Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievement in American Civilization

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Crunden, Robert M. Ministers of Reform:The Progressives'
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...
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