As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.
History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
Politics and the Impulse to Reform
Today we begin the last discussion of Unit I in which we have spent a great deal of time talking about the domestic policies that resulted in the closing of old frontiers and the foreign policies resulting in the opening of new frontiers - in terms of political and economic gains in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific. As we have learned, there is often a high price to pay for progress, and today's discussion focuses on those Americans who, at the turn of the 20th Century, recognized that price and began to clamor to use the political arena for both economic and political reform.
As we begin this discussion, it is important to set the stage. So, what was America like in 1900 and how it compared with America 100 years later in 2000?
Today, we are going to continue our discussion about progress and the price of progress through three specific goals.
- To understand what is meant by the Progressive Era and progressive politics.
- To the discuss the reasons for reform in late 19th and early 20th Century
- To examine the overall achievements and failures of Progressive reform during
Goal #1: To understand what is meant by the Progressive Era and progressive politics
What was the Progressive Era? The period of social activism and political reform in the United States that is known as the Progressive Era occurred from the 1890s to the 1920s. One main goal of the Progressive movement was and establishing further means of direct democracy. Progressives also sought regulation of monopolistic trust corporations through antitrust laws, which were seen as a means to promote fair competition for the benefit of consumers. The Progressive sought several goals:
- Eliminating corruption in government by exposing and undercutting political machines and their bosses
- Establishing direct democracy - such as voting directly for U.S. Senators and for state issues.
- Regulating monopolistisic trust corporations through the use of anti-trust laws that would promote fair competition and benefit the American consumer.
As historian Eric Foner tells us in Give Me Liberty, the Progressive Era was:
- A period of "explosive economic growth, fueled by increasing industrial production, a rapid rise in population, and the continued expansion of the consumer marketplace."
- The "last time in American history [when] farms and cities grew together."
- An era when politics focused on the city and its "stark urban inequalities" as well as the "corporate greed" that "undermined traditional American values."
- A time when immigrants came to American cities in unprecented numbers.
- The only time in American history when socialism had any real influence in American politics.
- A period of enormous unrest between labor and management.
- The first time that nationalization occurred on a large scale - national corporations dominated the economy; national organizations arose for many professions; national sporting leagues came into existence.
Who were the Progressives? Progressive reformers formed a loosely defined political movement - the Progressive Movement - of individuals and groups who were worried about the state of
society, the effects of industrialization and urbanization, social disorder,
poverty, and political corruption. Progressives included:
- forward-looking businessmen who believed workers and labor activists musst have a voice in economic decision making;
- women involved in reform organizations that sought to protect women and children from exploitation;
- journalists - especially muckrakers - who exposed the ills of industrial and urban life in the hope that their exposes would encourage reform;
- social scientists who believed that academic research could be used to help solve social problems; and
- anxious middle class folks who were fearful that the rise of big business threatened their economic and social status.
What were the goals of the Progressives? Progressives believed that a strong central government could become a weapon for social justice
by helping to reform the excesses of society and of capitalism. Among their
primary goals were using that strong central government to
- end abuses of power - unfair privilege, monopolies,
urban government corruption (as can be seen in the above cartoon of Nelson Rockefeller toying with the White House in the palm of his hand. In the background, Washington D.C. has been transformed into a series of factories.)
- replace corrupt power with reformed versions
of traditional institutions based upon the belief that that government
could and should intervene in society and the economy to protect the common
good of individuals; and
- elevate the public interest above self-interest.
Who were the Progressive Presidents? The three Progressive presidents - Theodore Roosevelt (Republican until 1912 and then a Progressive), William Howard Taft (Republican), and Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) - were men who
- Believed, according to Eric Foner in Give Me Liberty, that "only energetic national government...could create the social conditions of freedom."
- Thought that national solutions were needed for the national problems of poverty, inequality, labor unrest, uncontrolled immigration.
- Began an unprecedented journey into government invention in the economy - the first step away from the traditional laissez faire economy.
- Sought unprecedented reforms.
Their party affiliation was less important than the issues they championed.
Goal #2: To discuss Five Reasons for Reform in Late 19th and Early
20th Century America
There were at least five specific reasons that individuals and groups of reformers arose during the turn of the century:
- The consequences and excesses of industrialization and urbanization.
- A historic shift in Republican party politics.
