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The Progressive Era and It’s Impact on Social Work The United States, 1901-1920 TR Roosevelt was young and energetic, very well educated (he often read two books a day) and had definite ideas on how the nation should develop in the new century. He wanted the U.S. to become a dominant world power and wanted the Federal government to have greater power over the economy and in “social engineering.” He was more sympathetic to unions than many other national leaders. He became very popular with the new press and the people. Economic and Social Issues At the time Roosevelt became President, widespread poverty still existed in much of urban and rural America. Help for the poor was generally limited. In cities like New York, many children were essentially homeless and living on the streets. Writers, reformers, and some politicians decried the continued embarrassment of this situation in an otherwise prosperous country. Child Labor The labor movement had made “child labor” a major issue in the new century. Children as young as six worked as many as 12 hours a day in a number of major industries. Nature or Nurture? Areas that relied on heavy industry or mining often had spawned “blighted” neighborhoods of laborers and their families. In these hastily built neighborhoods, disease, crime, poverty, and “sin” seemed to thrive. One group of Americans said that these problems were the result of the “inferior moral fiber” of the inhabitants who lived there. Another group said that the climate of the neighborhood was the result of failings in the institutions, not the individuals. Progress The economic and social debate was closely tied to the issue of “progress” – the idea that life was getting better and better. End of Animal Power 19th Century America had at first been dominated by the horse as the prime force for mobility in the nation. Steam and electricity had begun to replace the horse after 1860, but in most cities, horses still dominated most streets up to 1910. Motion Pictures Another emerging industry was the result of Edison‟s perfection of a camera that would record and preserve “moving pictures.” A number of acting troupes began to make and market “movies” as a form of entertainment, while others speculated on how this new innovation would change education, political discussion, and understanding of the past. Heroes or Villains? This was the age of the inventors, the entrepreneurs, and the “industrial heroes.” While many labor leaders called them thieves and the press called them “robber barons,” men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison were seen by most of the public as the quintessential American hero – the “self-made man.” Union leaders by contrast were often condemned as people who protected the weak and useless. James J. Hill of Minnesota, builder of the Northern Pacific Railroad. White Collar Work The growing number of office workers was creating a new class – the white collar worker, who made a better salary than most industrial workers and usually worked in healthier conditions. But questions were raised as to how this emerging class of workers would affect American creativity, education, and the all-important image of “getting ahead.” Horatio Alger The novels of Horotio Alger always told a “rags to riches” story about a young, virtuous boy who rose to middle-class or wealthy status by hard work, clean living – and some luck. Progressive Movement The Progressive movement rose from the efforts of several middle-class groups who had tried in the late 1800s to “better society” by pushing through limitations on saloons (the WCTU), educate immigrant children (the settlement houses) or aid the poor (the Salvation Army). At first these groups accepted the American tradition of seeking these reforms through voluntary action, but increasingly they The Salvation army chapter of began to expect government to Brainerd Minnesota in 1891. help push through reforms. Triangle Fire Tragedy One example of a progressive reform was the reaction to the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory in New York – 146 employees, mostly women, as young as 15, died in the fire because little had been done to provide fire escapes, etc. New York passed better fire regulation laws, some proposed by a social worker, Francis Perkins, who later became to first woman in a presidential cabinet. Settlement Houses Jane Addams, a young woman from middle-class origins, helped create Hull House in Chicago in 1889. This settlement house was designed at first to help “new immigrants” learn English and “American ways,” but Addams and her associates quickly realized they had to provide help on child care, nutrition, employment, and other things to really help the poor. Eventually, they began to press for legislation to help the poor “get a fair chance” in society. Labor and the Women’s Vote One way for women in settlement houses to have greater influence was by expanding the electorate, and so pushed for votes for women. Contents of a leaflet for votes for women, about 1912, in New York: •Why are you paid less than a man? •Why do you work in a fire trap? •Why are your hours so long? •Why do you pay the most rent for the worst houses? •Why do your children go into factories [to work]? •Why don‟t you get a square deal in the courts? Because you are a woman and have no vote Votes make the law. Votes enforce the law. The law controls conditions. Women who want better conditions MUST vote. Narcotics in America Jane Addams of Hull House wrote that opium addiction was widespread in Chicago. Teenaged children “stole from their parents, pawned their clothes and shoes, did any desperate thing to get „the dope‟ as they called it.” Meanwhile, other narcotics were used in patent medicines and sold openly. A Federal Narcotics Act in 1909 was the first major attempt to stem this practice. Cures for Addiction Several dubious cures for drug