The Progressives p. 551-558


                           Child Labor                                               NYC Tenement

Chapter 20 Study Guide

In Chapter 20, we focus on the Progressive era and Progressivism: a series of movements that brought together reform-minded individuals and groups with differing solutions to the nation's problems in the years from 1895 to 1920. The Progressives were members of nationwide organizations that attempted to affect government policy. They were people interested in urban issues and urban political and social reform. Although Progressives came from all levels of society, new middle-class professionals formed the vanguard of the movement and found expression for their ideas in muckraking journalism. In addition, Progressive reform was often rooted in religion, as can be seen through the movement known as the Social Gospel.


Revolted by corruption and injustice, the new urban middle class called for political reform to make government more efficient, less corrupt, and more accountable. Such government, they believed, could be a force for good in American society. Some business executives argued for a society organized along the lines of the corporate model; women of the elite classes formed the YWCA and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Working-class reformers pressed for government legislation to aid labor and improve social welfare. Although some reformers turned to the Socialist Party, they were a decided minority and cannot be considered Progressives. Progressives generally had far too great a stake in the capitalist system to advocate its destruction and, as a result, were political moderates rather than radicals.


Progressives generally agreed that government power should be used to check the abuses associated with the industrial age, but they did not always agree on the nature of the problem. At the city and state levels, Progressives were initially interested in attacking the party system and in effecting political reform designed to make government more honest, more professional, and more responsive to the people. These aims can be seen through the accomplishments of Robert M. La Follette, one of the most effective Progressive governors, and in the Seventeenth Amendment, one of the major political reforms achieved by Progressives at the national level. Some Progressives also worked for social reform at the state level to protect the well-being of citizens from exploitative corporate power. Still other Progressives believed in using the power of government to purify society by effecting moral reform. Such efforts were behind the Eighteenth Amendment and the Mann Act (White Slave Traffic Act).


The Progressive spirit also had an impact on those seeking equal rights for African Americans, American Indians, and women. After looking at the dilemma faced by activists within these groups, we contrast the approaches of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois toward white racism, and we look at attempts by American Indians to advance their interests through the formation of the Society of American Indians. We then turn to the various aspects of the woman movement, contrasting the aims and goals of women involved in the women's club movement with those involved in the feminist movement and discussing the contrasting viewpoints of elite women and feminists involved in the suffrage movement.


The Progressive era reached the national level of government when Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901. We examine Roosevelt's political, economic, and social frame of reference and evaluate the Progressive legislation passed during his administration. The contrast between the Taft administration that followed and the Roosevelt years spurred Progressives to found the Progressive party under Roosevelt's leadership. We also discuss the similarities and differences between Roosevelt's New Nationalism and Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, and we examine the reasons for Wilson?s election in 1912.


The Progressive Era: 1900-1916

1889 Jane Addams founds Hull House.

1894 Immigration Restriction League founded.

1896 Henry Ford builds his first automobile.

1898 Charlotte Perkins Gilman publishes Women and Economics.

1900 Galveston, Texas, creates first city commission government. William McKinley wins reelection. Progressive Robert La Follette is elected governor of Wisconsin.

1901 Congress creates the National Bureau of Standards. McKinley is assassinated; Theodore Roosevelt becomes president.

1902 Theodore Roosevelt mediates anthracite coal strike. Congress passes the Newlands Reclamation Act.

1904 Supreme Court finds Northern Securities Company in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Creation of the Commerce Department. Roosevelt proclaims "Square Deal"; wins reelection.

1905 Albert Einstein publishes special theory of relativity. Industrial Workers of the World founded. Roosevelt creates the U.S. Forest Service.

1906 Passage of the Hepburn Act. Upton Sinclair publishes The Jungle.
Passage of the Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection Acts.

1907 Immigration to the United States peaks at 1.2 million.

1908 Ford Motor Company introduces the Model T. In Muller v. Oregon, Supreme Court upholds restricted hours for female workers. William Howard Taft elected president.

