate for reform which lasted well into the 1920s, if not beyond." Some social historians have posited that the KKK may in fact fit into the Progressive agenda, if Klansmen are portrayed as "ordinary white Protestants" primarily interested in purification of the system, which had long been a core Progressive goal. This however ignores the violence and racism central to Klan ideology and activities, that had nothing to do with improving society, so much as enforcing racial hierarchies.
While some Progressive leaders became reactionaries, that usually happened in the 1930s, not in the 1920s, as exemplified by William Randolph Hearst
, Herbert Hoover
, Al Smith
and Henry Ford
First Red Scare
1917 saw the fall of the Tsarist regime
, producing a republic under Alexander Kerensky
. The October Revolution
shortly followed, which empowered the Bolsheviks
to seize control of much of Russia. The ensuing Red Terror
generated fear among Americans, who had come out of the First World War
with several new security laws such as the Espionage Act
in 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918
, and the Immigration Act of 1918
. This legislation enabled the American government to investigate and prosecute anarchists in response to terrorist attacks. Bombings
anarchists in the spring of 1919 contributed to a public hysteria about the communist threat, now called the First Red Scare
1919 began with January's Seattle General Strike
, spearheaded by unions with socialist sympathies. The five-day strike was short-lived due to a crackdown by Mayor Ole Hanson
, who attained fame from ending the strike and raising awareness of what he considered to be the dangers of Bolshevism
. In the latter half of the year, the Boston Police Strike
, Steel Strike of 1919
, and Coal Strike of 1919
created numerous battles between the government and organized labor.
In late 1919, President Wilson authorized the Palmer Raids
, led by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer
. Thousands of suspected leftists were arrested, particularly those with communist or anarchist ties, and many were deported. The bulk of those charged were Italians
, Eastern Europeans, and Jews
. The raids lasted into the new year, before Louis F. Post
, a newly-appointed Assistant Secretary of Labor
, cancelled the majority of the charges in his temporary capacity as Acting Secretary.
In 1920, the New York State Assembly
expelled five of its members belonging to the Socialist Party of America
. The action was passed by a legislative supermajority, but was widely denounced by both parties, including by progressive Democratic governor Al Smith
and the progressive Republican Charles Evan Hughes
, the party's 1916 candidate and New York's former governor.
On April 29th, 1920, Palmer's Department of Justice, led by J. Edgar Hoover
's General Intelligence Division, warned the public of an imminent plot to overthrow the American government on May Day
, including bombings, assassinations, and uprisings. As the nation frenziedly awaited the revolution, May Day came and went without incident, embarrassing and discrediting Palmer. This scare contributed to the quick decline of anti-Bolshevik hysteria in the United States thereafter.
Although the Red Scare wound down towards the end of 1920, the Wall Street bombing
kept the threat of anarchist violence in the public consciousness, despite investigations never determining the motive or perpetrators of the attack.
Business progressivism in 1920s
What historians have identified as "business progressivism", with its emphasis on efficiency and typified by Henry Ford and Herbert Hoover
reached an apogee in the 1920s. Wik, for example, argues that Ford's "views on technology and the mechanization of rural America were generally enlightened, progressive, and often far ahead of his times."
Tindall stresses the continuing importance of the Progressive movement in the South in the 1920s involving increased democracy, efficient government, corporate regulation, social justice, and governmental public service. William Link finds political Progressivism dominant in most of the South in the 1920s. Likewise it was influential in the Midwest.
Historians of women and of youth emphasize the strength of the Progressive impulse in the 1920s. Women consolidated their gains after the success of the suffrage movement, and moved into causes such as world peace, good government, maternal care (the Sheppard–Towner Act
[J. Stanley Lemons, "The Sheppard-Towner Act: Progressivism in the 1920s," ''Journal of American History'' Vol. 55, No. 4 (Mar., 1969), pp. 776–86 ]
and local support for education and public health. The work was not nearly as dramatic as the suffrage crusade, but women voted and operated quietly and effectively. Paul Fass, speaking of youth, says "Progressivism as an angle of vision, as an optimistic approach to social problems, was very much alive." International influences that sparked many reform ideas likewise continued into the 1920s, as American ideas of modernity began to influence Europe.
By 1930 a block of progressive Republicans in the Senate were urging Hoover to take more vigorous action to fight the depression. There were about a dozen members of this group, including William Borah
of Idaho, George W. Norris
of Nebraska, Robert M. La Follette Jr.