- Interest in reform among members of all classes.
- Economic depression.
- Criticism of capitalism.
Reform Reason #1: The Consequences and excesses of industrialization and urbanization (Review)
- The nation grew faster than it ever had, bringing about great shifts: from a largely homogeneous population of Western European immigrants into
a more heterogeneous population; from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy; from a predominately rural society to a predominately urban society; and from an isolated nation that was economically dependent upon European capital
and manufactured good to an international nation that became a major industrial,
financial, and trading power.
- American social beliefs became intimately tied to capitalism and Social Darwinism.
- Corporations became increasingly dominant in the American economy.
- Violent conflict arose between the industrialists/Robber Barons and American laborers.
- The nation became increasingly urban.
Reform Reason #2: A Shift in Republican Party Politics
With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and its success in a Union victory in the Civil War and abolishing slavery, the Republican Party dominated the national political scene until 1932. It's supporters were largely northern white Protestants, businessmen, small business owners, professionals, factory workers, farmers, and African-Americans. Thus, the party was pro-business, and in so doing, supported banks, railroads, and tariffs to protect industry.
Under William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, it emphasized an expansive/imperialistic foreign policy.
Beginning in 1900, however, with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, for the first time in American political history the entire domestic economic and social foundation of America was being questioned. And it was our first progressive president, the Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who shepherded this shift because of his belief that the president was "the steward of the public welfare."
- How is Roosevelt's philosophy on the presidency different from past presidents?
- Prior to Roosevelt's presidency, what role did the federal government play in the economy?
How does Roosevelt change the nature of Republican Party Politics? Roosevelt:
- Used the Sherman Antitrust Act (passed in 1890 to prohibit any contract, conspiracy, or combination of business interests in restraint of foreign or interstate trade) to prosecute J.P. Morgan's Northern Securities Company. In effect, it was a "holding company" - it held/owned the stocks and directed the business of three major railroads, thus monopolizing transportation between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean.
- Designed his "Square Deal" around the notion that there were good corporation that served the public interest and there were bad corporations led by greedy financers who were only interested in huge profits. Good corporations should be supported and encouraged while bad corporations should cease to exist.
- Acted upon his belief that the president "should be an honest broker in labor disputes, rather than automatically siding with employers." Thus, he became the first president to bring union leaders and management together to solve their disputes.
- Pushed for direct federal regulation in the economy - especially through the creation of the Pure Food and Drug Act that established a federal agency - the FDA - to police the quality and labeling of food and drugs.
- Called for federal inheritance and income taxes, as well as the regulation of all interstate commerce.
- Made conservation a national policy, especially through the expansion of the national park service which aimed to have the federal government develop "responsible, scientific plans" of using the abundant natural resources in the nation's parks. This is a photograph of President Roosevelt with John Muir at Yosemite in 1903.
What does the presidency of William Howard Taft add to this shift in Republican Party Politics? Taft:
- Stated in his inaugural address that "The scope of a modern government ... has been widened far beyond the principles laid down by the old 'laissez faire' school of political writers."
- Pursued antitrust policy, especially through his order to breakup Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company into separate marketing, producing, and refining companies.
- Supported the 16th Amendment that authorized Congress to enact a graduated income tax that provided a steady and reliable source of revenue for a nation whose powers were rapidly expanding.
What was the status of the Republican Party after 8 years of the Roosevelt Presidency (1900-1908) and four years of the Taft Presidency (1909-1912)? The party was divided:
- The conservative wing was led by Taft who had enacted some progressive policies but had also shown his more traditional Republican side by often supporting business needs over the public good.
- The progressive wing was led by Roosevelt who was deeply troubled by Taft's decision not to pursue Roosevelts progressive agenda.
This split in the Republican Party - between the conservative and progressive sides - played a huge role in the Election of 1812. So, let's look at the candidates:
William Howard Taft - the Republican incumbent - took over the
presidency in 1908 after Theodore Roosevelt turned it down. Taft is decent,
well-meaning, and eager to please his both his mentor - TR - and the big-money
party donors. Taft shouldered the burdens of the presidency, but he did
not enjoy it much. He wanted nothing more than to retire to the Supreme
Court - which he eventually did. During his presidenial four years, Taft
puts forth a conservative Republican plan that preaches a politics of contentment
and calls for minor reform without activism. Taft carried 2 states (Vermont and Utah) and 3,500,000 votes.
