In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, middle class Americans saw the need for changes. Reform was needed in society, politics, and economics. The problems of overcrowding in cities, corruption in government, as well as unsafe and indifferent working conditions all needed to be addressed. A wide variety of people advocated for major reforms that would make the United States more democratic, but Progressive Reformers differed on their goals, as well as their methods. This lack of an ability to speak with one voice hindered the progress with which reform took place.
There were also major reform movements that met with failure, and as well, many areas that were ignored. However, when the Progressive Reform movement came to an end in the 1920’s, despite its unfinished work, the United States had increased its standard of living and made progress to becoming a true democracy. Reformers had many different goals, branching out into different categories, although only a few of their goals truly succeeded. Take child labor, for example. Today, child labor is illegal within the United States.
The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act set minimum wages, as well as standards for the work hours of children. This guideline was set after the end of the Progressive Era in the 1920’s, but was made possible because of the valiant efforts of the Progressive Reformers. Document 4 depicts an image dated to 1909, photographed by Lewis Hine; an American photographer and sociologist alike. His camera was his own tool in social reform.
In Document 4’s image are two boys, who are removing bobbins at a large sewing machine, one that is larger in scale than the boys themselves. The boys ook to be around 8-10 years of age, 11 at the very most. This image depicts child labor being used in industry and factory work just the same, a powerful issue in the United States, one that Reformers wanted to prohibit. The struggle of eliminating child labor continued, even after the Progressive Era ended, despite reformer’s forceful efforts that were channeled through each individual and group of the Progressive Party. Document 6 depicts the Progressive Party’s principles, with one of their bstantial goals being correction in the workplace, child labor included.
Child labor is more than just its surface, however. This issue branches back farther and farther, and eventually meets the issue of working and living conditions. Document 2 focuses primarily on the issue of overcrowding in the urban area. With many people immigrating and flocking into large cities, especially New York, in search of a new life, these cities faced the problem of overcrowding. There are two photographs depicted in Document 2, both taken by Jacob Riis, and found in his 1890 book titled, How the Other Half Lives. In the first picture alone, it depicts a crowded room in a tenement.
Tenements were built to give lower-class citizens a place to live, but were also very frequently overcrowded, dangerous, and filthy. There are at least seven people huddled together inside a stuffy tenement room in the first photograph. Blankets, buckets, cooking ware, as well as bags are piled up around these men. The people themselves do not look clean themselves, either. Tenement situations were very poor overall, and this is exactly what Jacob Riis, the photographer of these images, wanted to make everyone aware of. Jacob Riis was a Reformer who used his camera as his weapon.
His impact on urban areas through the photographs he took was substantial. In the second picture of this document, there is a woman, clutching a baby, sitting in what looks to be a lower level of a tenement. This “basement” situation alone is extremely dangerous. The lack of a quick and easy fire exit only hinders the woman’s ability to escape during an emergency. Tenements themselves were very frail, as well as a fire hazard. Tenements were prone to fires, and a burning blaze would spread across the squalor very swiftly. Despite all of this, hope still existed for the poor living in tenements.
Reformers also wanted to give the urban poor better conditions to live in. Document 7 is an excerpt of a 1931 speech, which was spoken by Halvdan Koht. Koht was an activist and politician, as well as a member of the Nobel Committee. In this speech, Koht presents the Nobel Peace Prize of 1931 to Jane Addams. Jane Addams established and maintained the Hull House in the city of Chicago, Illinois. The Hull House supported the urban poor of Chicago with education, as well as work. Immigrants of Polish, Italian, and Mexican origin, among others, were the recipients of this necessary assistance.
Jane Addams is one of the more wellknown Reformers, being recognized for her diligent work by being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams was a powerful force in the Progressive Movement, she provided a home to many without one, and it is as if she took on the job as a mother to one and all. She was a pioneer of social work, beginning the Settlement House movement, through the Hull House. The Hull House became Jane Addams’s worthwhile and impactful life work. Document 1 is a cartoon illustrated by Joseph J. Keppler, from 1890. This cartoon is an exaggeration of the situation within the United States Senate, titled, Bosses of the Senate.
This cartoon represents how the Senate was controlled by trusts, and in the very end, it represents how the government is controlled by money. The corruption in society, economics, as well as politics all trace back to money in some form. Large cities struggled to provide proper quarters for immigrants to live in, because of the way the government operated; all influenced, or even controlled, by wealth. Reformers wanted to step up and fix all of these problems within the United States. They wished to rise above the ills of the country, and make an impact.
Progressive Reformers wouldn’t accept the way the country operated, and were pioneers for the way of change. The ordinary people were not participants in the government, as represented by a sign over a door within Document 1, reading, “People’s Entrance… Closed. ” Progressives couldn’t stand for this. The normal and average middle-class Americans wanted a change, and worked towards it. When the Progressive Era officially came to a close in 1920, it had lasted 30 whole years. Despite these many years of valiant effort, however, many aspects of Reform had not been completed to their fullest.
The Progressive Reformers, individuals and groups alike, had only begun a fight for change, one that continues even to this day. The Progressive Era had begun when ordinary people believed that government should step up, and take a more active role in solving the United States’ problems. So Progressives stepped up themselves. And although many things were left incomplete, ignored, or left behind, the Progressive Era held many outstanding accomplishments throughout 30 years. Most importantly, though, was how the Progressive Era sparked the motivation in citizens to fight for their beliefs. That has lasted even to this day.