At the end of the nineteenth century the United States seemed to be racing forward in many areas, such as technological advancement, more efficient manufacturing, modernizing transportation, and of course, making money. America was, on the surface, improving greatly; underneath however, there were many problems including corrupt businesses and a growing lower class stricken by poverty.
In 1900 to 1920 the Progressive Reform Movement swept the nation; progressive reformers rallied for equal treatment and better working conditions; the federal government adopted regulations that attempted to satisfy the wishes of the reformer; both groups had successes and limitations that ultimately led to an overall beneficial effect on the nation. The Progressives, a group of mainly middle class Americans, were intent on bettering their society and preventing a social revolution through a series of reforms that would ultimately allow social progress for many people.
Some progressives wanted to restore a democratic government, others wanted to create more equal opportunities for both the poor and foreign people, and others wanted to create cleaner and better working conditions. They were very successful in many ventures but some of their actions caused serious consequences and limitations. Muckrakers were a branch of progressives dedicated to exposing social problems. The Neill Reynolds Report functions as an example of muckraking and describes the horrifyingly unsanitary conditions of one meat packaging factory.
The workers in the factory were ignorant of the health precautions to take when handling food so the meat was, by the time it was fully packaged and ready to leave the factory, diseased and extremely unhealthy. Some people campaigned for the rights and well being of those who were unable to speak on their own behalf. Jane Addams discusses how educators simply prepared their students with the little information they needed and sent them off to work in factories because they were in awe of the grand new technology and never gave a second thought to the welfare of the children.
She expresses her disbelief at the teachers’ lack of compassion for the well being of the children. The photograph from the National Archives shows a woman holding a sign asking President Wilson why he was sympathetic for the Germans because they were not self governed when millions of women in his own country were not self governed. The majority of progressive women wanted the government to be more democratic overall and grant women suffrage. Women were successful in this because by throwing themselves into the war effort they were eventually granted suffrage.
Many people, like muckrakers, were successful in getting the word out about problems that plagued society but their main limitation was that they did not actually do anything to contribute to lessening the problems, they left it up to the government and other progressives to take a lead on getting things done. The government desired to comply with the wishes of the progressives in order to keep the people happy and also because many politicians were, themselves, progressives. Theodore Roosevelt, for example, was a president with progressive ideals.
He wanted big businesses’ control over the country to be a minimum. He saw a need for big businesses but, as demonstrated by the cartoon from the Washington Post, he wanted to abolish monopolistic trusts. Roosevelt also wanted to create a more democratic government. In one of his speeches he said that he believed that people should have the right to directly elect their senators and also vote in the presidential primaries. The government made many laws and policies in an attempt to satisfy the desires and well being of the people.
After many reports like the Neill Reynolds Report and the book The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act. The Clayton Anti Trust Act forbid businesses engaged in commerce to join together in trusts and therefore monopolize the market. In the act they also mention (in accordance to Wilson’s idea of “New Freedom”) that because human labor is not to be misconstrued as a commodity of commerce labor unions were not to be mistaken as trusts. This made businesses unable to speak out against organized labor.