, of Wisconsin, Gerald Nye
of North Dakota, Hiram Johnson
of California and Bronson M. Cutting
of New Mexico. While these western Republicans could stir up issues, they could rarely forge a majority, since they were too individualistic and did not form a unified caucus. Hoover himself had sharply moved to the right, and paid little attention to their liberal ideas. By 1932 this group was moving toward support for Roosevelt's New Deal. They remained staunch isolationists deeply opposed to any involvement in Europe. Outside the Senate, however, a strong majority of the surviving Progressives from the 1910s had become conservative opponents of New Deal economic planning.
[Otis L. Graham, ''An Encore for Reform: The Old Progressives and the New Deal'' (1968)]
Notable progressive leaders
* Edwardian era
, comparable trends in Great Britain around 1910
* Machine age
* New York State Tenement House Act
* Woman's club movement
* Buenker, John D., John Chynoweth Burnham, and Robert Morse Crunden. ''Progressivism'' (Schenkman Books, 1977)online
* Buenker, John D., and Edward R. Kantowicz, eds. ''Historical dictionary of the Progressive Era, 1890–1920'' (Greenwood, 1988).
* Cocks, Catherine, Peter C. Holloran and Alan Lessoff. ''Historical Dictionary of the Progressive Era'' (2009)
* Dawley, Alan. ''Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution'' (2003excerpt and text search
* Diner, Steven J. ''A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era'' (1998)
* Flanagan, Maureen. ''America Reformed: Progressives and Progressivisms, 1890s–1920s'' (2007)
* Glad, Paul W. "Progressives and the Business Culture of the 1920s," ''Journal of American History,'' Vol. 53, No. 1. (June 1966), pp. 75–89.
* Gould, Lewis L. ''America in the Progressive Era, 1890–1914" (2000)
* Gould Lewis L. ed., ''The Progressive Era'' (1974)
* Hays, Samuel P. ''The Response to Industrialism, 1885–1914'' (1957),
* Hofstadter, Richard
, ''The Age of Reform
'' (1954), Pulitzer Prize
* Jensen, Richard. "Democracy, Republicanism and Efficiency: The Values of American Politics, 1885–1930," in Byron Shafer and Anthony Badger, eds, ''Contesting Democracy: Substance and Structure in American Political History, 1775–2000'' (U of Kansas Press, 2001) pp. 149–80online version
* Kennedy, David M
. ed., ''Progressivism: The Critical Issues'' (1971), readings
* Kloppenberg, James T. ''Uncertain victory: social democracy and progressivism in European and American thought, 1870–1920'' 198online at ACLS e-books
* Lasch, Christopher. ''The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics'' (1991)
* Lears, T. J. Jackson. ''Rebirth of a Nation: The Remaking of Modern America, 1877–1920'' (2009excerpt and text search
* Leuchtenburg, William E.
"Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898–1916," ''The Mississippi Valley Historical Review
,'' 39#3 (1952), pp. 483–504.
* Link, William A. '' The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880–1930'' (1992online
* Mann, Arthur. ed., ''The Progressive Era'' (1975) excerpts from scholars and from primary sources
* McGerr, Michael. ''A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920'' (2003excerpt and text search
* Mowry, George. ''The Era of Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of Modern America, 1900–1912.'' (1954) general survey of era
* Noggle, Burl. "The Twenties: A New Historiographical Frontier," ''The Journal of American History,'' Vol. 53, No. 2. (Sep., 1966), pp. 299–314.
* Painter, Nell Irvin. ''Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877–1919'' (1987excerpt and text search
* Pease, Otis, ed. ''The Progressive Years: The Spirit and Achievement of American Reform'' (1962), primary documents
* Rodgers, Daniel T. ''Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age'' (2000). stresses links with Europonline edition
* Solty, Ingar"Social Imperialism as Trasformismo: A Political Economy Case Study on the Progressive Era, the Federal Reserve Act, and the U.S.'s Entry into World War One, 1890–1917"
in M. Lakitsch, Ed., ''Bellicose Entanglements 1914: The Great War as a Global War'' (LIT, 2015), pp. 91–121.
* Thelen, David P. "Social Tensions and the Origins of Progressivism," ''Journal of American History'' 56 (1969), 323–41
* Wiebe, Robert
. ''The Search For Order, 1877–1920'' (1967).
* Young, Jeremy C. ''The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870–1940'' (2017excerpt and text search
Presidents and politics
* Beale Howard K.
''Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power.'' (1956)online
* Blum, John Morton.