addiction were available from mail order businesses or from traveling salesmen who claimed to be physicians. Many of the cures contained other narcotics, and the user simply substituted one addiction for another. It was estimated in 1900 that over 300,000 Americans were regular users of heroin, and at least twice that used opium. Of course, Kopp‟s Baby Friend cough syrup contained morphine – “for that good night‟s sleep.” Public Health Upton Sinclair‟s book, The Jungle, shocked the public with its details about the lack of sanitation in the processing of food – the book led several cities to establish offices for food and restaurant inspection, and public health services to offer classes on sanitation in the preparation of food. Other cities spent money to improve the quality of drinking water. The Federal Pure Food and Drug Act helped further – in one example, Coca Cola had to remove cocaine from its product. Crusading Journalism The worst aspects of the industrial trusts became the subjects of book- length studies by journalists like Ida Tarbell, who wrote about Standard Oil, calling it the “octopus” that controlled the nation through its dominance of the drilling and distribution of oil. Urban Corruption In 1904, Lincoln Steffens, who had written a number of articles for McClure’s magazine, published The Shame of the Cities – an exposure of machine government and corrupt ties between elected officials and local crime. Many of the nation‟s greatest cities – including Minneapolis – were embarrassed by the revelations. John Fitch John Fitch, a native of South Dakota, studied political economics at the University of Wisconsin, then took up journalism, where he specialized in the conditions of industrial workers. His book, “The Steel Workers” (1910) graphically showed the harsh work conditions, dangers, and low pay of those who made steel for the big steel firms. The book helped boost the membership of the steel workers unions. Fitch later wrote for Survey, the first true social work magazine. He taught classes at the New York School of Social Work from 1917 to 1946. Muckrakers Roosevelt did not appreciate the exposures of journalists and called them “muckrakers.” TR believed that the government should practice a “new nationalism” by suppressing the “bad trusts” while permitting the “good trusts” (those that advanced American power in the world) to flourish. Florence Kelley Florence Kelley, another associate of Hull House, became so frustrated in the effort to find a lawyer to argue cases for child labor regulations that she studied law herself, got a license to practice law in Illinois, and argued cases. Illinois became one of the model states for laws that put limits on how children could be employed and how long they could work in a day. Kelley also played a role in a key U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1908 to place 10-hour limit on a work day for women. Birth Control As a nurse, Margaret Sanger defied state and Federal laws to provide women with information on birth control (even churches that agreed with the „social gospel‟ movement opposed birth control). Forced to flee to Europe in 1914, Sanger returned in two years to create the first birth control clinic in the U.S. The Children’s Bureau Originally part of the Department of Commerce, the Children‟s Bureau was moved by Wilson to the Department of Labor in 1913. It‟s director, Julia Lathrop, was a veteran of the Hull House reform movement and fought vigorously to obtain stronger child labor laws. By 1918, most states had child labor laws, but hundreds of thousands of children were little affected by these laws because they worked in areas (small businesses, agriculture, etc.) that were not covered by the provisions for maximum hours or minimum wages. Wilson decided to push for more stringent child labor laws. Emergence of the Profession In 1898, 25 students attended a “Summer School Course in Philanthropic Work” in New York City. The courses, sponsored by the Charity Organization Society of NY, provided classes on urban poverty, industrial labor, and practical issues dealing with health, education, and home economics. The courses were repeated the following summer and then expanded. By 1920s, this first school of social work was closely affiliated with Columbia University. With instructors like John Dewey (left) Franz Boas, and Jane Addams, the program‟s reputation grew, and idea of a social work education was taken up by other cities and schools. Announcing the Profession In 1915, Abraham Flexner, a prominent leader in medical education, gave a paper, “Is Social Work a Profession,” in which he noted: “The unselfish devotion of those who have chosen to give themselves to making the world a fitter place to live in can fill social work with the professional spirit.” Flexner believed that social work was destined to play a major role in the modern industrial state that the United States was rapidly becoming. Civil Rights Wilson also did not have any interests in civil rights (as a child in Virginia in the 1860s he resented the defeat of the Confederacy by Lincoln‟s armies). While Roosevelt and Taft had invited African- Americans like George Washington Carver to dinner at the White House, Wilson ended the practice and refused to meet with any civil rights leaders. Revolution at Home The 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave the right to vote to all American women aged 21 and older. Not every woman accepted that this would provide full equality. Alice Paul, a suffragette, called for an “equal rights amendment” to prevent any discrimination against women in business or society. Throughout the 1920s, women would enter business in a number of “new” professions – law, journalism, medicine, and “social welfare.” But the majority still worked in nursing, clerical jobs or teaching (and teachers who married were fired in most states).
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