Theodore Roosevelt - who formed the Progressive Party after failing to receive the Republican nomination - had been chomping
at the bit after 4 years out of public office and was eager to return to
the political limelight. By 1912, he is fed up with Taft and eager to reassume
the presidency and continue his trust-busting agenda. But this agenda is
the reason he is turned down in 1912 by the wealthy party bosses - for
ordering a successful antitrust suit against J.P. Morgan's holding company,
forcing mining owners to accept arbitration of their employee's grievances,
authorizing government control of railroad rates, limiting injunctions against
labor unions, and calling for the imposition of income and inheritance
taxes. TR carried 6 states with 88 electoral votes and 4,100,000 votes.
Woodrow Wilson - the Democratic candidate - was the relatively
unknown governor of New Jersey, a former history professor and president
of Princeton University. The Democratic Party bosses felt he had a chance
to overcome the progressive agenda presented by Roosevelt. He was a conservative
Virginia Democrat, steeped in religion and racist prejudices of the Old
South. He was an apostle of states' rights, limited government, and the
corrective virtues of free competition. However, he was also interested
in reform and what he called "moral regeneration." His New Freedom program
called for breaking up monopolies in order to restore free competition.
Wilson carried 40 states with 435 electoral votes and took 6,300,000 votes.
Eugene Debs - the Socialist Party candidate - was a labor leader,
pacifist, political agitator, and socialist - and unlike the other candidates,
he had known poverty and hardship. He would be a virtually unthinkable
candidate today. Such a person would have to combine Howard Zinn's politics
with Ralph Nader's crusading zeal and Bill Clinton's charisma. He did not
stand a chance of winning, but he had a cause to pursue and a voice to
be heard. His presidential platform calls for the peaceful transferal of
the power held by American capitalists to those who produced the wealth
by the sweat of their brows - the workers. (Debs carried no states, but
garnered 900,000 votes.)
- All but Debs were Progressive supporters of capitalism and corporations. The difference was that Roosevelt and Wilson proposed reforms that they felt would make capitalism more successful and competitive- while Taft continued to support big business and laissez faire capitalism without any reform.
- The real battle was between Roosevelt and Wilson. It was clear from the beginning of the election that this was the real battle. Had the Republican Party not split, Taft probably would have won. But it did split and below you can see the results.
The results: Wilson carried 40 states with 435 electoral votes and took almost 6,300,000 popular votes; Roosevelt carried 6 states with 88 electoral votes and 4,200,000 popular votes; Taft carried 2 states (Vermont and Utah) and took 3,500,000 popular votes; Debs took no states, but garnered 900,000 popular votes. (Map at https://www.maps.com/ref_map.aspx?cid=680,747,1301&pid=11382)
The Significance of the 1912 Election According to James Chase
in 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft, and Debs - The Election That Changed
the Country (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004), the election is important
for at least three reasons:
- It fractured the Republican Party by splitting it into reactionary
and reformist wings. If TR had won the Republican nomination, the Republicans
probably would have become the party of domestic reform and international
- It changed the nature of the Republican and Democratic parties.
The split within Republican ranks brought about a historic shift. Thereafter,
the Republicans become associated with conservatism and the Democrats with
governmental activism and reformist idealism.
- It framed the questions that we continue to address in the 21st
What are the limits of the power of capital and the rights of labor?
What are the responsibilities of government in that power struggle?
What is the place of the United States in the world?
Reform Reason #3: Interest in reform among members of all classes
1. Reform among the urban laboring classes - Labor Union Organizers and Supporters. Lower class members of the labor force joined or supported unions as
a way to improve their working conditions. Foremost on their list of reforms
was adopting the 8-hour workday; raising wages; and ending the use of convict
labor. National Labor Union (NLU), Knights of Labor, and American Federation
of Labor (AFL) were the largest unions.
2. Reform among the middle class work force - Small farmers and small businessmen. These lower to middle-class workers
had a long list of proposed reforms:
- government ownership of railroads,
banks, and telegraph lines;
- prohibition of large landholding companies;
- imposition of a graduated income tax;
- creation of an 8-hour workday;
of land ownership by non-Americans;
- stimulation of "free and unlimited
coinage of silver;" and
- restriction of immigration.