''The Republican Roosevelt.'' (1954). Series of essays that examine how TR did politics
* Brands, H.W. ''Theodore Roosevelt'' (2001).
* Clements, Kendrick A. ''The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson'' (1992).
* Coletta, Paolo. ''The Presidency of William Howard Taft'' (1990).
* Collin, Richard H. "Symbiosis versus Hegemony: New Directions in the Foreign Relations Historiography of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft." ''Diplomatic History'' 19.3 (1995): 473–497online
* Cooper, John Milton
''The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt.'' (1983).online free
a dual biography
* Cooper, John Milton ''Woodrow Wilson: A Biography'' (2009), a standard scholarly biography
* Dalton, Kathleen. "Changing interpretations of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive era." in Christopher M. Nichols and Nancy C. Unger, eds ''A Companion to the Gilded Age and Progressive Era'' (2017): 296–307.
* Edwards, Barry C. "Putting Hoover on the Map: Was the 31st President a Progressive.'' (1975). ''Congress & the Presidency'' 41#1 (2014) pp 49–8online
* Gould, Lewis L. ''The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt'' (1991). Short scholarly biographyonline
* Harbaugh, William Henry. ''Power and Responsibility The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt'' (1961), a standard scholarly biography emphasizing politicsonline free
* Harrison, Robert. ''Congress, Progressive Reform, and the New American State'' (2004).
* Hofstadter, Richard
. ''The American Political Tradition'' (1948), ch. 8–9–10.
* Link, Arthur S. ''Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910–1917'' (1972) a standard political history of the eronline
* Lurie, Jonathan. ''William Howard Taft: The Travails of a Progressive Conservative'' (2011)
* Morris, Edmund
''Theodore Rex''. (2001), biography of T. Roosevelt covers 1901–1909
* Mowry, George E. ''Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement''. (1946)online free
* Pestritto, R.J. ''Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism.'' (2005).
* Rothbard, Murray N. ''The Progressive Era'' (2017), libertarian interpretatio online excerpt
* Sanders, Elizabeth. ''Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers and the American State, 1877–1917'' (1999).
State, local, gender, ethnic, business, labor, religion
* Abell, Aaron I. ''American Catholicism and Social Action: A Search for Social Justice, 1865–1950'' (1960).
* Bruce, Kyle and Chris Nyland. "Scientific Management, Institutionalism, and Business Stabilization: 1903–1923" ''Journal of Economic Issues'', Vol. 35, 2001.
* Buenker, John D. ''Urban Liberalism and Progressive Reform'' (1973).
* Buenker, John D. ''The History of Wisconsin, Vol. 4: The Progressive Era, 1893–1914'' (1998).
* Feffer, Andrew. ''The Chicago Pragmatists and American Progressivism'' (1993).
* Frankel, Noralee and Nancy S. Dye, eds. ''Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era'' (1991).
* Garrigues, George. "Marguerite Martyn: America's Forgotten Journalist," City Desk Publishing (201Marguerite Martyn: America's Forgotten Journalist
* Hahn, Steven. ''A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration'' (2003).
* Huthmacher, J. Joseph. "Urban Liberalism and the Age of Reform" ''Mississippi Valley Historical Review'' 49 (1962): 231–41, ; emphasized urban, ethnic, working class support for reform
* Link, William A. ''The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880–1930'' (1992).
* Maxwell, Robert S. ''La Follette and the Rise of the Progressives in Wisconsin''. Madison, Wis.: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1956.
* Montgomery, David. ''The Fall of the House of Labor: The workplace, the state, and American labor activism, 1865–1925'' (1987).
* Muncy, Robyn. ''Creating A Feminine Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935'' (1991).
* Lubove, Roy. ''The Progressives and the Slums: Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1890–1917'' Greenwood Press: 1974.
* Recchiuti, John Louis. ''Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City'' (2007).
* Stromquist, Shelton. ''Reinventing 'The People': The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism,'' (U. of Illinois Press, 2006). .
* Thelen, David. ''The New Citizenship, Origins of Progressivism in Wisconsin, 1885–1900'' (1972).
* Wesser, Robert F. ''Charles Evans Hughes: politics and reform in New York, 1905–1910'' (1967).
* Wiebe, Robert. "Business Disunity and the Progressive Movement, 1901–1914," ''The Mississippi Valley Historical Review,'' 44#4 (1958), pp. 664–85.
Primary sources and year books
''New International year book: 1909''
Category: American political philosophy
Category: Eras of United States history
Category: Social ethics