Introduction to the Spirit of Progressivism 1900-1920

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Introduction to the Spirit of Progressivism 1900-1920

In the quarter-century after the Civil War, politics appeared to give Americans a sense of stability and permanence that its economy lacked. With the rise of Imperialist action, America faced new challenges of a growing economy and uncontrolled industrialization. Both Democrats and Republicans were resistant to face the vexing questions about social and political equality among its citizens, resulting in another cost of Imperialism-racial and social discrimination in the Gilded Age.

It would be another quarter of century before a younger generation of progressives in both parties acknowledged the need to correct the ills and sickness within the American government and capitalist system. Moral reformers and prohibitionists, women, farmers, and industrial workers split from their traditional political loyalties to form splinter-parties of their own. Finally, the election of 1896, and the emergence of the Populist movement, broke the party discipline and loyalty that Gilded Age had counted on. This election freed the American political system to reveal that the average voter was more independent than the “professional politicians” had once assumed.

William Jennings Bryan had uncovered a quiet, but powerful, voice of Americans who were tired of corrupt politicians, exploitive industrialists, and a-moral philosophies. Even though his presidential campaign failed, it envisioned the triumph of the middle-class. With the stirring of these hopes came a second, more potent challenge to the old Gilded Age politics—the challenge of Progressivism.

A variety of forces helped shape the Progressive Movement. There was no single “progressive type” among the leaders or the rank and file; there was no typical age, social status, economic background, religion, or education. The Progressives were drawn from the mainstream of native-born middle class Americans that were eager to apply their ideas for reforming society and politics. They could be found equally in both the reform wings of the Democratic and Republican parties.

With this great variety in Progressivism from the 1890’s to the 1920’s, it is useful to look at this unique situation not as a collected and uniform movement, but rather as a patchwork of the efforts of different interest groups that occasionally agreed on specific issues but were unable to combine as a whole behind a unified and coherent political party. In the spirit of the America’s Founders, whose commitment to the country they so admired, Progressive reformers thought of themselves as the architects and designers of a fair and stable social order based on the principles that had guided the Constitutional Fathers.

  1. List at least two reasons why Progressivism emerged in America

  1. What “let the cat out of the bag” in America’s political system? In other words, what event broke with conventional wisdom (traditional roles)?

3. Despite their differences, what was the “common bond” that Progressives shared?

Progressive “Umbrella” Activity

Name: ____________________________ Due Date: _________ Pd: ________


Group Members: ______________________________



In the spirit of the Progressive Age, you will help complete this project as part of a group. As a class, we will attempt to instill enthusiasm and cooperation with your fellow classmates giving an equal voice to all. As a part of a group, you will be encouraged to channel all of your skills to contribute to a successful project.

The Progressives entered into reform with the specific goals of allowing the government to be run by the people who represented the educational and social interests of society. You will be part of the solution. You are now those representatives.

Imagine yourself on a deserted highway stretching endlessly into a dark and stormy horizon. Large clouds of the Gilded Age’s greed, corruption, and exploitation, billow towards you blocking out the golden sunshine of the American dream and opportunity. As the raindrops fall you can smell the stench of the polluted principles of the Gilded Age, burning the flesh of those without protection- the young in the fields, the old on the streets, everyone who is hungry, fatigued, and sick from their dreary existences. They are cold, shivering, and infected with what will surely bring them to their end.

But there is the knowledge for change. A few brave, noble, men and women realize they can raise an umbrella to shelter themselves. At first small, and fragile, innovators and fighters such as Robert LaFollette and Florence Kelly spread the word to those most vulnerable and later people with the vision and power, such as Theodore Roosevelt, brought larger and stronger umbrellas to the people. The skies remained dark and threatening, soaking others- blacks and immigrants-not so fortunate to have advocates for their suffering. Many shelters were held in place by the moral fortitude of intelligent individuals such as Woodrow Wilson. With all of the support and commitment of these beleaguered men and women, the Progressives were able to provide protection and relief to the common person. They signify a fundamental change that the government was to put the interests of the individual over that of any political, economic, or military importance.


To represent the spirit of the Progressive Age, you will work with other like-minded reformers to make a symbolic umbrella, reflecting the ideals and philosophy of a noble and wholesome cause.

