The Progressive Era

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What were the achievements of the Progressive Movement?

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The Progressive Era in the United States occurred from approximately 1890–1920 and was a response to many issues that were seen as problematic in American society. The reforms of the Progressive Era occurred in many areas of life and brought about many changes that are still in effect today.

The Settlement House movement, led by women such as Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, attempted to help recently arrived immigrants to the United States. The houses attempted to help with things such as learning English and finding jobs and ultimately had the goal of Americanizing immigrants so that they would better adapt to their new environment. There were similar settlement houses set up for African Americans as well.

Housing also became a concern during the Progressive Era. People, such as photographer Jacob Riis, documented the poor conditions of tenement houses in America's cities, often occupied by poor immigrants. These efforts led to new housing standards for safety and cleanliness. Additionally, the Progressive Era also brought about greater public sanitation efforts, including garbage pick up and improved sewage systems.

Another major issue of the time was poor working conditions. Prior to the Progressive Era, workers often worked extremely long hours for low wages, and often faced poor conditions. Child labor was also very common in the United States prior to the Progressive Era. The establishment of labor unions in the United States sought to address issues of safety in the workplace. They also fought for workers to earn higher wages through a minimum wage and receive compensation for workplace injuries. Additionally, laws were passed establishing a minimum age of employment, which led to greater opportunity for children to attend school rather than be forced into working.

There were also laws passed during the Progressive Era which attempted to prevent monopolies from forming with big businesses. Progressives feared the size and power of some big businesses as well as the influence they held within government. They also understood that businesses holding a monopoly over an industry could lead to exploitation of consumers, as they would not have any other option for the services or goods being provided. The result was a trustbusting effort, notably by president Teddy Roosevelt.

Food safety and health issues also became a concern of progressives. With the publishing of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle people were given a look at the poor conditions in America's meat packing facilities. The result was an effort to ensure food was being produced in a clean environment and was up to the standard that it was being sold as. The Meat Inspection Act and the Food and Drug Act addressed these, and similar, issues.

There were also social movements, such as the women's suffrage movement. This movement had gotten its start in the 1800s with women, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but gained steam in the 1900s. In 1920, the Nineteenth-Amendment would be ratified and give women the right to vote.

The temperance movement was similarly a movement that gained support in the 1800s but realized its goal of prohibition in the 1900s. In 1920, the Eighteenth-Amendment would lead to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. The Eighteenth-Amendment would, however, be short-lived and be repealed through the Twentieth-Amendment in 1933.

These are just some of the reforms made during the Progressive Movement in the United States. It is clear that this movement had a wide range of goals, many of which were realized. The Progressive Era and the impact of many of the reforms made at the time can still be seen in American society today.

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I think that the Progressive thinkers did a great deal to ensure that all voices in the political discourse are heard and to promote the general welfare of American citizens.  The reforms of the political establishment, ensuring that leaders are responsive the needs of its citizens and curtailing the abuses of those in the position of power cannot be ignored. At the same time, the emergence of a battle for workers' rights and the need to ensure that the relationship between industrialists and those who work to make the money for them is a bit more representative in terms of demands of work compensation, hours, and conditions.  Finally, the idea of focusing on "how the other half lives" was not only something seen in the work of Jacob Riis, but actually a theme of the Progressives' movement with the work of the Muckrakers as well as the overall motivation of the movement.

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They also accomplished anti-trust legislation, though it wouldn't be enforced until later, as big corporations and monopolies were targeted under Teddy Roosevelt and Taft to follow him. They became a national movement that helped to get these progressive Presidents elected.

Progressives introduced the ideas of child labor laws, minimum wage, a 40-hour work week ("Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what we will" they would say) and they were the first to form unions and collectives.  In addition to Prohibition, they were also  eventually able to achieve women's suffrage, both constitutional changes that would become permanent.

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The Progressive Movement attempted to fix much of the negativity that had occurred during industrial growth. It occurred in the later part of the nineteenth century. Even though industry was booming, wealth was not fairly distributed. Just to name a couple injustices, there were horrible and very dangerous working conditions and children were forced to work. The Progressive Movement tried to change this.

Progressivism was successful partially to muckrakers. Muckrakers were writers who wrote about some of the horrible conditions that were going on such as child labor, poverty, and very dangerous working conditions in the industries. They brought these issues out into the open.

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The Progressive Movement made a lot of headway towards achieving their goals in some areas.  Here are three examples:

  • They did a lot to clean up (from their point of view) state and local governments.  They introduced the secret ballot in a lot of places.  They got non-partisan and at-large elections in many cities.  They introduced referendums and initiatives in many states.
  • They also managed to get more control of the national government.  They did this by having Senators be elected by the people.
  • Finally, you can say that they achieved one of their big moral objectives -- Prohibition.

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