Twentieth Century Progressivism
• In the early twentieth century, a number of far-reaching economic
and social reforms changed American society; among these reforms
were improvements in science and technology, economic production,
mass communication, and mass entertainment, health and living
standards, the role of government, gender roles, and formations of
• Six U.S. presidents are associated with the Progressive Era:
Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland (second term), William
McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow
• The Progressive Era began in 1890 when Benjamin Harrison (under
whom six new states joined the Union- North Dakota, South Dakota,
Montana, and Washington in 1889, and Idaho and Wyoming in
1890) was president, and ended in 1920 when Warren G. Harding
was elected president.
Progressive Era: Goals
• The term progressivism is an umbrella label for an extensive range of economic, political, social, and decent changes to society; these
included the following efforts: ban on selling alcohol, manage child labor and sweatshops, scientifically regulate natural re sources,
Americanize immigrants or limit immigration completely, and bust or regulate trusts.
• Winning support from the urban, college-educated middle class, Progressive reformers were interested in reducing corruption in
government, managing business practices, focusing on health risks, and advancing working conditions.
• These reformers additionally fought to give the American people more direct control over government by means of direct primar ies to
nominate candidates for public office, direct election of senators, the advantage, referendum, recall, and women’s suffrage.
Progressive Era: Early Accomplishments
• By the early twentieth century, muckraking journalists were turning their focus to the misuse of child labor, corruption in c ity
governments, the horror of lynching, and the cruel business practices of businessmen like John D. Rockefeller.
• At the local level, numerous Progressive individuals wanted to destroy red-light districts, enlarge high schools, build playgrounds, and
replace dishonest urban political machines with more effective systems of municipal government.
• At the state level, Progressives passed minimum wage laws for women in the labor force, established industrial accident insurance,
limited child labor, and improved factory regulation.
• At the national level, Congress enacted laws that created federal regulation of the meat-packing, drug, and railroad industries; anti-trust
laws were also tightened.
• Congress additionally reduced the tariff, established government regulation over the banking system, and passed legislation t o improve
• During the Progressive Era, four constitutional amendments were signed into law: authorizing an income tax (submitted 1909; ratified
1913), providing for the direct election of senators (submitted 1912; ratified 1913), outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic
drinks (submitted 1917; ratified 1919; repealed 1933), and extending the right to vote to women (submitted 1919; ratified 1920).
Along the Color Line
• The time between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
symbolized the lowest point of race relations in the United States.
• Nine in ten African Americans lived in the South, where they generally
worked as tenant farmers or sharecroppers.
• Most southern and border states enforced a legal system of segregation
after the Civil War, demoting African Americans to separate schools and
other public places.
• Under the Mississippi Plan of 1875, which involved the practice of poll
taxes and literacy tests, African Americans lost their voting rights.
• The Supreme Court ignored the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments,
particularly in the court case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which ruled that
“separate but equal” facilities, under the fourteenth amendment, were
• Every year, almost one hundred African Americans were subject to
• Booker T. Washington (1856-1915; shown right), the most notable African
American leader, claimed that African Americans should make themselves
economically indispensable to conservative southern whites, work together
with them, and find a role to counter white supremacy.
• Other figures, in contrast, took a more modern approach; these included the
anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. DuBois, one of the
founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP), who wanted to put an end to class differences on the basis of
Along the Color Line – cont.
• A tight work market during World War I (1914-1918) led to the
“Great Migration” of African Americans to the North; this
continued into the 1920s.
• But the relocation to the North did not mean a better life; the
movement from the South instead caused racial violence in
Chicago, East St. Louis, Houston, Tulsa, and other cities outside
of the South.
• However, the Great Migration was accompanied by new attempts
at black political and economic organization and racial
• Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and
African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) highlighted racial
pride and economic self-aid; a literary and artistic movement was
started by the Harlem Renaissance.
The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage
• The continuing battle for full equality for women is among the most
fundamental of all struggles in the history of the United States.
• The standards of the American Revolution encouraged women to raise their
hopes, inspired some of the first overt demands for equality, and saw the
beginning of female schools to advance women’s education.
• American women achieved the highest female literacy rate in the world by
the beginning of the nineteenth century.
• Unfortunately, once U.S. states expanded suffrage to include almost all
white males, they started to deny voting to free blacks and, in New Jersey,
to women, who temporarily were given this privilege after the Revolution.
• During the 1820s and later years, married women were not permitted to
own property, make contracts, file lawsuits, or serve on jury duty.
• The discrimination against women did not stop there; their husbands could
legally hit them and subject them to sexual demands.
• Yet during the early 1800s, numerous women committed themselves to a
special duty and an obligation to refine and change American society.
• Women were prominent in the attempts to set up public schools, outlaw
slavery, and limit drinking.
• Discrimination nevertheless remained in the anti-slavery movement; to
counter this discrimination, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) and other
women’s rights activists established the first Women’s Rights Convention
in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.
The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage – cont.
• The journey to full equality did not only involve the battle for the
right to vote; it also included the battle for divorce, access to
higher education, the professions, and other occupations that
were otherwise dominated by men, as well as birth control and
• In order to triumph over the oldest method of mistreatment and
demotion, women have had to defeat laws and traditions on the
basis of gender.
What else did the Progressive Era achieve in
the twentieth century?
• 1954: Brown v. Board of Education overturns Plessy v. Furgeson; notion of “separate but equal” is stuck down
• 1955: Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, leading to the Montgomery Bus Boycott
• 1956: Supreme Court rules that segregation on city buses is unconstitutional
• 1957: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) founded
• 1964 (July): Civil Rights Act is signed into law and bans discrimination on basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; polling
taxes and literacy tests are also banned
• 1964 (October): Billy Mills becomes the second Native American (after Jim Thorpe) to win the Olympic gold medal
• 1965: Voting Rights Act enforces voting rights guaranteed by fourteenth and fifteen amendments
• 1967: Thurgood Marshall is appointed first African American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
• 1968: Civil Rights Act provides for equal housing opportunities with no regard to race, creed, or national origin and makes c ertain acts of
violence or fear punishable by law
• 1976: Dixy Lee Ray is elected first female governor of Washington
• 1994: Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed, providing $1.6 billion for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against
• 2004: Massachusetts becomes the first state (and the sixth jurisdiction) to legalize same-sex marriage (it was also the first state to give
marriage licenses to same-sex couples)
What else did the Progressive Era achieve in
the twentieth century? – cont.
• 2006: Deval Patrick is elected the first African American governor of Massachusetts, and second in the U.S. after P. B. S.
Pinchback (Louisiana) in 1872
• 2008: Barack Obama is elected president, making him the first African American to hold the office (before he won the
Democratic nomination in June of that year, Hillary Clinton was widely perceived to become the first female president)
• 2012: Elizabeth Warren is elected the first female senator from Massachusetts
Which states are considered progressive?
• States that are commonly seen as progressive include (in no specific order):
Massachusetts (often seen as the most liberal state in the country)