The Progressive Era

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Explain how Progressives worked to change society and government in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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Progressives were groups of reformers that worked to improve social and political problems in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Many were well educated professionals from the cities. These progressives had different ideas on how to solve the problems that the saw.  Many focused on different areas that included regulating business, reforming government, improving working conditions, improving health, working for women’s rights, and improving the conservation of natural resources.  There are many examples of people who were progressives. Some progressives were known as muckrakers and wrote about the problems they saw.  Upton Sinclair published The Jungle to highlight poor conditions in meat packing plants which led to the Meat Inspection Act and later to the Pure Food and Drug Act. President Theodore Roosevelt was a great progressive and worked to regulate big business and worked with such naturalists as John Muir on conservation issues.  Robert La Follette of Wisconsin worked to make government more honest and responsive to the people.   

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Basically, the Progressives tried to do two main things.  They tried to take governmental power from the rich and the poor and give it to the middle class.  Second, they tried to encourage and/or force people to live their lives according to the values of the middle class "native" population.

Looking at the first goal, the Progressives did things like trying to destroy urban machines through secret ballots, non-partisan elections, and at-large elections.  This was meant to take power from the machines (who were supported largely by the voting power of the immigrant poor) and give it to the middle class.

Two examples of the second goal are settlement houses (teach immigrants how to live like middle class "natives") and Prohibition (keep people from drinking because this was not something that the middle class (allegedly) approved of.

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