1909 Ballinger-Pinchot controversy.

 1911 Frederick Winslow Taylor publishes The Principles of Scientific Management.

1912 IWW leads textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Woodrow Wilson elected president.

1913 Ford adopts the moving assembly line. Ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment (federal income tax). Ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment (direct election of senators). Federal Reserve Act passed. Underwood-Simmons Tariff passed.

1914 Clayton Anti-Trust Act passed.

1916 Madison Grant publishes The Passing of the Great Race. Wilson appoints Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court. 1919 Ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment (prohibition).

1920 Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment (women?s suffrage).

1924 National Origins Act drastically restricts immigration to the United States.

The rise of industrial capitalism and the corresponding growth of urban centers in the late nineteenth century forced Americans to come to terms with a host of new social, political, and economic issues. The existing structure of government was unsuited to deal with the challenges posed by modernization, leading to new efforts to impose a sense of order on the chaos of American society. These efforts came to be grouped under the banner of "progressivism," a wide-ranging term that can nonetheless be used to characterize those who shared a number of central assumptions, most notably the idea that the power of government could be used to transform society and that unregulated economic development produced harmful social, political, and economic results. Although progressive reformers experienced some successes on the state and local levels, many of their efforts foundered in the face of the size and scope of industrial combinations. Turning their efforts to the national level, it soon became clear that only a strong presidency could exercise the power necessary to create meaningful reforms. Progressives looked to the presidency to find ways to curb the power of big business, protect consumers, safeguard the natural environment, and promote an agenda of social justice.

Politics and Citizenship: Progressive reformers first targeted the existing party system on the local and state level, which they saw as corrupt and unable to meet the challenges of the new industrial order. Many progressives felt that the complex issues of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries should be in the hands of nonpartisan experts and managers, who could avoid the problems faced by members of the traditional parties. They particularly sought to reduce the power of urban political machines, which they saw as mechanisms for taking advantage of new immigrants and enriching a small handful of professional politicians. 
National politics during the first two decades of the twentieth century witnessed a fundamental debate over the proper role of the federal government in an industrial republic. The central question was how the government could best use its power to protect the general welfare. Some argued that the government should seek to break up large business and other combinations to restore competition and allow individuals greater scope for their activity, while others argued that the federal government should act as a mediator between big business and other groups, helping to elevate them to a level that could counterbalance the power of industry. By the end of the period, it was increasingly clear that large-scale consolidation was to become a permanent feature of American life and that the United States was becoming increasingly dominated by large interest groups.

Economic Transformations: One of the central hallmarks of the Second Industrial Revolution was corporate consolidation. The emergence of trusts forced a response from both workers and reformers who sought ways to balance the power of business. Although mainstream unions such as the American Federation of Labor sought to avoid involvement in reform causes, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and other unions sought to challenge the capitalist system and its perceived injustices more directly. A number of progressives produced works on the problem of monopoly that had profound influence on public policy in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Demographic Changes: Economic changes in the late nineteenth century profoundly affected the structure of the American family, particularly the role of women. The increasingly sharp distinction between home and workplace, earlier schooling for children, and increasing levels of female education all helped to contribute to the emergence of the so called "new woman." Many of these women sought a greater social and political role outside the home and became active in a variety of causes, including the women's suffrage movement, consumer protection, and protective legislation for women and children in the workplace.

Environment: For the first time during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the federal government began to address the impact of industrial growth on the natural environment. The period witnessed the emergence of a debate between those who sought to preserve the natural environment for aesthetic reasons and those who sought to promote the rational development of the wiIderness under the supervision of government experts. Federal actions during this period would have a deep influence on the nation's environmental policies throughout the twentieth century and beyond.

Following upon the expansionism of the 1890s, American foreign policy during the Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson administrations continued the trend of growing United States involvement abroad, particularly in the western hemisphere. While the three presidents differed in the goals and emphases, each sought to increase American power and influence in world affairs. Each believed in the superiority of American institutions and sought to extend the benefits of democracy to other parts of the world. In addition, foreign policy provided a realm in which executive power could be used more freely than in domestic affairs, allowing all three presidents to exercise their growing power.

Biography of America

TR and Wilson (series 18)
Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley. 