In particular, small farmers suffered greatly at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Many small farmers had become victims of both an Agrarian Myth and the growing commercialization of farming.
- The Agrarian Myth. Throughout the 19th Century, many Americans believed that rural life and self-sufficient farming as a vocation were sacred and that farmers provided the most important of the nation's functions - feeding and supporting all Americans.
This myth was originally created in late 18th Century by upper class men who did not have the faintest notion of what farming was like and instead believed in an ideal myth - the self-sufficient farmer who lived in a lovely farming village (like this Grant Wood painting, Stone City), was physically and morally strong and admired by his neighbors for his hard work, independence, and ability to produce and enjoy a simple abundance.
In truth, farmers and their children were leaving their farms by the droves.
The few remaining self-sufficient farmers knew their lives were neither romantic, virtuous, or enviable - they faced constant hardships, no longer produced all the food and supplies they needed, rarely had cash, and envied the prosperity of commercial farmers.
- Commercialization and Farming. By 1860, the vast majority of farmers were commercial, not self-sufficient. Indeed, the U.S. had never developed a truly rural culture that was dedicated to generational cultivation and preservation of the soil. Instead, from colonial times forward, Americans had nourished an agricultural society that was attached to the value of their land in terms of its production capacity, future wealth, and speculative value
3. Reform among the middle and upper classes - The Progressive Party drew heavily from the middle and upper classes. To get a real understanding of reformist thinking among the middle and upper classes, we can look at the creation of Central Park in New York City.
- In the 1830s when NYC was booming, the city government decided on a drastic way to provide more housing: destroying the natural topography of Manhatttan by completely leveling the island. In so doing, they created a massive grid that stretched all the way from Battery Park to what is now Harlem.
- In the 1850s, the effects of the grid were troubling - there were no open spaces or places for people to walk, ingle, or get away from the stresses of urban life. So the effort to build a park began.
- This video clip from Ric Burns, New York chronicles the history of Central Park and its role in urban reform, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6k6g6kuXgc&feature=related. As you watch the clip, be sure to listen to the language of democracy that you hear among those involved in this early reform effort. What does it tell you about the goal of these earliest reformers?
Reform Reason #4: Economic Depression
The Gilded Age was a period of explosive growth and devastating depressions. Three major depressions occurred: 1873, 1884, and 1893 - the last one having the most devasting effects.
The Panic and Depression of 1893 began with the railroad industry that had experienced incredible growth in the previous two decades and had resulted in wild investment and speculation.
Business and financial interests promoted a laissez-faire environment during boom times, over did it, and lived beyond their means. So when railroad growth slowed down in early 1890s, so did the iron and steel industries. Then, when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad collapsed, investors panicked and converted their stock to gold, forcing stock prices to decrease, and dramatically decreasing the gold reserve - thus leading to an economic collapse in 1893.
- By mid-1894, a full-scale depression had begun and by the end of the year, 74 railroad, 600 banks, and 15,000 businesses had gone under
- in urban America, industrial unemployment ranged from 20-25% stimulating widespread misery and poverty;
- in rural America, farm prices decreased more than 20%;
- in NYC alone, more than 20,000 people were homeless;
- as the chart below of real US GNP per capita (GNP = the value of all goods and services produced in a country in one year, plus income earned by its citizens abroad, minus income earned by foreigners in the country) indicates that the GNP took a nose dive in 1893 and only gradually recovered toward the end of the decade. (Annotations are major financial panics during the period - e.g., Panic of 1893, Panic of 1907. Shaded areas are recessions. Data on real GNP comes from The American Business Cycle by Robert Gordon. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US-GNP-per-capita-1869-1918.png.)
- No relief occurred until early 1897 when gold was discovered in Alaska, good harvests came in, and new industrial growth and investment occurred.
But the depression's end exposed fundamental tensions in the industrial system - a huge gap between the employers and employees, the haves and have nots.
Such tension gave rise not only to the demands for reform, but for further labor agitation, and for greater attraction to alternative political and economic systems - especially Socialism and in some cases, anarchism.
