The Progressive Era
muckraking at its finest, May 1903
We've got to start to make this world over.
(Thomas Edison, 1912)
I. Sources of Progressive Reform
A. Industrialization, with all its increase in productivity and the
number of consumer goods, created
1) Unemployment and labor unrest
B. Growing cities magnified problems of poverty, disease, crime, and
2) Wasteful use of natural resources
3) Abuses of corporate power
C. Influx of immigrants and rise of new managerial class upset
traditional class alignments
D. Massive depression (1893-1897) convinced many that equal
opportunity was out of reach for many Americans.
II. Who Were the Progressives?
A. New middle class composed of young professionals
II. Teddy Roosevelt & the Square Deal
III. City and State Government Reform
1. Sought to apply principles of professions (medicine, law, business,
teaching) to problems of society
B. Muckraking journalists attacked corruption and scandal with a sense
of moral outrage
2. Strong faith in progress and the ability of educated people to
3. Rise in volunteer organizations organized to address issues
(American Bar Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Municipal
4. Mainly urban in residence and orientation
1. Lincoln Steffens exposed city machines in The Shame of the Cities
C. Political reformers (many opposed to traditional party politics)
2. Ida Tarbell exposed Standard Oil Trust abuses
3. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906) attacked the meat-packing
D. Socialists--frustrated workers who promised to destroy
capitalism. Led by Eugene Debs (who polled 900,000 votes for president
in 1912), socialists were rejected by most Progressives as too extreme
in their goals and methods
IV. Major Progressivism Programs
1. Progressive education--John Dewey led movement that focused on
personal growth, not mastery of body of knowledge and learning through
B. Law--judges opinions needed to be based on factual information, not
just oral arguments and precedents
2. Charles Eliot of Harvard pioneered elective courses and new teaching
techniques (such as seminars) to make university learning more
3. Women began attending colleges in large numbers (by 1920, 47% of
total enrollment was female).
4. Believing that more education would help bring an enlightened
population, Progressives pushed enrollments to record levels (86% of
children in schools by 1920) without seriously assessing how schools
1. Muller V. Oregon (1908)--limited women's working hours
C. Settlement houses--Jane Addams and others established group homes in
city slums to aid poor urban residents.
2. Not all Progressive legal principles prevailed. In Lochner v. New
York (1905), the Supreme Court overturned a New York law limiting
bakers' working hours.
1. Promoted public health reform in cities, chlorinating water and
tightening sanitary regulations
D. Racial anti-discrimination efforts
2. Developed education and craft programs for residents
3. Created neighborhood health clinics and dispensaries
1. Booker T. Washington (Atlanta Compromise) argued for self-help and
accommodation on the part of blacks to white society
E. Women's rights
2. W.E.B. DuBois (Niagara Movement--1905) urged blacks to assert
themselves and agitate for political and economic rights. Formed NAACP
to use legal means to end racial discrimination
1. While the number of employed women stayed constant from 1900-1920
(20%), the type of work switched from domestic labor (servants, cooks,
launderesses) to clerical work (clerks, typists, bookkeepers), factory
work, and professionals.
F. Child labor laws--most states passed minimum working age laws and
prohibited children from working more than 10 hours per day, but
enforcement was difficult to achieve.
2. Most women still held the lowest paying and least opportune jobs
3. Significant Progressive feminists called for greater reform
a) Charlotte Perkins Gilman attacked the male monopoly on opportunity
and declared that domesticity was an obsolete value for American women
b) Margaret Sanger led the movement to provide birth control to prevent
unwanted pregnancies among poor women
c) Suffragists urged that women be given the franchise, which came on
the national level with the 19th Amendment (1919).
G. Temperance--Anti-Saloon League and Women's Christian Temperance
Union fought alcoholism on the state level through blue laws and on the
national level with the 18th Amendment which prohibited the
manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor.
V. Presidential Election of 1912
A. Republican successor Taft proved to be less progressive than T.R. in
the areas of tariff reform and conservation.
VI. Wilson's New Freedom and Progressivism
1. Payne-Aldrich Tariff (heralded by Taft as "the best tariff passed by
the Republican Party") protected industries and kept consumer prices
B. T.R. organized the National Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party after
Progressive Republicans bolted the Taft-controlled Republican
convention. Party platform included long list of Progressive demands
2. A public land sale scandal in Alaska pitted Pinchot against
Secretary of Interior Ballinger. Taft fired Pinchot
C. Democrats nominated Woodrow Wilson, the scholarly governor of
New Jersey who called for moral revival and reform, including low
tariffs, the breaking up of all monopolies, and for the government to
be an umpire in disputes between labor and business.
D. Socialists nominated Debs, who called for public ownership of
all natural resources and major industries.
E. Wilson won 40/48 states as Republicans split between Taft and
TR. Height of Progressivism as Wilson, TR, and Debs totalled 11 million
votes to 3.5 million for Taft.
A. Tariff reform--Underwood Tariff (1913) gave first significant tariff
reduction since 1860s as Wilson personally delivered his goals to
B. Currency and banking reform-- Creation of Federal Reserve
1. Acted as bankers' banks and prevent "runs" on bank assets
2. Federal reserve notes issued a flexible new currency to the banking
C. Clayton Antitrust Act (1914) to restrict monopolies and set up
a Federal Trade Commission to stop unfair practices which may arise
VII. Evaluation of Progressivism
A. Weaknesses of Progressive reform
1. Material progress of Americans weakened zeal of reformers
B. Progressive accomplishments
2. Myriad of Progressive goals were often confusing and contradictory
3. Opposition to Progressivism apparent as initiatives failed and
courts struck down Progressive legislation
4. Government remained mainly under the influence of business and
5. Outbreak of World War I dampened enthusiasm of attempts to use
governments to create just societies on earth
1. Trustbusting forced industrialists to notice public opinion
2. Legislation gave federal and state governments the tools to protect
3. Income tax helped build government revenues and redistribute wealth
4. Progressives successfully challenged traditional institutions and
approaches to domestic problems.
Please cite this source when appropriate:
Feldmeth, Greg D. "U.S. History Resources"
http://home.earthlink.net/~gfeldmeth/USHistory.html (31 March 1998).
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