Achievement in American Civilization, 1889-1920. Basic Books, 1984.
When a historian is asked to recall what they know of Progressivism does Robert
Crunden's Ministers of Reform come to mind? Is it a useful tool for examining and
interpreting this period in American history?
In Ministers of Reform, Crunden displays his interest through a strong
evaluation and exploration into the lives of twenty-one prominent progressives. He
credits his affiliation, the American Civilization Program at the University of Texas as
well as his surrounding environment, that gave him the extra incentive for writing
Ministers of Reform. As I began to read the text, I quickly grasped Crunden's argument. Precisely, he states that "progressivism was the climate of creativity in which these
twenty-one people and others who closely resembled them lived. The corollary is that
creative figures who did not fit the pattern found that they had to cooperate with the
progressive ethos. . . my assumptions have included the idea that progressivism
dominated the entire country, and that by voting for progressives. . . the people
participated vicariously in that mood" (277). The progressives Crunden chose to focus
on all hold common backgrounds of religious thought, education, and the strong desire
to have meaningful lives and careers. Most were brought up Protestant and all
possessed the same moral attitude to make American life better.
Crunden focuses his argument around various statesmen, social workers, writers,
artists, who not necessarily were bound to a common platform or members of a unified
movement but who shared many commonalities in their lives that influenced their
attitudes and aspirations. Crunden suggests the importance of Jane Addams by
displaying her strong determination. Addams who was responsible for the formation of
the settlement house, Hull House, was a clear example of the progressive attitude of
morality. The only woman Crunden truly focuses on, Addams' motive was to reshape
the social attitudes towards women. Crunden also presents the Pure Food and Drug Act
as a pertinent feature of progressivism. The laws raised an enormous amount of public
opinion, which progressives aspired to do, generating a slew of attitudes and opinions
throughout American society. The Pure Food and Drug Act sought to reform all of the
unethical and unhealthy functions of meat packing and drug industries. Much of the
public opinion was brought into American lives through journalism. Muckrakers or
progressive journalists were responsible for exposing the criticisms of American life.
Another clear example of the climate of creativity that Crunden emphasizes was the
notion of innovative nostalgia.' Although neither were social reformers, Charles Ives
and Frank Lloyd Wright fit into the puzzle of progressivism by displaying the notion of
"arts for arts sake." Each of these key features of progressivism, amongst many others
Crunden discusses, are seemingly alike. Each want to make American life more suitable,
more sound. They were not radicals that thought every aspect of society was corrupt but
instead were liberals that wanted modification and improvement. They also tie into the
three main goals of progressives, to regulate business, to reform government corruption
and to improving social reform, especially working and living conditions.
The vast amount of sources that Crunden utilizes includes both primary and
secondary. The writings and peer to peer notes between progressives, such as of Ives
and Wright, helps to interpret the moral attitudes of such progressives. The wide variety
of books, periodicals, bibliographies, and essays Crunden utilized proves that he took
many sources into account. He...