In this you and your group will need to complete the following:

You will be given a number of Progressive reforms and people that need to be included in your umbrella. You must label and research information from your textbook, Internet, and library resources.

1. With these definitions you must write the following information in a concise and effective way:

Summarize what the law/person enacted in the Progressive Age

  • State the Years enacted/effective

  • Explain why it represented such a change in attitude/condition of the common man.

2. Design an umbrella signifying the Gilded Age’s threat, the protection of Progressive reform, and the laws, institutions, and people who made America a more just and equal nation.

3. Attach your reforms to your group’s umbrella.

4. Effectively decorate/symbolize issues faced and solutions proposed.

5. Present your umbrella and your reforms to the rest of the class (who will fill out an information packet to study for the next test).

  • Every member must present, by memory a part of the umbrella.

  • Group cooperation will be a part of your overall grade.

Extra Credit will be awarded to each member of the group who best designs and represents Progressive reform and goals.

Be creative, be effective, and have fun!

Good Luck!!!!

MUCKRAKERS: Nicknamed by TR, these journalists exposed social and economic evils- inspiring reform in society. Rejecting the principles of Yellow Journalism, these men and women often faced physical and character assassination by political bosses and industrial giants.
a. Lincoln Steffens – Wrote Shame of the Cities – a look into the slums of Philadelphia and the lack of humane conditions for the inhabitants.
b. Jacob Riis: Photographed the poor and children workers in his book How the Other Half Lives.
c. Ida Tarbell: Exposed the corrupt business practices of John D. Rockefeller and Standard oil - inspiring the government to challenge monopolies and trusts

NAACP: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples was founded by W.E.B. Dubois to fight against discrimination in society. It provides scholarships and grants to African-Americans for higher education, supports legal challenges to potential unconstitutional discrimination lawsuits, councils minorities to establish meaningful professional careers. Today it is still one of the most effective Civil Rights organization today

REFERENDUM (State level): This Progressive reform allows voters to vote directly upon a law or particular issue without going through the legislature or Congress. It allows the average person to ask to change a law in existence. This is another form of pure democracy!

HEPBURN ACT: This allowed the government through the I.C.C (Interstate Commerce Commission) to regulate railroads, oil pipelines, and bridges and ensure that, “just and reasonable” prices were being charged fairly to all customers. It made the big business pay as much for a ticket on a train as the common person.

This was a major step away from Laissez-Faire.

17th AMENDMENT (Direct election of Senators): This major Progressive reform allowed the citizens of the U.S. to directly elect their own senators, usually divided into local representative districts. This gave more power in common person!

ROBERT LAFOLETTE (“Fighting Bob”): Senator from Wisconsin who is seen as the father of the Progressive movement. Took on the “professional politicians” and fought for state reforms such as referendum, recall, and initiative. He is a legendary orator, often speaking for 10 hours at an appearance.

BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: African-American Leader who believed that blacks should be patient. The belief that work blue collar (labor oriented) jobs will establish fair economic status and then eventually require equality and more opportunity. He believed the people could slowly change discrimination from “the bottom to the top”. He founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to provide skilled training to black workers.

RECALL (State only): Progressive reform allows voters to remove certain elected officials from office if they’re not performing adequately, or engage in criminal behavior. This is a form of pure democracy, forcing politicians to see to their voter’s interests and opinions!

ARBITRATION AND THE U.M.W (United Mine Workers): In 1902 Theodore Roosevelt settled the coal miner’s strike by forcing arbitration (a conflict to be decided by an independent party).

This represented the first time that the government took the side of the workers in a labor dispute instead of the owners. This action made Roosevelt wildly popular! Taft and Wilson would not support this measure in following presidencies.

18th AMENDMENT enforced by the Volstead Act: Passed in 1919 this prohibited the manufacture, distribution, or sale of alcohol in America. Began the period we know as “Prohibition!” This showed that the Progressives were very moralistic and often religious in nature, suggesting alcohol ruined families through addiction and cost.


EUGENE DEBS: Leader of the A.R.U. and the American Socialist Party he came to represent the worker in America, always encouraging the Government to control the major industries - then distribute the profits equally to the people, a type of communist control. Ran for president 6 times, and while in prison received over 1 million popular votes.

