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Learn About the Progressive Era

By the beginning of the twentieth century, muckraking journalists were calling attention to the exploitation of child labor, corruption in city governments, the horror of lynching, and the ruthless business practices employed by businessmen like John D. Rockefeller.

At the local level, many Progressives sought to suppress red-light districts, expand high schools, construct playgrounds, and replace corrupt urban political machines with more efficient system of municipal government. At the state level, Progressives enacted minimum wage laws for women workers, instituted industrial accident insurance, restricted child labor, and improved factory regulation.

At the national level, Congress passed laws establishing federal regulation of the meat-packing, drug, and railroad industries, and strengthened anti-trust laws. It also lowered the tariff, established federal control over the banking system, and enacted legislation to improve working condition.

Four constitutional amendments were adopted during the Progressive era, which authorized an income tax, provided for the direct election of senators, extended the vote to women, and prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.

Progressivism is an umbrella label for a wide range of economic, political, social, and moral reforms. These included efforts to outlaw the sale of alcohol; regulate child labor and sweatshops; scientifically manage natural resources; insure pure and wholesome water and milk; Americanize immigrants or restrict immigration altogether; and bust or regulate trusts. Drawing support from the urban, college-educated middle class, Progressive reformers sought to eliminate corruption in government, regulate business practices, address health hazards, improve working conditions, and give the public more direct control over government through direct primaries to nominate candidates for public office, direct election of Senators, the initiative, referendum, and recall, and women's suffrage.

1912 Progressive Party Platform

To learn more

Handouts and fact sheets:

  • Urban Political Machines
  • Immigration
  • Problems of Youth
  • Progressive Reform and the Trusts
  • World War I
  • Recommended lesson plan:

    Woman Suffrage


    Test your knowledge about the Progressive Era

    Recommended books:

    John Whiteclay Chambers, The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era
    A thorough and up-to-date history of Progressivism.

    John Milton Cooper, The Warrior and the Priest
    The lives, philosophies, and actions of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

    Recommended film:

    Based on the E.L. Doctorow novel, the film weaves into its story many of the key figures of the era, including characters, among them Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Booker T. Washington, and Emma Goldman.

    View the movie trailer (requires Windows Media Player):

    learn more film

    Recommended Website:

    TR: The Story of Teddy Roosevelt


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