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Progressivism (1880-1917)



  • Between end of Reconstruction and start of World War I

  • Middle Class reformers sought to address the problems that arose from industrialization


  • Protecting social welfare/reducing poverty

  • Promoting moral improvement

  • Economic reform/Limiting power of big business

  • Efficiency

  • Cleaning up politics/ending corruption


  • To soften harsh conditions brought about by industrialization.

  • Social Gospel and settlement house movements of late 1800s

  • Aimed to help poor through community centers, churches, social services.

  • Continued during Progressive Era - inspired more reform activities.

  • YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association)

  • Opened libraries, classes, pools

  • Salvation Army

  • Fed poor through soup kitchens

  • Cared for children

  • "slum brigades" sent to instruct poor immigrants on middle-class values of hard work/temperance.

  • Help for women

  • Florence Kelley

  • Helped pass Factory Act of 1893 prohibiting child labor and limiting women's working hours

  • Appointed chief inspector of factories for Illinois


  • Offshoot from reform movement and Second Great Awakening

  • Reformers: alcohol, prostitution, gambling, women’s votes

  • Prohibition

  • Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)

  • Founded in Cleveland 1874

  • Spearheaded crusade by going to saloons

  • Carrie Nation scolded customers of saloons

  • Using her hatchet to destroy bottles of liquor

  • WCTU transformed by Frances Willard in 1879 to a national organization

  • Had 245,000 members by 1911

  • Became largest women's group in U.S. history.

  • "Do everything"

  • Anti-Saloon League

  • Founded 1895

  • Tension between prohibitionists and immigrants

  • Irish pubs and German beer halls were cultural gathering places



  • Severe economic panic in 1893

  • Prompted some progressives to question the capitalist economic system.

  • Socialism

  • ​Eugene V. Debs

  • Labor leader who helped organize the American Socialist Party in 1901

  • Most progressives stayed away from socialism

  • International Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies)

  • Founded in Chicago in 1905

  • Wobblies promoted the concept of one big union

  • Believed that all workers should be united as a social class to supplant capitalism and wage labor



  • Many progressive leaders put faith in experts and scientific principles

  • To make society and workplace more efficient.

  • Brandeis Brief

  • By Lawyer Louis D. Brandeis

  • Defended Oregon law limiting women factory and laundry workers to a 10-hour day

  • Focused on data by social scientists documenting high costs of long working hours.

  • Became model for later reform litigation.

  • Scientific Management ("Taylorism")

  • Developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor

  • Used time and motion studies to improve efficiency

  • By breaking manufacturing task into simpler parts.

  • And eliminating all unnecessary motion.

  • Assembly lines

  • Sped up production.

  • First used by Henry Ford

  • Henry Ford

  • To prevent strikes he reduced workday to 8 hours and paid workers $5 a day.

  • ​Higher pay than other companies.

  • Workers paid more because Ford believed they should be able to buy his automobiles.

  • Incentive attracted many workers.



  • Because of Carnegie's libraries

  • More people had access to books, magazines and newspapers.

  • Mass-circulation magazines

  • Became popular in 1880s because of advertising and new printing technology.

  • Ladies Home Journal sold for as little as 10 cents a copy

  • Joseph Pulitzer

  • Owned New York World -- first newspaper to exceed a million in circulation.

  • Built sales through sensational investigations and human-interest stories.

  • In 1889, the New York World sent "Nellie Bly" around the world to break the record of fictional hero of Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

  • Topics: crime, disasters, political and economic corruption.

  • Introduced targeted sections like sports and high society.

  • William Randolph Hearst

  • Pulitzer's competitor.

  • Introduced Sunday color comics featuring the "Yellow Kid"

  • "Yellow Journalism"

  • Derogatory name for mass-market newspapers.

  • Named after the "Yellow Kid" comics

  • Hearst and Pulitzer exposed scandals and injustices

  • Also responsible for whipping up a frenzy that led to the Spanish-American War (1898)

  • Hearst told his artist, Frederic Remington to stay in Cuba even though it was peaceful.

  • ​Hearst told him: "You furnish the pictures. I'll furnish the war"

  • McClure's

  • Magazine that published exposes by a number of authors:

  • Id Tarbell, Upton Sinclair etc.



  • Investigative journalists and crusading writers who sought to expose injustice and corruption

  • Most concerned with urban and consumer issues.

  • McClure’s Magazine

  • Monthly magazine that published articles from muckrakers

  • Jacob RiisHow the Other Half Lives (1890)

  • Danish immigrant

  • Photos and text to describe living conditions of urban poor

  • Influenced Jane Addams (founder of Hull House) and other reformers.

