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There were all sorts of reforms going on during the Progressive Era. This was a time when there were reforms having to do with such things as economics, politics, and society.
In economics, a major reform was "trustbusting." This was meant to break up monopolies and reduce the power of big business. There were also reforms such as the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. This was meant to prevent businesses from harming their customers.
Politically, a major effort was made to reduce corruption. There was the implementation of recalls and initiatives and the secret ballot in many cities and states. Senators came to be elected by popular vote.
In terms of society, the main reforms were aimed at getting the poor and immigrants to behave more like the middle class. The most important of these reforms was Prohibition.
In the 1800s the progressives fought to solve problems caused by rapid industrial and urban growth. Many progressives fought crime, disease, and poverty by trying to change conditions that caused these problems. Worries about political corruption caused some progressives to work to change state and local governments and reduce the power of political machines. In many places, reformers placed multiple ballots that political parties distributed with government-prepared ballots listing all candidates. Under pressure from reformers, many states adopted secret ballots that gave every voter a private vote.
Reformers also tried to give voters more power. For example, they fought for the direct primary which let voters choose candidates for public office instead of allowing party leaders to select them.
Other reform measures allowed voters to call for action on political issues. Some states and cities created a procedure known as recall. This process allows voters to sign a petition asking for a special vote.
Progressives also pushed for reforms to give voters a direct vote in new legislature. The initiative allows voters to purpose a new law by getting signatures on a petition. If enough people sign the petition, the proposed law is voted on at the next election. The referendum allows voters to approve or disapprove a law that has already been proposed or passed by state or local governments. This procedure gives voters a chance to overrule laws with which they disagree.
In addition to increasing political participation, progressives worked to change the structure of local government. Businesspeople and professionals wanted to make government more efficient and responsive to citizens' needs. Some reformers wanted city government to be run more like a business. Several cities changed to a council, where voters elect a city council, which then chooses a professional manager to run a city.
Progressives also worked to improve education. School enrollment increased greatly in the late 1800s as states passed laws requiring children to attend school. Reformers pushed for new public high schools with courses in citizenship, health, and job training. Many progressives also opened kindergarten to teach basic social skills to poor children between the ages of three and seven.
Finally progressives also tried to improve the education of medical professionals. In the late 1800s the United States had few well-trained and professionally organized doctors. Researchers knew the causes of diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and yellow fever. However, there were few medical organizations to help spread this knowledge.
Salvucci, Linda K., and Stuckey, Sterling. Holt: Call to Freedom. Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 2003.
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