ELECTION OF 1912: TR re-entered the political sphere as the head of the Bull Moose Party and ran for president as an independent undermining Taft. TR split the Republican vote away from Taft, giving the presidency to the Democrats and Woodrow Wilson

PURE FOOD AND DRUG ACT: Passed in 1906 this led to the creation of the F.D.A. (Food and Drug Administration.) It was inspired by Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle that reported unsafe food processing and unethical business practiced in the meatpacking industry. Theodore Roosevelt’s enraged by such actions, remembering the suffering of soldiers in the Sp-Am. War, pushes legislative powers calling for reform.

CONSERVATIONISM (modern environmentalism): Industrialization and expansion were reeking havoc on the environment, so Theodore Roosevelt with the help of his friends John Muir and Gifford Pinchot set aside huge tracts of Wilderness (National Parks and Forests) for protection. Yosemity and Yellowstone National Parks were the first to be established.

WORKMEN’S COMPENSATION (State reform): One of Woodrow Wilson’s reforms began in New Jersey. This allows workers payment if they suffer a job related injury. It provides a “safety net”, for workers to be able to recover and rehabilitate. It also encourages owners to improve dangerous conditions as they partially pay for the wages of those protected under workman’s compensation.


FLORENCE KELLY: Even though she could not vote, she was a Progressive activist who fought for women’s rights and won for them (and others) the right to only work 10 hours a day and 6 days a week in the case Muller vs. Oregon.

REFORM IN CITY GOVERNMENT: Progressive reforms to clean up the political machines of cities called City Manager Plans or Commission Systems - This placed educated experts in charge of the city and allowed them to make decisions based on planning and welfare of the people.

Teddy Roosevelt’s “SQUARE DEAL”: T.R., the first modern president, labeled this to his domestic policy. He used the power of the Bully Pulpit (The White House) to pass reforms such as Trust-busting (to restore competition), Conservationism ( to save America’s natural treasures) , and advocating for the rights of workers (to give greater opportunity for the common people).

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT: Roosevelt’s hand picked successor as president, he actually brought about more anti-trust suits (44) during his administration than Roosevelt did. However, he supported tariffs decreasing competition from foreign markets and increasing the power of wealthy American industrialists. Taft also opposed federal restrictions on using frontier and wilderness for industrial development, angering the conservationists (modern day environmentalists).

UNDERWOOD TARIFF: Passed under the third progressive president, Woodrow Wilson. This lowered the Tariff (Tax on imports) to allow foreign companies to sell their products more easily in America. It counteracted Taft’s preceding increases. With this increased competition the Trusts and monopolies were forced to lower their prices, and would challenge Wilson’s economic policies for the rest of his career.


19TH AMENDMENT (Women’s Suffrage) - Heroines of the women’s movement were Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Carrie Chapman Catt. They ensured the passing of the 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote (Women’s suffrage). Movement was largely supported by women’s work during WWI, proving that the “lesser sex” was as capable of supporting and leading the country as the “greater sex” went off dieing in war.

DIRECT PRIMARY (State level): This Progressive reform allowed the people to directly vote for and choose their candidates in party specific elections. For instance, before a candidate may run for the Senate, he/she must be voted in by people who register in that party. i.e Republican Voters vote for a Republican to run in the election. This took power away from the political parties and thus gave more power to the people.

JANE ADDAMS (Hull House): She was a Progressive activist who founded the Hull House in Chicago. This was a place that provided food and relief to homeless, immigrants, and children. Her charity accepted everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, and religion. Her funding came from private donations. She is seen and the founder of modern Social Work!!! She also helped WEB Dubois found NAACP.

WOODROW WILSON AND HIS “NEW FREEDOM”: The 3rd Progressive president and his domestic policy, he was famous for his leadership during WWI, and for his moralistic peace-keeping focus. He pushed Congress to pass the Underwood Tariff, Workmen’s Compensation, and the Federal Reserve Act in order for America to be less dependent on foreign markets and interests.

FEDERAL RESERVE ACT: Passed under Woodrow Wilson’s administration this gave the government much more control over the banking industry, and took power away from the “Robber Barons” (industrialists who manipulated the gold standard and stock market for their own wealth). It split the U.S.A. into 12 financial districts and secured the government ability to influence the economy by manipulation interest rates. It created a national standard that the common man could understand.

