The Progressive Era Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:25:56
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The Progressive Era began in the mid 1890s and continued through World War I.  It was a time when individuals were beginning to have concerns with the state of society and how government was going to handle the problems.  It also brought about a belief in human compassion and how new innovations along with scientific investigation could somehow show what the problem was with ways of solving the problems.  Two prominent figures during this era were Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson who were both national spokesmen for the movement.

  The sediment it spread changed society to what we know today, it affected large numbers of people and expressed at many levels the excitement of progress and change (633).  Muckraking was a term used for a journalism style of that time.  Theodore Roosevelt coined this term in 1906 to describe the practice of exposing the corruption of public and prominent figures (632).  This journalistic voice spread progressivism and the ideals associated with this movement very fast and to a large audience.

            Progressivism was enmeshed in all parts of society.  In the political arena it called for reformation of problems that involved city, state and nation.  Intellectually, it drew on the expertise of the new social sciences and reflected a shift from older absolutes of class and religion to newer schools of thought that emphasized physiological explanations for behavior, the role of the environment in human development, and the relative nature of truth (633).  It brought about a cultural change that included expression in dance, film, painting, literature, and architecture.  It became the attitude and a movement that society as a whole embraced fully.

            The appeal of this movement involved a wide variety of individuals that included the middle class, laborers and farmers.  In the business community it gained a large following with ideals of expansion and money.  The leaders were young educated men and women that had experience in law, medicine, religion, business, teaching, and social work (633).  With these young leaders came the ideology of an improved society using their expertise.

There was not one single cause to unite the group, but their one single goal and that was to help create a better world in helping people to achieve this.  Their belief was strong the high compliment of believing that, once they knew the truth, they would act upon it was said by the social reformer Florence Kelley an active participant in progressivism.   Knowledge was an important key in this movement and formed a bond between people bringing them together instead of dividing them and pulling disheartened groups together in an effort to improve the well-being of everyone in society.

            Where Populism came out of rural America, Progressivism gained support across the whole country.  Its starting ground came from cities with individuals that were feeling the pressures of urban living and factory life.  This social justice movement had its attention on the national need for housing laws, better child labor laws and better working conditions for women.

Individual groups of reformers were also able to pressure municipal agencies for more and better parks, playgrounds, day nurseries, schools, and community services (636).  These reformers wanted a cure to suffrage rather than using charity as a bandage.  Instead of individual needs they wanted to focus more on scientific analysis of neighborhoods, occupations, and classes of people for a change to better society as a whole.  This group was most successful in passing state laws limiting the work hours for women and their right to vote.

Another doctrine to come from this era was pragmatism.  A psychologist, William James had a view on the role of environment and its effect on human development along with the role humans had on the environment.  This doctrine became the main mindset for Americans from 1890s to World War I.  He believed there were no abstractions to truth, True ideas are those we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify.  False ideas are those we cannot (639).  Everything was pretty much black and white at that time.

 John Dewey applied this doctrine to education reform and the theme to emerge was that thought evolves in relation to the environment and that education is directly related to experience (639).  This revolution in education addressed the needs and capabilities of the children.  Not only was this theory applicable in education it could be applied to law.  Because law reflected the environment that it shaped, this was throwing away the old concept that law was universal and unchanging.  It was understood that variables in the environment affects the actions of humans.

Reformation of citys and states was another accomplishment of this era.  Municipal governments were desired that would tighten its grip on corporate activities, helped to widen utility regulations and to restrict city franchises.  Efficiency and results were the theme and it was a generation of the belief in civil service.  Though this thought was micro a macro theme was needed and it was understood that government beyond the city limits would need to become universal for society as a whole to get along

.  State government during the 1890s to 1920 worked to stiffen laws that regulated the labor of women and children, create and strengthen commissions to regulate railroads and utilities, impose corporate and inheritance taxes, improve mental and penal institutions and allocate more funds for state universities, the training ground for the experts and educated citizenry needed for the new society (642).

During these years the industrial system had great changes employing thousands of workers and equipped with assembly lines to produce large numbers of any product that they were producing.  Results and efficiency was required to expand the company and managerial skill of the business world be used to achieve this goal.  The innovation of the model T and using the assembly line system was the seed for success of businesses today.    This was a time when big business was swallowing up the small business.

 With this huge growth of business came the debate over trusts which influenced politics throughout the Progressive era.  Mass production enabled industry to create bigger, better and more products.  Yet this also is the time when jobs were very dangerous and unchecked.  It wasnt until a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company that killed over 500 men and women immigrants that attentions on unsafe working conditions were recognized.  Union membership was founded and striking became a way to change how the companies handled their employee who worked for them.  This created more leisure time for employees giving room for play and enjoyment of the arts.

Past time games of football created the fans and movie theaters opened to audiences during this era.  When thinking of the reforms of this era you cant forget the changes to how Americans spend their leisure time or for that matter just having leisure time.   Dancing, music, and even literature the director of the New York Metropolitan Museum said in 1908, There is a state of unrest all over the world in art as in all other things, it is the same in literature, as in music, in painting, and in sculpture (654).  This and all that is what came out of the Progressive Era.

Works Cited




Divine, R.A., Breen, T.H., Fredrickson, G.M., & Williams, R.H. (1987). America Past   and Present 2nd. Ed.  Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company.

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