Reform Reason #5: Criticisms of Capitalism
Toward the end of the Century, a small minority of Americans began to question the wisdom of capitalism. In so doing, some began to express interest in socialism, communism, and anarchism
Capitalism - An economic system in which goods, services, and the means of production are controlled by individuals. Capitalism is based on the economic philosophy that governments should keep their hands off business. This laissez-faire
attitude, popularized largely by the Scottish economist, Adam Smith
(1723-1790) argues that self-interest supplies an "invisible hand" in the
market place by automatically balancing the supply of and demand for goods
Socialism - An economic system in which goods, services, and the means of production are controlled by the government. Socialism is based upon the German philosophers and writers
Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1821-1895) who argue in The Communist
Manifesto that capitalism is ultimately undemocratic because
employers gain profit, or "surplus value" at the expense of their workers.
The history of society is marked by the ongoing struggles between the empowered
and the unempowered, the exploiters and exploited.
Capitalism was a corrupt system and as such, was destined to
be overthrown in a revolution during which the proletariat - working
class - would seize control of the state and all means of production and
Communism - A political system that comes about under a Socialist economy. Communism emerges after
the proletariat revolution when the state would "wither away," thus bringing
about the emergence of a collective, classless, communist society in which
exploitation would vanish.
Anarchism - A political system in which governments are believed to be unnecessary and that people will voluntarily cooperate to meet the political, economic, and social needs of society at large. Anarchism is based upon the belief that because any considerable accumulation of
property is theft, capitalism is merely theft with legal sanction; laws
protecting property and property-holders were immoral; and any government
- capitalist or socialist - existed chiefly to oppress individuals by upholding
the rights of property. The early 20th Century publication Mother Earth, defined anarchism as "the theory that all forms of government rest on violence
and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary" and associated
anarchism with "voluntary economic co-operation of all towards the needs
of each. A social arrangement based on the principle: To each according
to his needs; from each according to his ability."
Disagreement about capitalism was especially rampant in the Unions. Workers in general were widely unhappy - and corporate owners took advantage of their situation by making certain that they were divided by ethnicity, race, gender, and age. Such divisions were fostered in order to keep workers from uniting.
Divisions within the Work Force
- Ethnicity, race, gender, and age.
- skilled, unskilled, and family tenement workers
- Skilled workers were 1/6 of the work force - typically white men
of old American stock, although there were some immigrants. They enjoyed
relatively high wages because managers and owners were not master craftsmen
and did not understand the details of production. Thus, skilled workers
had some control over their working conditions. Most skilled workers made
a good living and in order to keep their employers respect, they did not
become involved in working class reform or unions; no more than 1/3 of
all skilled craftsmen ever joined unions. As industrialization evolved,
the proportion of skilled jobs in the labor market declined due to mechanization.
- Unskilled laborers - the vast majority of the work force - 5 of
every 6 workers - were most often immigrants compelled to take any kind
of work available. They had no control over their working environment,
could be easily fired and were often due to illness or accidents, and received
extremely low pay for very difficult work.
- Family tenement workers - labored for long hours in their living
quarters rolling cigars, making artificial flowers, and sewing clothing.
In 1892, nearly 11,000 people toiled in 600 tenement workshops in Chicago.
Despite such divisions, workers had much in common. Thus, it is not impossible to understand why many workers who were divided in so many ways turned to union organization and other reform measures!
Commonalities among the Workers
- They worked long hours - about 10 hours a day, 6 days a week.
They all hoped for a federal law that would require an 8-hour work day.
- They had to deal with the impersonality of the large factory and
the sense of being an anonymous cog in a big wheel.
- They were subjected to poor wages, wage reductions, and inflated
living costs. As owners tried to raise profits, many laborers were forced
to live in company-owned homes and shop in company-owned stores with inflated
- They faced dangerous and unsafe working conditions each day. The
railroads were a perfect example. In 1881, 30,000 railroad workers were
injured or killed on the job.
- They faced a growing sense of powerlessness as corporate profits
grew; the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
- Thus, some workers turned to unions for help.
And what about the Unions? Unions were a positive reform mechanism of the industrial age. Most unions began with peaceful efforts to achieve economic reform. As peaceful efforts failed, both union members and the vast majority of American workers who were unorganized turned to strikes and violence as a way to protest.
- Despite popular belief, labor unions were weak throughout the 19th Century. They never included more than 2% of the total labor force or more than 10% of industrial workers.
