Muckrakers and Political Reforms

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Why were the muckrakers important to the Progressive Movement?

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The muckrakers exposed, in dramatic and visceral ways, the many social ills that plagued the nation during the Gilded Age. While the effects of their efforts are difficult to measure, they created considerable popular and political momentum for reform. For example, Lincoln Steffens, in his collection of articles entitled The...

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The muckrakers exposed, in dramatic and visceral ways, the many social ills that plagued the nation during the Gilded Age. While the effects of their efforts are difficult to measure, they created considerable popular and political momentum for reform. For example, Lincoln Steffens, in his collection of articles entitled The Shame of the Cities, described the political corruption that accompanied the rise of political machines in many American cities. Ida Tarbell exposed the abuses of John D. Rockefeller, who had amassed unprecedented wealth and power through his management of the Standard Oil Trust. Ida B. Wells-Barnett detailed the crime of lynching in the South. The photographs of Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine brought the conditions faced by tenement dwellers and child laborers, respectively, into the consciousness of comfortable middle-class Americans. Perhaps most famous was the publication in 1906 of The Jungle, a novel by Upton Sinclair that described the conditions in Chicago meatpacking plants in the lurid detail characteristic of the muckraking style. Sinclair's novel sickened many Americans, including the Progressive-minded President Theodore Roosevelt, who urged Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act in response. So the overall effect of the muckrakers' work was to draw attention to social ills that then became targets for Progressive reform.

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