Lecture Notes From Summer Institutes



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SESSION II - The American Progressive Movement

A. Remember: Teaching about the period from 1865 to 1920 should be focused on how Americans came to grips with life radically changing from an agricultural to an industrial economy and society.

1. McGeer stated that America’s social class differences were more pronounced during the years 1890 to 1920 than at any other time in American history.

2. At other times racial or sectional differences were more pronounced.

B. The roots of the American Progressive Movement as symbolized by Jane Addams and her book, Twenty Years at Hull House, (which McGeer stated has many inaccuracies or outright lies).

1. Jane Addams was born (September 6, 1860) into an Illinois farm family with farm values, and while she appreciated those values, she embraced urban, industrial values as well.

a. Her father, John Addams, was a miller and businessman. He owned a saw and gristmill, was very successful, and epitomized “the self-made man.”

b. Jane lived a middle-class, Victorian lifestyle, and her family was Quaker—they did not drink alcohol and they were not ostentatious.

c. She grew up learning to work hard and control herself; self-control and self-denial were keys to provident living and happiness.

2. Jane Addams deeply loved and respected her father—the banker, legislator, and successful businessman.

3. Major influences on Jane Addams’ life:

a. At age three, Jane’s mother died, and she disliked her stepmother.

b. Her father believed in women’s education and encouraged and paid for Jane’s education.


  • Jane was a good student and excelled in school.

  • Her father took her education and intelligence seriously; they had many serious discussions.

c. In the year 1877 she began attending Rockford College, but when she graduated, she faced significant challenges.

  • She was too educated for the majority of men to marry—she intimidated them or did not meet society’s expectations.

  • Society expected women to marry and raise children, but for some reason she was unable to have children and she never married.

d. In the year 1883 Jane Addams had some type of personal crisis as she recognized she likely would never marry and her father died. She suffered a nervous breakdown, and seemingly had no place to go in life.

  • For a time she considered being a doctor.

  • For two years she traveled in Europe, which demonstrates she enjoyed tremendous advantages the vast majority of women did not have—her family had money.

  • She suffered from depression.

  • Throughout the decade of the 1880s, Jane struggled with the question of what to do with her life beyond the societal expectations.

e. In the year 1887 Addams and a friend traveled Europe, and while in England she visited Toynbee Hall (an insane asylum), and it sparked in her the knowledge of what to do with her life.

4. Jane Addams returned to Chicago, and in the year 1889 founded Hull House (the name Hull came from the original owners of the house), or a “settlement house” to improve the community and civic lives of people in the “slums.”

a. Held classes for immigrants to assist in their assimilation.

b. She lobbied for legislation to assist the poor of Chicago and Illinois.

c. Supported “middle-class” reform for the lower classes.

5. McGeer stated that Jane Addams made a personal bargain agreeable to middle-class mentality: She would pursue a career to assist people, and in return, she would not marry and have children.

a. During the decades of the 1880s and 90s, it became acceptable for women to pursue careers as doctors, teachers, or other professions.

b. But if a woman married, she typically was forced to end her career.

c. Women schoolteachers could not legally teach in most states if they married.

C. Jane Addams’ career and life represent many of the challenges the American middle-class faced as the Industrial Revolution and its effects faced people by the 1880s and 90s:

1. More and more people no longer owned or were in the process of owning their own property. To be an independent property owner became increasingly more difficult.

2. The world of Addams’ father—the self-made man—who could “make it on his own” became more unlikely and remote. The majority of Americans became employees or workers, and were not truly independent.

3. Wealthy people became more ostentatious—unlike her father and the ideology she was nurtured in.

a. Rich people publicly began to collect things.

b. Leisure time became common among the wealthy and how to use it debated.

c. Newspapers began to report—society pages—on the activities and lives of the wealthy.

d. George Pullman was an example of how the wealthy crushed and used the poor with the Pullman strike (1894). Addams became disillusioned with the power and wealth of the great industrialists.

e. The Pullman strike forced Addams to recognize America’s wealthy could and did at times mistreat their workers and dramatically harm them, their families, and their values.

4. As a result of experiences at Hull House and association with George Pullman and the strike, Jane Addams consciously rejected her father’s values because she believed they failed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries.

a. She decided she must become a reformer or Progressive.

b. She decided to deal with the circumstance of the times, the middle-class values of her youth must be abandoned; that is, property ownership, consumption of consumer goods, and complete independence.

c. The abandonment was necessary because the wealthy people of America failed in their decisions and policies that harmed many people, their families, and communities.

d. She attempted to resolve the tremendous crisis of class conflict between the few very wealthy and powerful and the many of the lower class.

e. Middle-class values were betrayed with industrialization and the middle-class was the first to recognize changes were needed and flexible enough to work for change. [Remember, the Progressive Movement was supported and led primarily by the middle-class.]

f. McGeer argues that American history focuses on the middle-class not because the middle-class writes it, rather, he contends that throughout American history, it was the middle-class that recognized the intensity of problems and the need for change, and then adapted more quickly than the upper and lower-classes.

D. Progressivism began the conflict between the traditional values of American individualism and the need to restrain that individualism by regulation in order to protect all Americans.




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