  • Ida Tarbell History of Standard Oil Company (1904)

  • Exposed dubious practices of Rockefeller

  • Revealed the company's cutthroat methods of eliminating competition

  • She had a personal grudge because Rockefeller had ruined her father's oil career

  • Lincoln Steffens, Shame of the Cities (1904)

  • Exposed municipal corruption

  • Accelerated movement for municipal reform (initiative, referendum, recall)

  • Upton Sinclair – Wrote The Jungle (1906)

  • Described unsanitary condition in meatpacking plants

  • Led to Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act (FDA) (see below)




Hazen Pingree

  • Bio

  • Mayor of Detroit, Michigan 1889-1897

  • Progressive acts in Detroit

  • Forced gas and telephone companies to lower their rates

  • Established a municipal (city) power plant



Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette

  • Bio

  • Governor of Wisconsin 1901-1906

  • Republican Congressman 1906-1925

  • Progressive acts in Wisconsin

  • Made Wisconsin a "laboratory for democracy"

  • He was convinced that an alliance of railroad and lumber companies controlled state politics.

  • Wisconsin idea

  • Series of measures instituted by La Follette in Wisconsin

  • Nominations of candidates for offices through primary elections rather than by political bosses

  • taxation of corporate wealth

  • State regulation of railroads and public utilities

  • La Follette drew on faculty members from the University of Wisconsin

  • ​As specialist employees in state government

Hiram Johnson

  • Bio

  • Governor of California 1911-1917

  • US Senator 1917-1945

  • T. Roosevelt's running mate in 1912 presidential election (Bull Moose party)

  • Progressive reforms in California

  • Johnson responded to rampant corruption by expanding the role of the government

  • Regulating the economy

  • giving citizen direct access to the legislative process.

  • Broke the power of the South Pacific Railroad

  • By passing the Stetson-Eshelman Act

  • Increasing state's Railroad Commission's authority to fix passenger and freight rates.

  • The Public Utilities Act

  • One of the country's strongest railroad-regulation measures

  • Gave the RR commissioners authority over railroad as well as all public utilities

  • Introduced a degree of direct democracy

  • Through power of initiative, referendum and power of the people to recall state officials

  • Popular election of US senators (took power away from Calif. State legislature)



See Presidents link



  • Roosevelt was a sickly child but made up for it by being active.

  • Was a "Rough Rider" in the Spanish-American War

  • Was McKinley's VP, became president after McKinley was assassinated


  • Square Deal

  • Roosevelt promised to deal fairly ("squarely") with all sides

  • Example

  • ​Unlike predecessors, he negotiated with both owners and workers (see Coal Miners Strike)

  • Three Cs (see "Cs" below)

  • Conservatism

  • Consumer protection

  • Control of corporations


  • Roosevelt was an outdoor enthusiast

  • Didn't like reckless use of natural resources.

  • ​Wanted to "conserve" nation's resources

  • For example, by replacing trees that were cut down

  • Conserving water and other scarce resources through planned use

  • And "preserve" some resources in a pristine state

  • So that they would not be bought up by corporations, drained, contaminated or destroyed

  • In order to accomplish this

  • He added nearly 200 million acres to government forest reserves

  • Placed coal and mineral lands, oil reserves, and water power sites in the public domain

  • Enlarged the national park system

  • Sent 100s of experts to work

  • Applying science, education and technology

  • To environmental problems

  • Theodore's cousin, future president Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • Also employed people in conservation projects to lessen effect of Great Depression (Civilian Conservation Corps)

  • John Muir

  • An activist hoping to “preserve” as much of U.S. wildlife as possible

  • Especially in Yosemite National Park

  • Hoped it would remain in a state of “forever wild” to benefit future generations

  • Muir was founder of the Sierra Club in 1892

  • One of 1st large-scale environmental preservation organizations in world

  • Currently lobbies politicians to promote green policies.

  • Suing companies that violate policies

  • Like the Clean Water Act (Virginian utility plant, discharges arsenic and other toxic substances into groundwater)


  • The JungleUpton Sinclair

  • Pure Food and Drug Act (1906)

  • To prevent the sale or transfer

  • Of adulterated, misbranded or poisonous foods, drugs, medicines and liquors

  • Led to creation of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

  • Meat Inspection Act 1906

  • To prevent adulterated or misbranded meat and meat products from being sold as food

  • And to ensure that meat products are slaughtered and processed under sanitary conditions


  • Roosevelt didn’t think it was necessary to stop monopolies from happening (inevitable)

  • But to regulate companies that had formed monopolies

  • Distinguished between good and bad trusts

  • And strengthen the federal power of investigation

  • Dept. of Commerce could force companies to hand over their records

  • Brought suit against 44 giant companies

  • Including the Northern Securities

  • A mammoth holding company

  • That virtually monopolized railroads in the Northwest

  • And had bloated stock with worthless certificates

  • Perfect example of a “bad trust

  • Elkins Act (1903)

  • Authorized the 1887 Interstate Commerce Commission to impose heavy fines on railroads that offered rebates.

  • Before Elkins, big oil and livestock paid same rates as others but then demanded rebates on those payments - therefore paying less for rail service than farmers and other small operators

  • Hepburn Act (1906)

  • ​Gave the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) power to set maximum railroad rates

  • Led to discontinuation of free passes to loyal shippers.