- Regardless of the fact that unions never gained widespread acceptance, they gradually gained strength in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
- The three largest - National Labor Union (NLU, 1866 - 1873); Knights of Labor (1869 - 1889); and American Federation of Labor (AFL, 1886 to present) - all worked to achieve an 8-hour workday, end convict labor, and raise wages. But it was the 8-hour work day around which most labor union members rallied.
- The most powerful and longest lasting, the AFL, reformed the union movement by making the national organization a federation comprised of many craft unions which retained control of their own members and were linked by an executive council that coordinated national strategy. The AFL had over 1.6 million members by 1904.
- The United States had the greatest number of violent confrontations between owners and labor in the industrial world. Between 1880 and 1900, there were more than 23,000 strikes involving 6.6 million workers.
- The corporations, federal and state governments responded to strikes in at least two effective ways:
- They associated strikes and strikers with foreign influences of socialism and anarchism. By exploiting this connection, corporations were able to heighten public animosity toward unions and corporate change.
- They called in private and public militias to break the strikes.
- Many labor organizations and unions were openly hostile to women.
While the number of women employed in industry tripled between 1870s and 1900 and 6.3 million were employed in 1910, fewer than 2% belonged to unions.
Some unions felt women were not qualified for wage labor, that they competed with men for their jobs (especially since their wages were lower for the same jobs), and that they could not work side by side with men.
In the early 1900s, women reacted to such exclusion by forming their own unions.
And what were the achievements of unions during this period?
- In general, unions did not achieve most of their reforms. However, they did bring the plight of workers to the attention to middle and upper class Americans, as well as people around the world.
- One example of this success was heightened public interest in an 8-hour workday.
In 1850 the average workweek was 70 hours; in 1900 the average workweek was 60 hours; and in 1920 the average workweek was 50 hours.
- As early as the 1840s unions began working for a 10-hour day. But organized labor agitation did not begin until after the Civil War.
- In June 1868, Congress passed an eight-hour law for federal employees, but it was largely ignored.
- In the 1880s, unions again began to agitate for the 8-hour day. It was during this time that the song "Eight Hours For What We Will" was written and became the official song for the movement.
- Despite union efforts, the eight-hour day was not established and enforced for all workers in the United Sates until 1938 - during the New Deal - with the passage of the Wage and Hour Law.
Goal #3: To examine the overall achievements and failures of Progressive reform during
1. Enacted government reform and passed new legislation promoting
social welfare and a "more desirable" moral climate
- Local government reform:
- Adopted city-manager and city-commission forms of government - urban officials
chosen for professional expertise, not political connections.
- Encouraged public ownership of utilities to prevent gas, electric, &
streetcar companies from profiting at public’s expense.
- State government reform:
- nominated candidates via direct primaries, thus ending party caucuses that
bred fraud and bribery;
- made legislators responsible to the people, thus ending legislative responsibility
to the boss - through the initiative - voters could propose new
laws on their own; referendum - voters could accept or reject
a law; and recall - voters could remove offending officials and
judges from office before their terms expired.
- Federal Government - 17th Amendment - direct election of U.S. Senators
- Social Legislation: many states enacted factory inspection laws,
victim compensation laws, minimum age employment laws (varied from 12-16
of age who could work no more than 8-10 hours a day.)
- Moral Legislation: Federal government passed two federal laws
- The Mann Act (1910) and Prohibition (1919); and by 1915, almost all states
had outlawed brothels and solicitation of sex
2. Used "enlightened social tinkering" to achieve educational, racial,
and feminist reform
- Educational Reform grounded in beliefs that education
could better society, learning should focus on real-life problems, children
should be taught to use their intelligence and ingenuity as instruments
to control their environment. Goals: to build more public schools and increase
- In 1870, 500 public schools taught approximately 7 million youth between
5-17; in 1910, over 10,000 schools with over 18 million youth; in 1920,
78% of youth enrolled in public elementary and high schools - another 8%
attended private and parochial schools.
- In 1870, 563 colleges and universities served 52,000 students; by 1920,
over 1,000 institutions served 600,000 students, 47% of whom were women.
- Racial Reform. Progressivism, a white movement, did not directly
advocate racial reform, but several prominent black scholars who lived
during this era were able to more readily espouse their beliefs in the
atmosphere of reform.