Digital History

The Twentieth Century

An overview of the far-reaching economic and social changes that transformed American society in the 20th century, including innovations in science and technology, economic productivity, mass communication and mass entertainment, health and living standards, the role of government, gender roles, and conceptions of freedom. 

The Progressive Era

Progressivism is an umbrella label for a wide range of economic, political, social, and moral reforms. These included efforts to outlaw the sale of alcohol; regulate child labor and sweatshops; scientifically manage natural resources; insure pure and wholesome water and milk; Americanize immigrants or restrict immigration altogether; and bust or regulate trusts. Drawing support from the urban, college-educated middle class, Progressive reformers sought to eliminate corruption in government, regulate business practices, address health hazards, improve working conditions, and give the public more direct control over government through direct primaries to nominate candidates for public office, direct election of Senators, the initiative, referendum, and recall, and women's suffrage.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, muckraking journalists were calling attention to the exploitation of child labor, corruption in city governments, the horror of lynching, and the ruthless business practices employed by businessmen like John D. Rockefeller. At the local level, many Progressives sought to suppress red-light districts, expand high schools, construct playgrounds, and replace corrupt urban political machines with more efficient system of municipal government. At the state level, Progressives enacted minimum wage laws for women workers, instituted industrial accident insurance, restricted child labor, and improved factory regulation. At the national level, Congress passed laws establishing federal regulation of the meat-packing, drug, and railroad industries, and strengthened anti-trust laws. It also lowered the tariff, established federal control over the banking system, and enacted legislation to improve working condition. Four constitutional amendments were adopted during the Progressive era, which authorized an income tax, provided for the direct election of senators, extended the vote to women, and prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. 

Along the Color Line

The period late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries represented the nadir of American race relations. Nine-tenths of African Americans lived in the South, and most supported themselves as tenant farmers or sharecroppers. Most southern and border states instituted a legal system of segregation, relegating African Americans to separate schools and other public accommodations. Under the Mississippi Plan, involving the use of poll taxes and literacy tests, African Americans were deprived of the vote. The Supreme Court stripped the 14th and 15th Amendments of their meaning, especially in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which declared that separate but equal facilities were permissible under the 14th Amendment. Each year approximately a hundred African Americans were lynched. Booker T. Washington, the most prominent black leader, argued that African Americans should make themselves economically indispensable to southern whites, cooperate with whites, and accommodate themselves to white supremacy. But other figures adopted a more activist stance, such as the anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, and W.E.B. DuBois, a founder of the NAACP, who demanded an end to caste distinctions based on race. A tight labor market during World War I triggered the Great Migration of African Americans to the North, which continued into the 1920s. But the movement of blacks out of the South was met by racial violence in Chicago, East St. Louis, Houston, Tulsa, and other cities. The Great Migration was accompanied by new efforts at black political and economic organization and cultural expression, including Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, which emphasized racial pride and economic self-help, and the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and artistic movement.  

The Struggle for Women's Suffrage

Among the most radical of all struggles in American history is the on-going struggle of women for full equality. The ideals of the American Revolution raised women's expectations, inspired some of the first explicit demands for equality, and witnessed the establishment of female academies to improve women's education. By the early 19th century, American women had the highest female literacy rate in the world. But as American states widened suffrage to include virtually all white males, they began denying the vote to free blacks and, in New Jersey, to women, who had briefly won this privilege following the Revolution. In the 1820s and for decades to come married women could not own property, make contracts, bring suits, or sit on juries. They could be legally beaten by their husbands and were required to submit to their husbands' sexual demands. During the early 19th century, however, a growing number of women became convinced that they had a special mission and responsibility to purify and reform American society. Women were at the forefront of efforts to establish public schools, abolish slavery, and curb drinking. But faced with discrimination within the antislavery movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others organized the first Women's Rights Convention in history in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The quest for full equality involved not only the struggle for the vote, but for divorce, access to higher education, the professions, and other occupations, as well as birth control and abortion. Women have had to overcome laws and customs that discriminated on the basis of sex in order to overcome the oldest form of exploitation and subordination.

Lecture Outlines

The Progressives 1901-1919


The Politics of Reform

Roosevelt and the Square Deal