The Progressive Era

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How did the Progressive movement impact immigrants?

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To some degree, Progressive reformers helped immigrants. Women such as Jane Addams, who ran Hull House in Chicago, and other workers in settlement houses helped immigrants by providing English classes and instruction related to assimilation into American life. Settlement houses were generally located in urban areas such as Chicago and New York and offered immigrants services for their children, including daycare and opportunities for recreation such as drama and sewing, as well as classes. These institutions were generally run by college-educated Protestant women. Other Progressives worked to improve working conditions for immigrant women and children in factories and to limit child labor.

Middle-class Protestant white women were also active in other parts of the Progressive movement, including temperance. This strain of Progressivism, which resulted in Prohibition (which banned the sale and transport of alcohol with the 18th Amendment), had an anti-immigrant bias to it. Many advocates of temperance saw the drinking habits of immigrants from Catholic countries as problematic and wanted to ban alcohol because they believed Catholic men were wasting their families' income on public drinking. The reality, however, was likely that Catholics tended to drink in public places such as bars and as part of religious services but did not have a greater tendency towards drink than other groups did. In addition, Catholics and Jews featured wine in their religious ceremonies, unlike Protestants, and were therefore largely opposed to Prohibition. Therefore, Progressives had policies that were both pro- and anti-immigrant.

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The Progressive Movement impacted immigrants in many positive ways. Many of the reforms that came from the Progressive Movement impacted the lives of the immigrants. Many immigrants worked in factories, including children. The passage of worker safety laws helped to make the workplace safer for the workers. The passage of worker compensation laws helped the families of workers, including immigrants, who were injured while working at their job. The passage of child labor laws helped immigrant children get an education instead of going to work. The creation of the Children’s Bureau under the Taft Administration investigated problems with child labor.

The passage of laws impacting the food and medicine industries also helped immigrants. The Meat Inspection Act called for the inspection of meat by the federal government. The Pure Food and Drug Act made it illegal to falsely label food and medicine. These laws helped all consumers, including immigrants.

Reformers and writers helped immigrants during the Progressive Movement. Jacob Riis wrote about the poor conditions in which immigrants lived. Jane Addams established a settlement house, called Hull House, to help immigrants adjust to American ways of living. Other settlement houses also formed.

The Progressive Movement did much to help immigrants improve their lives.

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The Progressive movement affected immigrants in a number of ways.  In general, we can say that it tried to help individual immigrants but that it was somewhat opposed to immigrants as a group.

On the individual level, the Progressives wanted to help immigrants.  In particular, they wanted to get the immigrants to be similar to middle class, “native” Americans.  This was, for example, a major goal of the settlement house movement.  The settlement houses were meant to help teach the immigrants more American ways of living.

On the group level, however, the Progressives were not so friendly towards immigrants.  This can be seen in their attitude towards political machines in cities.  The political machines were important to immigrants both politically and in terms of welfare.  The Progressives disliked them because the machines were corrupt.  The Progressives also felt they gave too much power to immigrants who were often not well educated.  The Progressives’ attitude towards immigrants was also seen in the push for Prohibition.  Drinking was associated with lower class immigrants and the Progressives did not approve.  Therefore, they banned alcohol in large part to try to reform these lower class immigrants.

Thus, the Progressives wanted to help individual immigrants, but they were not very interested in doing what the immigrants as a group wanted.

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