“The Progressive Movement”
What were the backgrounds of reformers?
The progressives were (for the most part) native born, middle or upper class. They concerned themselves
with urban problems such as
*the plight of workers
Earlier reformers included the POPULISTS who wanted social reform
were mainly concerned with rural problems:
• the plight of the farmers
• wanted more government control of the railroad and telegraph
• the coinage of silver (which helped the farmers and small wage
earners because it was mildly inflationary)
• The major issues included the exploitation of female and child
What issues did the “Muckrakers” address?
Muckrakers was the name given to those writers who (as Pres. Teddy Roosevelt put it): “fixes his eyes . . .
only on that which is vile and debasing (harmful and corrupt).”
Issues that Muckrakers addressed? :
Ida B. Tarbell exposed the oil refinery trust of John D. Rockefeller (her father had an oil refinery which
he lost as a result of JD Rockefeller’s cutthroat business practices)
Lincoln Steffens exposed the corrupt political “machine” in St. Louis which mirrored the corrupt
Democratic headquarters “Tammany Hall” in New York City. Steffens also exposed the poverty and
overcrowding in the cities.
Ray Stannard Baker exposed the racial discrimination of black Americans in “Following the Color
Upton Sinclair exposed unsanitary meat packaging in “The Jungle”.
How did progressive writers and thinkers view American society?
*They saw a need for Americans to be made aware of the brutal treatment workers suffered from
business owners. Elite society was very closed minded and progressives saw the need to expose
them for their callousness.
*They saw the need for the government to step in and regulate the business world. The affluent
should be taxed and their tax money used to help those less fortunate.
*They saw a government that all too often supported the interests of business over the welfare of
the common people.
What workplace problems did progressives target?
The problems included the exploitation of female and child laborers
What were the results of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire?
We will be watching a video that details this horrible fire and a separate handout will be
What rulings did the Supreme Court make on labor laws?
Muller v. Oregon established that an Oregon decision which made a 10 hour workday the
maximum for women be upheld. Working longer than that could be very harmful to the
health of women.
What success and failures did Unions see in the early 1900’s?
Some labor unions wanted a closed shop (where everyone who worked there had to join a union) while
others favored socialism which called for public ownership of the factories. The A F of L still denied
membership to unskilled workers and this left most immigrants and black Americans out of the union.
The International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) was started in NYC to unionize garment
workers (primarily immigrant women). This union was trying to get concessions from garment industry
workers when the Triangle Fire took place.
• The IWW (“The Wobblies”) was formed in 1905. They
opposed capitalism and their leader, one-eyed William
“Big Bill” Haywood called for “one big union”, the
same thing that Joe Kenahan called for at Stone Mountain,
with the coal miners in the film “Matewan”.
• In 1912, they led textile workers in Massachusetts on a
successful strike for better wages.
• After that victory, several IWW strikes failed and the
people became fearful that the organization was
• The government cracked down on the Union and it
collapsed a few years later.
• Progressives wanted fairer elections and to make politicians more
accountable to voters.
– Proposed a direct primary, or an election in which voters choose
candidates to run in a general election, which most states adopted.
– Backed the Seventeenth Amendment, which gave voters, not
state legislatures, the power to elect their U.S. senators.
• Some measures Progressives fought for include
Direct primary: voters select a party’s candidate for public office
17th Amendment: voters elect their senators directly
secret ballot: people vote privately without fear of coercion
initiative: allows citizens to propose new laws
referendum: allows citizens to vote on a proposed or existing law
recall: allows voters to remove an elected official from office
• Reforming government meant winning control of it:
– Tom Johnson of Cleveland was a successful reform mayor who set new rules for police,
released debtors from prison, and supported a fairer tax system.
• Progressives promoted new government structures:
– Texas set up a five-member committee to govern Galveston after a hurricane, and by 1918, 500
cities adopted this plan.
– The city manager model had a professional administrator, not a politician, manage the
• Progressive governor Robert La Follette created the Wisconsin Ideas, which wanted:
– Direct primary elections; limited campaign spending
– Commissions to regulate railroads and oversee transportation, civil service, and taxation
• Other governors pushed for reform, but some were corrupt:
– New York’s Charles Evan Hughes regulated insurance companies.
– Mississippi’s James Vardaman exploited prejudice to gain power.