  • Coal Miner's Strike (1902)

  • Miners union wanted higher wages and fewer hours

  • Roosevelt brought strikers and owners to the bargaining table

  • When mine owners didn't come to negotiate

  • Roosevelt threatened that the government would take over the company

  • Negotiation

  • Workers got 10% wage hike and 9 hour workdays

  • In exchange, the mine would not have to recognize the union

  • And could raise their price

  • Muller v. Oregon (1908)

  • ​Oregon had enacted a law limiting women to 10 hours of work in factories and laundries.

  • ​Question: Did that violate women's freedom of contract (as in Lochner v. NY)

  • Attorney Louis Brandeis presented report by experts on the harmful physical and social effects of long working hours on women

  • Since women and men were physically different, the court (under Chief Justice David Brewer) ruled that the Oregon law didn't violate the constitution.


  • "Speak softly but carry a big stick"

  • Negotiated Treaty of Portsmouth ending the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War

  • Roosevelt Corollary to Monroe Doctrine

  • Panama Canal


  • In 1908 Roosevelt promised he would not run for a 3rd term

  • Not constitutional limit on terms until 22nd Amendment (1951)

  • Retired and went to Africa to hunt big game.

  • Left reigns of presidency to his secretary of state, William Howard Taft

  • Taft won election 1908

  • Taft (Republican) won 321 electoral votes

  • William Jennings Bryan (Democrat) won 162 electoral votes




  • Taft hated politics and left much of the work up to his cabinet members.

Taft Progessive Accomplishments

  • Protected more land

  • Pushed congress to

  • Regulating safety standards for mines and RRs

  • Creating a federal children’s bureau

  • Setting 8-hour workday for federal employees

  • Mann-Elkins Act (1910)

  • Extended authority of Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate telecommunications (telephone, telegraph)

  • Initiated 80 antitrust suits

  • More than twice what Roosevelt targeted in 8 years

  • But Unlike Roosevelt, he didn’t distinguish between good and bad trusts

  • Came down on all trusts

  • Incl. monopolies that Roosevelt supported

  • Undid some of the projects that Roosevelt had started

  • He also fired one of Roosevelt’s friends (Gifford Pinchot)

Roosevelt's Reaction

  • Roosevelt heard all this across the world (he was in Africa)

  • Decided to come back

  • Taft didn’t want to be president

  • But he didn't want to be bullied out of it.

  • Result

  • Taft and Roosevelt competed for the Republican nomination for 1912 election



  • Roosevelt insulted Taft (called him a dimwit)

  • But Republican Party chose Taft to run on Republican ticket, not Roosevelt

  • Because they liked Taft's conservatism

  • Roosevelt created "Bull Moose Party"/Progressive Party

  • Democrats chose Woodrow Wilson

  • Candidates:

  • Wilson (Democratic Party) (435 electoral, 41.8% popular)

  • Taft (Republican Party) (8 electoral, 23.2% popular)

  • Taft was thrilled to be out of power

  • Lost weight, became Chief Justice

  • Roosevelt (Progressive Party/Bull Moose) (48 electoral, 27.4% popular)

  • Eugene V. Debs (Socialist Party) (0 electoral, 6% popular)

  • Debs ran 5x for president (1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920 [from jail])


WOODROW WILSON (1913-1921)

  • Election of 1912

  • Wilson knew he only won because Republicans had split the ticket.

  • If either Taft or Roosevelt had been running alone

  • Would have beaten Wilson

  • New Freedom (his Democratic platform)

  • Wilson believed "bigness" was a sin

  • Freedom from big government

  • Believed big govt. would trample on people's rights.

  • Freedom from big business

  • ​Believed big business disrupted free competition

  • "Triple Wall of Privilege"

  • Wilson set out to break “triple wall of privilege”

  • High tariffs

  • Unfair banking practices

  • And trusts

  • Tariff

  • First step -- lowered tariff (creating free trade)

  • Believed tariffs helped big business by weakening competition

  • Passed the Underwood-Simmons Tariff

  • Protected consumers by keeping the price of manufactured goods low

  • Income tax

  • To offset the loss of federal revenue from lower tariffs

  • He used the power of the 16th Amendment

  • To have Congress enact a graduated income tax

  • Applied solely to corporations

  • And the tiny fraction of Americans who earned more than $4000 a year

  • Signaled a permanent shift in government revenue

  • From 19th c. base

  • Sale of public lands

  • Alcohol taxes and

  • Customs duties

  • To taxes

  • In order to curb the power of monopolies

  • He passed the Clayton Anti-trust Act of 1914

  • That prohibited certain business activities

  • That federal government regulators deemed anti-competitive

  • And requires the federal government

  • To investigate and pursue trusts

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 1914

  • Agency that oversaw business activity

  • To enforce competition

  • Still exists today.

  • Crushing

  • False advertising

  • Mislabeled products

  • Adulteration



  • 16th (1913)– Congress has power to impose and collect income taxes

  • 17th – (1913) Senators elected by people rather than state legislatures

  • 18th – (1919) No sale, manufacture or transportation of intoxicating liquors

  • 19th – (1920) Women have the right to vote

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