Progressivism (1890-1920)

Progressivism (1890-1920)

Progressivism (1890-1920)


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 meatpacking, 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.

Efforts to improve society were not new to the United States in the late 1800s. A major push for change, the First Reform Era, occurred in the years before the Civil War and included efforts of social activists to reform working conditions and humanize the treatment of mentally ill people and prisoners. The second reform era began during Reconstruction and lasted until the American entry into World War I. The struggle for women’s rights and the temperance movement were the initial issues addressed. A farm movement also emerged to compensate for the declining importance of rural areas in an increasingly urbanized America.

Who were Progressives?

Chiefly the Middle class residents of US cities were the active member of this revolution. It was a movement by the urban middle class apart from doctors, lawyers, ministers and storekeepers there now were thousands of white collar office workers and middle class managers employed in banks, firms and other businesses. They were disturbed about what might happen to American democracy.

Progressives Presidents

  • Theodore Roosevelt (1901 – 1909)
  • Howard Taft (1909 – 1913)
  • Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1917)

Motives and Demands of Progressives

  •  Increasing gap between the rich and poor
  •  Violent conflict between labor and capital
  •  Dominance of corrupt politicians
  •  Racism  Women suffrage
  •  Greater Democracy
  •  Monopoly

Role of the Muckrakers

The need for reform was highlighted by a group of journalists and writers known as the muckrakers, who made Americans aware of the serious failings in society and built public support for change. Exposés such as

  •  Lincoln Steffens ‗The Shame of the Cities (1904), an attack on municipal corruption
  •  Ida Tarbell’s History of the Standard Oil Company (1904), which chronicled ruthless business, practices.

The muckrakers’ impact could be powerful, as in the case of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906), a book whose vivid descriptions of working and sanitary conditions in Chicago’s meatpacking plants led directly to federal laws regulating the industry.

  1. Political Reforms

  •  Tried to put more power into the hands of the people
  •  Innovative changes in city government
  •  Direct Election of Senators
  •  the Vote for Women
  1. Social Reforms

  •  Child labor laws
  •  Ten-hour work days
  •  Minimum safety standards on the job
  •  Immigration Restriction
  •  Little Help for Blacks NAACP (1909)

Progressive Amendments to the Constitution

  • 16th Amendment (1913)—federal income tax
  • 17th Amendment (1913)—direct election of senators
  • 18th Amendment (1919)—prohibition of Alcohol
  • 19th Amendment (1920)—vote for women

Success of Progressives

Successes were many, beginning with the Interstate Commerce Act (1887) and the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890). Progressives never spoke with one mind and differed

sharply over the most effective means to deal with the ills generated by the trusts; some favored an activist approach to trust-busting, others preferred a regulatory approach.

Vocal minority supported socialism with government ownership of the means of production. Other progressive reforms followed in the form of a conservation movement, railroad legislation, and food and drug laws. The progressive spirit also was evident in new amendments added to the Constitution (text), which provided for a new means to elect senators, protect society through prohibition and extend suffrage to women. Urban problems were addressed by professional social workers who operated settlement houses as a means to protect and improve the prospects of the poor. However, efforts to place limitations on child labor were routinely thwarted by the courts. The needs of African Americans and Native Americans were poorly served or served not at all — a major shortcoming of the progressive movement.

Progressive reforms were carried out not only on the national level, but in states and municipalities. Such reforms as the direct primary, secret ballot, and the initiative, referendum, and recall were effected. Local governments were strengthened by the widespread use of trained professionals, particularly with the city manager system replacing the frequently corrupt mayoral system.

Impacts of Progressive Movement

  •  The Exploitation was labor was checked and working hours were decided
  •  Natural resources were protected
  •  Brought a change in attitude of the politicians given them a sense of responsibility.
  •  Fair distribution of powers among state and federation.
  •  Local governments were strengthened

Acts Passed During Progressive Era 

  1. Pure Food And Drug Act (inspection of meat)
  2. Hep Burn Act (Uniform System of Railroads)
  3. Antiquates Act (placed certain lands under federal control)
  4. Clayton Anti Trust Act (Removed deficiencies in Sherman Anti Trust Act)
  5. Federal Reserve Act (Federal Bank joined Federal Reserved System)
  6. New York State Tenement House Act (Ban on Construction of dark and airless buildings)
  7. Folleters Sea man‟s Act (improved condition of labors on sea ships)
  8. Worker men Compensation Act (for benefit of Federal civil servants)
  9. Federal Aid Road Act (Construction of road from federal funds money)
  10. Federal Form Loan Act (Provided loans to farmers)


 Discuss the progress of the Progressive Movement in the United States between 1900 to 1916. (CSS 2001)

 Note: Progressive Movement. (CSS 2004)

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