The Progressives Movement

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The Progressive Movement, which occurred between 1890 and 1920, began as a social movement and later on turned into a political movement.  The movement was formed to protect the social well-being, enhance moral improvement, establish economic reforms as well as promote efficiency in government operations. The main aim of the progressive movement was to eliminate the problems that were brought by industrialization.[1]

Through industrialization in the US there were several problems that emerged. The masters and leaders of corporations engaged in the business practices that were not ethical and fair to increase their profits. Industrialization also led to immigration and the immigrants were put under dangerous and brutal living and working conditions. The corruption levels also increased especially in the political class, therefore, making it hard for the working class to have a challenging time to make ends meet.[2]

The movement was able to register various successes in their struggle for the reforms they needed with help from their leaders who were highly influential, however, some of the reforms the progressives wanted had negative aspects. 

The success of the Progressive Movement

The success of the progressive movement is evident up to the present moments. The struggle for Settlement House movement led by Jane Addams endeavored to assist the immigrants that arrived in the US. These houses tried to aid on issues such as learning together with getting employment and eventually attained the aim of making the immigrants to become Americans thus allowing them to adjust to their contemporary surrounding. Moreover, similar settlement houses were established for the African-Americans. The other issue of these settlements was on their status and this was demonstrated by Jacob Rill. He documented on the poor conditions of houses in America that were occupied by immigrants. Following the documentation, the housing standards were improved.[3]

Furthermore, the efforts of the progressive movement led to increased public sanitation that included betterment of sewage systems together with garbage collections.

Before the progressive movement era, the working conditions of workers were very poor. The workers worked for long hours though the wages were low. Instances of child labor were also common before the progressive era.  The Progressive Era helped in improving the working conditions of the workers by increasing their wages. The struggle by the Progressives ensured a minimum wage was set.[4]

Child labor was also abolished and the children got the opportunity to attend school.

The progressive movement also led to the enactment of laws that regulated monopolies from establishing business activities. The progressives were not happy with the power as well as the size of certain business organization plus the kind of influence they were holding in government. The progressives ensured these businesses were not enjoying a monopoly to exploit consumers.

            The safety of food also became a concern to the progressives as they were in poor condition. Through the influence of the progressives, the safety and health of food produced improved. The Meat Inspection Act, as well as the Food and Drug Act, were enacted to address the safety of food.[5]

The Women Suffrage movement was also part of the Progressive Movement and through the influence of the Progressive Movement it was able to push through and granted women the right to vote. The temperance movement through the Progressive Movement was also able to achieve their aim of alcohol prohibition in the 1900s that led to the prohibition of alcohol in the US until 1933 when it was repealed.

Reforms Enacted by Progressive Reformers

The activists of the Movement majorly targeted the political agencies that promoted crimes like corruption. Moreover, the activists sought monopolies regulation as well as organizations by using the antitrust laws. The antitrust laws were viewed as a strategy to foster fair competition for the benefit of competing parties.[6]

Most progressive movement activists affirmed the forbiddance of beverages with alcohol content, apparently destroy the political might of the local masters, though other targeted inspiration of religion.[7]

The Women Suffrage was also promoted by the progressives, and this aimed at allowing the women the right to vote. Moreover, progressives also promoted the Efficiency Movement in every department of government to enhance modernization, therefore, enhance scientific, medical as well as engineering solutions.[8]

Progressive Movement Leaders

The progressive movement involved several notable leaders who had their own reforms, which were political, social or business. One notable leader during progressive era was Upton Sinclair who advocated for consumer protection reforms. The consumer protection reforms led to enactment of Meat Inspection Act that improved meat handling techniques especially in terms of cleanliness.[9]

Besides the reforms on consumer protection led to passage of Pure Food and Drug Act 1906 that provided detailed legislation in advertisement of food drugs and content of food products purchased.[10]

Prohibited selling of unsafe food materials and medicines and required truthful labeling.

Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt used their positions to bring reforms in politics and environmental reforms. They used their influence to enlarge the authority of federal government to impose regulations on private industry and enforce protection for the consumers, employees as well as the natural environment.[11]

The political reforms also pushed Hiram Johnson and Theodore Roosevelt to foster changes in the political arena by expanding role of government in regulating the economy as well as giving the people direct access to legislative process.[12]

The aim of Roosevelt and Johnson was to reduce civic and political corruption. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanion influence reforms they termed as women suffrage in that through their struggle that in 1919 the 19th

Amendment was passed and women were allowed to vote.[13]

President also ensured the 16th Amendment was enacted and it ensured distribution of wealth by imposing income tax based on income of an individual and corporation.[14]

Negative Aspects of the Progressive Movement

In as much the Progressive Movement leaders were able to achieve much there are several noteworthy objectives that occurred during the progressive era that were promoted however they enhance policies on discrimination and exposed the ideas which were not tolerant.[15]

For instance, in the Wilson administration, in spite of his attempts to promote modernity as well as progress, he encouraged certain racial agendas that ended in segregation of the federal government.[16]

During the presidency of Wilson, there was the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, an anti-Semite group, as well as savagely racist recoil against the political together with economic gains of the Africans-Americans in the post-Reconstruction era.[17]

The Labor unions, which were active in the politics that conformed to the progressive ideologies, defended constraint on immigration as well as cast xenophobic rhetoric that accused the immigrants of the reduced wages along with working conditions that were not favorable in companies across the United States.[18]

The Immigration Act 1917 and National Quota Law 1921 extremely restricted immigration based on nationality, and did not include almost every immigrant from Asia.

Similar to the perception of human character as having the ability to be manipulated, the majority of progressive activists supported eugenics, otherwise known as selective breeding. Eugenics was referred to as the science of better breeding and its goals were to better the quality of genes of the human population through regulations that favored more desirable factors of society to have more children whereas forestalling undesired genetics to reproduce.[19]

Eugenics was a racial practice that believed the whites and Anglo-Saxon were desired and the ethnic minorities, immigrants, and people of the lower class to be undesired.


Progressive Movement Era is important to the history of the United. The movement provided a lot of success in the reforms it was advocating. Using their influence they were able to improve working and housing standards as well as helping women get the right to vote. Most of the leaders of the progressive movement had a lot of influence as they held powerful positions such as Theodore Roosevelt who was the president of the US, though some of their ideologies turned out to be harmful. Some of their ideologies promoted racial segregation. Generally, the majority of their ideologies led to modernization that is presently experienced in the country.


"16th Amendment - Progressive Era Photo Exhibit." Google Sites. Accessed October 26, 2018.

"Progressive Era: 1890–1920s: Progressive Political Reform." Progressive Era: 1890–1920s: Progressive Political Reform | Picture This. Accessed October 26, 2018.

"The Progressive Era." Khan Academy. Accessed October 26, 2018.

Anthony, David. The Progressive Era: Activists Change America. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2017.

Boundless. "Boundless US History." Lumen. Accessed October 26, 2018.

Stromquist, Shelton. Reinventing “The People”: The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism. University of illinois Press, 2010.

Trask, Jeffrey. Things American: Art Museums and Civic Culture in the Progressive Era. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

[1]David Anthony. The Progressive Era: Activists Change America, (Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2017), 8

[2] Ibid., 11


Ibid., 14


Ibid., 22


Ibid., 27


David Anthony. The Progressive Era: Activists Change America, (Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2017), 32


Ibid., 16


Ibid., 37

[9] "Progressive Era: 1890–1920s: Progressive Political Reform." Progressive Era: 1890–1920s: Progressive Political Reform | Picture This. Accessed October 26, 2018.

[10] Boundless. "Boundless US History." Lumen. Accessed October 26, 2018.

[11] "16th Amendment - Progressive Era Photo Exhibit." Google Sites. Accessed October 26, 2018.

[12] Ibid.

[13] "The Progressive Era." Khan Academy. Accessed October 26, 2018.

[14] Ibid


Jeffrey Trask. Things American: Art Museums and Civic Culture in the Progressive Era,

(University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 19


Stromquist, Shelton. Reinventing “The People”: The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism, (University of illinois Press, 2010), 34


Ibid., 39


Ibid., 45


Ibid., 49

November 13, 2023

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