Progressive Era

Topics: Muckraker, Ida M. Tarbell, Progressive Era Pages: 8 (1505 words) Published: June 28, 2008
The Progressive Era was the period of time from approximately 1900 to 1914 in which America revived a

sense of protest and reform. Its "essential characteristic was a belief that all social problems could be mastered by

exercise of the collective will" (Filler 6). Progressivism renewed an interest in improving America's social, political,

and economic ills. It distinguished itself from other eras of reform through its extreme promotion of "activism", or

energetically working to facilitate improvements. The Progressives "argued that social evils will not remedy

themselves, and that it is wrong to sit by passively and wait for time to take care of them" (Hofstadter 4). The

Progressives worked to reform such areas as women's and minority's rights, social class distinctions, business, labor,

industry, and trade. Much of America was caught up in the upheaval of America's problems, and this was because of

the media's promotion of such issues. The media that particularly pushed these issues were called the Muckrakers.

The Muckrakers are generally regarded as the moving force behind the Progressive Era. The Muckrakers

were "a group of young reformers, who, through novels and popular magazine articles, laid bare the abuses that had

crept into American political, social, and economic life" (Werner 189). The Muckrakers were the most memorable

and effective aspect of the Progressive Era because of their ability to expose America's problems in a memorable,

interesting manner. The "Key to Muckraking Success" is described in the following phrase:

"An interesting Muckraking requires an interested public" (Filler 6). The Muckrakers convinced the public that what

they were discussing was not composed of minutiae, but was indeed composed of relevant and important facts for the

entire country (Filler 41). The Muckrakers appealed to the public with tales of injustice, cruelty, unscrupulousness,

and struck at society's heart with the plight of the unfortunate victims of such cruelties. In particular, they informed

the public of the corrupt practices in government and business, and revealed the manipulations of the political

machine. Muckrakers were so talented with the expose` medium that they controlled most of the public opinion and

governmental reforms of that era. As stated in the October 1906 issue of American Magazine, "Yes, sir, th' hand

that rocks th' fountain pen is th' hand that rules the wurruld" (Weinberg vi).

The Muckrakers were often associated with "yellow journalism", the sensationalistic journalism of the mid 1800's. This is a result of sensationalistic journalists tagging onto the "Muckraker" title towards the latter part of the

Progressive Era. As stated by Louis Filler, " ‘Muckraking' has two meanings, one relating to public service efforts

to expose wrong or evil situations, the other involving exploitation of the thirst of popular readerships for sensational

writing and subject matter" (5). However, the true Muckrakers of the Progressive Era did not distort the truth, but

simply made it appealing to the public through "artistic presentation" (Filler 45).

Most Muckrakers were journalists and their primary means of communicating to the public was through

magazines such as McClure's , which published most of the breakthrough muckraking articles of the Progressive Era

(Werner 189). Other notable magazines that published muckraking articles include Collier's, Everybody's , and

Cosmopolitan. Some Muckrakers, however, such as Upton Sinclair and David Graham Phillips, published their

information through the use of novels.

The Muckrakers received their name through a speech that Theodore Roosevelt made comparing the

expose' journalists to a character in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, who "could look no way but downward with a

muckrake in his hands" (Weinberg 58)....
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