The Progressive Era occurred from roughly 1890 through 1920. Progressive is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities.” The Progressive Era was a wide spectrum of social movements that included environmentalism and women’s rights. Other movements targeted political ideologies such as communism and socialism.
The time preceding the Progressive Era had an extremely corrupt government. In every major city and state the Progressives called for the elimination of corruption in politics. Leading politicians from both parties including Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Evans Hughes took up the cause of Progressive reform. Progressives sought to reform city government and lessen the power of political machines. Reformers advocated the elimination of graft and corruption of city officials. They supported city wide elections, nonpartisanship, and professional city administration.
This era also included many employment bureaus for job seekers. The Social Gospel was a religious part of the Progressive era, which aimed to fight injustice, suffering, and poverty in society. Free dispensaries for medical emergencies, English language classes and night schools for extended learning were also established. The Reverend Mark A. Matthews built night schools, unemployment bureaus, a kindergarten, and also created the nation’s first church-owned radio station.
Before 1920, women could not vote. During the Progressive Era the suffragette movement brought about the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote. This was a monumental, landmark event. The 19th amendment states that “the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, giving it the two-thirds majority of state ratification necessary to make it the law of the land. Eight days later, the 19th Amendment took effect.
Economic reforms preceding this era included price discrimination and tie-in contracts. In 1914, most women employed in the state of Oregon made the set minimum wage of $8.25 per week. Working conditions were horrid in this time period. Workers often got sick or died due to long hours and unsanitary conditions of their work environment. Many workers also worked outside in all seasons being exposed to extreme heat and extreme cold. Work hours were long and six-day weeks were another problem. Many workers worked from sunrise to sunset, Monday through Saturday, some even worked 15-hour days.
Workers eventually were fed up and formed unions which went on strike creating the labor movement. The labor movement in the United States grew from the need to protect the common interest of workers. Labor unions fought for safer working conditions, reasonable hours and better wages. The labor movement led efforts to give health benefits, stop child labor, and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.
Muckrakers were reform-minded American journalists who got this name because they brought attention to issues they found about society, big businesses and corrupt leaders, and created controversy. Muckrakers exposed big industries such as meat packaging and standard oil companies. This opened the eyes of many Americans not only to the extremely harsh conditions of the factories, but also to the long work days and unsanitary, dangerous work environments. This caused Americans to seek the need for reform even more. Muckrakers brought to attention information that some tried to hide or keep unknown.
All of these previous examples illustrate the tremendous changes that were sought during the Progressive Era. It was called the “Progressive Era” for a reason. The changes that were brought about in this time period are still in effect today. Today, there is still a Progressive movement.