The late 19th and early 20th centuries ushered in a new era for America. America began growing into an urban and industrialized society. With this, many social, economic, cultural and political changes developed to alter American society. Americans embraced the good that this new era brought in and rallied for reforms on the evils it also created, hence the rise of Progressivism during this era. Progressivism was an urban, middle class led movement that aimed at curing the ills brought about by rapid industrial growth.
The American Industrial Revolution transformed old, small enterprises into major business while new industries emerged. Railroads, the steel industry, oil and banking were among the major industries that arose during this time. The invention of the telegraph and electricity further enhanced business and production during this era. Cities grew all over America which steadily became crowded due to the migration of people from rural areas looking for better opportunities, as well as migration of Europeans to escape the economic depression in Europe and to answer America’s growing need for cheap labor. With all these capital expansion and urban growth due to industrialization, the deterioration of living conditions in the congested cities increased, working conditions in factories worsened and big businesses prevented healthy competition through trusts and monopolies. These are just a few of the ills that prevailed during the American Industrialization. Progressivism was a movement that arose in response to the economic, social and political inequalities of this time (Roark et al.).
Progressivism aimed to involve government, through legislation, in removing corruption and excessive influence from government through urban reforms, in allowing direct participation of citizens in the political process through political reform, in regulating businesses and political units through economic reform, in promoting social justice through social welfare programs and reforms on labor and in furthering the cause of women’s and children’s rights.
Progressivism was quite successful in meeting its goals, the results of which are still in place today. Its success was mainly due to publicity created by the muckrakers. They were able to improve conditions of cities by supporting city take-over of utilities and other basic services as well as promote city-supported welfare programs. They were able to get government to enact the Meat Inspection Act, Food and Drug Act, as well as the US Forestry Service to ensure a better quality of life in the cities. They were able to give Americans a greater voice through political reforms such as the 17th Amendment allowing voters to elect their senators, Initiative Process, Referendum Process, Recall and Direct Primaries. They were able to succeed in leveling the business playing field, known as the Square Deal, through legislation, such as: enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and creation of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act; creation of the Hepburn Act to set maximum rates railroads can charge; enactment of the New Freedom Policy which broke up monopolies; creation of the Underwood Tariff Act to eliminate duties on imported goods, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve System. Progressives were successful in uplifting the life of the urban poor by ensuring that their social welfare was looked after through support of the following: setting up of settlement houses and welfare programs, the 16th Amendment that allowed for a federal income tax collection, workers compensation laws including accident insurance; laws ensuring, safer working conditions and laws limiting work hours. Progressives were very much successful in improving the plight of women and children.
Through the advocacy of the Progressives, more stringent child labor laws were enacted through the Keating-Owen Child Labor Law. Cities worked on improving their educational curriculum. Women were allowed the right of suffrage through the 19th Amendment. To protect the welfare of women and children, the 18th Amendment was passed which prohibited the sale of alcohol, which was seen as the primary cause of domestic violence. The women were also accorded more employment opportunities (Roark et al.).