Progressivism in the United States

Topics: United States, Women's suffrage, African American Pages: 9 (3016 words) Published: January 1, 2013
The years leading up to the turn of the 20th century brought with them the on set of change for Americans in all walks of life. Society had not been able to keep pace with the changing world of technology since the start of the Industrial Revolution. This created a huge gap between the rich and the poor and left cities struggling to keep pace with the necessary infrastructure and programmes to provide for the men and women who were migrating on mass to urban areas where they could earn a decent wage working a job which needed, in most cases, very little skill. However, the urban setting also afforded individuals the opportunity to gather in great numbers to discuss issues and become more educated. One of the ways information became more readily available was through the creation of mass-circulation magazines such as the McClure’s. These magazines began to push issues such as working conditions in Chicago meat factories initially described by Upton Sinclair in his novel the “Jungle”, in order to gain readership and promote issues that desperately needed reform. In some cases as in this one inciting enough public outcry that it forced the government to act as they did with the Pure Food and Drug Act, which was established in June of 1906.[i] The tide was turning and the American public was no longer just concerned with industrial growth and the material things which they could gain but also with the ability to have the time to be able to enjoy those items and the rights to seek education in order to achieve the America dream. In this light Progressivism can be seen over the course of the 40 years following the turn of the century as many separate grassroots movements fighting for specific gains combined together under the umbrella term of progressivism to help America improve the standard of living and rights for all who live within its borders. There is no greater example of this than women and their fight to better themselves, their families and their communities between 1900 – 1940 in varied ways depending on regional location, economic status and ethnic background.

The group of women most politically linked to bring about reform during the period from 1900-1940 were white middle class urban women. These women campaigned for programs that were to benefit the working class immigrants in urban settings. Many of these women differed in their approach but were united in their campaign for change do to the conditions being faced in the urban ghettos of the time period. Most of these reformers believed in setting a moral tone within newly created programs by aiding only those who deserved help. The goal was to build a social safety net to help women in need due to difficult circumstances. They believed there was a distinct difference between those who deserved aid and those who did not. They were also fighting for the women’s suffrage movement by demonstrating women’s ability to help themselves. A sense of togetherness was created amongst these women as they gathered to discuss and combine their efforts in places such as the YWCA and the New York Women’s Club.[ii] These clubs allowed a network of like minded women to unite giving them greater political power, a strong organizational structure, and maybe, most importantly, a support group. This togetherness, much like their programs, grew progressively from within their own cities to the national level allowing the sharing of ideas across urban centres to create consistency among programmes. Many of the women also lived together and mentored each other in the settlement houses they created. Such was the case with Jane Addams and her work with many women who considered themselves to be social workers at the Hull House in Chicago.[iii] Jane Addams is the women most symbolic in the early building of these programs. She started the now famous Hull House of Chicago in 1889 with a $50,000 inheritance. It became the first settlement house in the...
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