- Accommodation and Booker T. Washington - Best hope for black assimilation
was a temporary accommodation to whites by working hard, acquiring property,
enhancing their dignity through self-improvement, and proving they were
worthy of their rights. Whites were supportive of Washington who advocated
patience and reminded black people to stay in their places.
- The NAACP and W.E.B. DuBois - Blacks must not accommodate but must, instead,
agitatefor what was rightfully theirs - equality. With help from white
Progressives, DuBois co-founded the NAACP that aimed to end racial discrimination
by seeking legal redress.
- Women's Reform. Until 1910, the "women's movement" was a label used
to describe women trying to move beyond the home and into social-welfare
activities,higher education, and paid labor. In 1910, some women took
a more activist stance, declaring that women should unite to abolish their
shared disadvantages as women.
- For these women, suffrage was the ultimate goal: by 1912, 9 western states
allowed women to vote in state and local elections; and in 1920, the 19th
Amendment took effect giving women the right to vote in federal elections.
- Others, like Margaret Sanger, believed that working-class women must be
empowered to make choices about bearing children. In 1921, she formed the
American Birth Control League.
- The vast majority of Progressive reforms did not pass due to the
power of those who opposed reform - especially corporate power.
- Many of the new laws failed to really redistribute power because
they were not adequately enforced - federal regulatory agencies had no
resources for thorough investigations, and they had to get information
from the companies they were supposed to police.
- Many reforms were watered down - often because reform in reality
meant a great deal of political compromise to meet the needs of all involved
- the capitalists, workers, reformers, the president, and the congress.
- Very little real reform had occurred in the work place other than
some state factory inspection laws, victim compensation laws, minimum wage
employment laws, and the creation of a watered-down Meat Inspection Act.
Politics and the Impulse to Reform
- The impetus for reform in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries
arose from the excesses of industrialization and urbanization; a historic
shift in party politics; the interest of many people in reform, especially the Progressives; economic depressions; and increasing criticisms of capitalism.
- The Election of 1912 is extremely important because it:
fractured the Republican Party by splitting it into reactionary and reformist
changed the nature of the Republican and Democratic parties by bringing
about a historic shift that thereafter associated Republicans with conservatism
and the Democrats with governmental activism and reformist idealism; and
framed many of the questions that we continue to address in the 21st Century.
- Reformers of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries were responsible
for some admirable accomplishments. For example, reformers helped
Increase the social, economic, and political power of the middle classes,
women, and intellectuals.
Sensitize the American public to economic wrongdoing in both the public
and private sectors - to the evils of trusts, to the need to protect themselves
against price fixing and dangerous products, and to the dangers of the
Define their government in a new, more progressive light, and to recognize
that it could help or hinder the quality of their lives.
Introduce the concept that Americans had the right to challenge the way
things were done both in the public and private sectors.
- Reformers failed to create real change for at least three groups:
Most immigrants did not secure any real social, economic, or political
power. Asians in particular were systematically unempowered.
Black Americans were systematically disenfranchised and unempowered during
this era of reform.
Laboring Americans who continued to strain under long work days, the problems
related to unhealthy working environments, no protection from owners, and
rules making it difficult if not dangerous to belong to a union.
- Most reformers failed to recognize the ambiguity of their reform movements.
While reformers wanted to change genuine societal ills, their reform spirit
was combined with moral convictions that used "hatred as a kind of creed"
- hatred of anything that was different, especially European immigrants,
blacks, Asians, Hispanics, big business, trade unions, Socialists, anarchists.
In these cases, some types of reform actually stimulated reactive policies
rather than proactive reform - especially labor strikes and urban race
- Taken as a whole, these reforms were gradual and predictable changes
that represented "progress" in a society that could no longer turn a deaf
ear to the excesses of industrialization and urbanization, bear the consequences
of government corruption, ignore women's demands for equal rights, or allow
the wanton destruction of the environment. As such, the reforms of late-19th
and early-20th Century America reflected an evolutionary step forward slightly
altering the status quo - not a revolutionary overthrow of historical values
or operating practices of the nation's traditional power brokers.
- Despite the efforts of a few vocal socialists and anarchists, capitalism
emerged healthier than ever at the end of the Progressive Era.