W.E.B. DUBOIS: He was the first African American to graduate from Harvard he went on to found the NAACP. He believed that blacks deserved their equal rights immediately. His vision of change was increase the education of white collar (educated professionals, doctors, lawyers, engineers...) careers in order to take leadership of major fields of business. In this the change to racial equality would be “top-down” oriented.

INITIATIVE (State level): This Progressive reform allows voters to directly introduce a law for other voters to decide upon. It enables the common man to begin the lawmaking process to represent greater equality without “professional politicians” or lawyers. If the initiative is passed, then it advances to a referendum, a step closer in turning into a enforceable law. This is pure democracy!!!

MARGARET SANGER: Was a Progressive nurse who began birth control clinics in order for women to gain greater biological independence. Eventually these became the organization called Planned Parenthood that counseled women on the dangers of unwanted pregnancies, communicable diseases, and spousal abuse. It was a great change from the conservative standards or the Victorian Era.
16TH AMENDMENT (Income Tax): This amendment allows the federal government to tax all workers’ income. It was passed as a way that the government could raise more money from all sections of society. In turn, the federal government could provide more services for American citizens, such as public education, modern transportation, public electricity, and limited health care to those who could not normally afford such things.

CLAYTON ANTI-TRUST ACT: This act passed under the Wilson administration strengthened the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. It made illegal trusts, interlocking directorates and also allowed workers to strike and boycott as long as it was peaceful. Purpose was to restore competition to the economy and give the unions a even playing field to negotiate fair labor contracts.

Progressive Reform Study Guide

Reform: Change for the Better
Using the umbrellas around the room, complete the information below in order to create a study guide to use in your next test. When possible, write the information in your own words.

Eliminate Corruption in Government




Reform in City Governments

Direct Primary
17th Amendment (__________________)

Robert La Follette

Eugene Debs

T.R. “Square Deal” & Bully Pulpit

Woodrow Wilson & The New Freedom

Restore Competition to Business



Sherman & Clayton Anti-Trust Acts
William Howard Taft
Underwood Tariff
Hepburn Act

Arbitration & U.M.W.

Federal Reserve Act

Use the Government as a Tool for Social Improvement



18th Amendment (____________________)

Election of 1912- TR & “Bull Moose Party”

19th Amendment (____________________) & Carrie Chapman Catt
WEB Dubois & NAACP
Protect the Less Fortunate


Workers’ Compensation

Pure Food and Drug Act
16th Amendment (__________________)
Florence Kelly & ____________ v. _______________

Jane Addams & Hull House

Margaret Sanger

Booker T. Washington

Progressive Umbrella Project Grading Rubric

Names: ___________________________________ Due Date: ________ Pd: _______



___________________________________ 65 Total Points



Group Evaluation Teacher

Display of Reforms:……………………………………. _____ /20

Accuracy of information

No spelling or grammar errors

All reforms present

Creativity of Design……………………………………… _____ /10

Effective use of Color

Different Mediums/Materials Used

Meaningful & Symbolic Representation of Reforms
Neatness………………………………………………… _____ / 10

Easily Readable

Large, Clear Writing or Typing (Font size 22+)

Quality Finished Appearance

Presentation to Class…………………………………… N / A / 15

Strong Voices

Good Eye Contact

Well mannered Composure

Every person participates

Does not read from Umbrella

Group Teamwork………………………………………. _____ / 10

Cooperative Effort

Equal Task Completion

Mature Discussion of Strategies

Keeps all materials organized and brings rubric to presentation.
Group’s Comments:

Teacher’s Comments:

a. Lincoln Steffens –
b. Jacob Riis:
c. Ida Tarbell:

REFERENDUM (State level):


17th AMENDMENT (Direct election of Senators):


ROBERT LAFOLETTE (“Fighting Bob”):


RECALL (State only):

ARBITRATION AND THE U.M.W (United Mine Workers):

18th AMENDMENT enforced by the Volstead Act:



CONSERVATIONISM (modern environmentalism):




Teddy Roosevelt’s “SQUARE DEAL”:




19TH AMENDMENT (Women’s Suffrage) -

DIRECT PRIMARY (State level):

JANE ADDAMS (Hull House):



INITIATIVE (State level)


16TH AMENDMENT (Income Tax):



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