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The Progressives: Who were they, what did they reform and what was their motivation.

Updated on February 16, 2015

The Progressive Era is considered to be the years around the 1900’s to World War 1. It began in the beginning of the 1900s when social awareness had finally reached a critical mass. Reform became an important topic on many Americans minds. The Progressives wanted to reform their way of life in hopes of making a better and more sustainable future for themselves and their children. “The Progressive Era was part of the period of time that was quite significant in framing a self-conscious, professional public administration in the United States”. (Luton 1)

Progressives set out to reform many things. Society began to take stock and realized that changes were in order. Many wanted reform and regulations on things such as labor and big business’s. They also set out to battle how the lower class was treated. Many battled “garbage removal, playgrounds, better street lighting, and police protection”. (Henretta 581) One of the biggest things that came from the Progressive time was the awakening of so many in the middle class. So many like Jane Addams and Ellen Gate Star realized they had to do their parts in humanity. This became a time of giving back for so many middle class people. Many middle class citizens were looking to fill a void in their lives and giving back to their communities helped. They also set out to reform city governments. The corruption of the late 1800’s had become too much for many to bare. The Progressives set out expose the corruption of many government officials. They also lobbied and won in many cases a minimum wage, which was a huge victory. This began a time where people fought for even the lower classes having equal opportunities.

Another outcome from the Progressive Era was many laws and regulations were passed in regards to the health and welfare of people. There were also a lot of new agencies developed to help ensure that all the laws were followed. Laws were passed for food and drug regulations. People had finally had enough and with the inconsistent and filthy conditions of their food and drugs. It was time for them to all be held accountable and start practicing more ethical business practices.

The reforms also focused on the railroads and the workforce. They focused on many of the labor forces that were not treated fairly. Many of the labor forces and workers were exploited. The greed of many employers and big business’ had really gotten out of control. This time marked a crack down on big business and unethical treatment of their workers. The railroad took a big hit and the result was more government regulations. The railroads had been in a sense a monopoly and the government sought to stop them. The government wanted rates to be fair and they put a stop to discriminatory railway rates that favored certain customers. Another growing concern was the labor force. The workforce was often considered replicable and so they were often worked excessively hard. Business did not always ensure a safe working environment, which led to many deaths. So it was no surprise that labor reform became a huge concern for many Americans. It took the power away from the employers and worked to insure that all employees were treated fairly. After decades of workers being treated as property and expendable they were finally getting the work environment they deserved.

During this time of social awareness the people really began to see nature for the beauty that it was and how sacred it was. For too long it had been used and abused especially in the West it was though to have an endless abundant supply. Finally people realized that this was not the case people were taking steps to protect and preserve their natural resources. During the Progressive Era the Public Lands Commission was started. It helped people to see that nature should be publicly owned and should be preserved. Many Americans began to see the value in conservation and preservation of natural resources. During this time national parks were added, national forest tripled in number and many national monuments were added. During this time the Forest Service was expanded. Finally American’s were taking a step away from their race for the monetary gain and seeing that there was more to life.

There were many influences of the Progressive Era. The late 1800’s had been a trying time for so many that it became obvious that a change was necessary. One big cause of the Progressive Era was the corruption inside the Political Machines. So many people were fed up with the political corruption and wanted it to stop. Prohibition was another cause so many churches and women were crusading against the use of alcohol. Given the lack of employment and the hard times alcohol had become a problem in Society. Suffragists were also advocates for the Progressive Era. So many knew that women and men had fought for their right to vote and deserved it. The voting restrictions that were nothing short of discrimination were upsetting to many. The Progressives knew something had to change. The Progressive cause was also helped along the way by Progressive presidents. Roosevelt felt it was important to preserve the Country’s natural resources. He also wanted to break up trusts and keep big business in check. Roosevelt did his best to break up trusts and big business by cracking down on them. He implemented many Acts to regulate trusts and big business. He also began to hold them accountable and prosecute those found guilty of illegal acts and business practices. Society had hit a low and now even those as powerful as Presidents knew that things had to change.

I think that the Progressive Era marked a time when people finally awoke to realize there was more to the world than just themselves. I think up to that point so many were just self-absorbed that it made it hard for social change. I think that it was great that so many started to support preservation instead of exploitation of our natural resources. It was a time when many had brilliant ideas but lacked the resources to get their goals to fruition. I think that many who set out to reform did so out of a true concern for the society as a whole. There were some I believe that just did it to make themselves feel better. But it does not really matter what the reasons behind the reforms were as long as they helped improve society. I think that people had just gotten fed up with how the rich were running things and exempt from the strife of the lower class. They wanted an equal chance to prosper. The Progressive Era raged into action but had a silent decline to its end.

The Progressive Era signified a time of great change and independence in many areas of our American culture.



Henretta, J. A., Brody, D. (2009) America: A Concise History, Volume 2: Since 1856. Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martins.

Luton, Larry S. "THE TALE THAT WAGGED THE DOG: IS THE PROGRESSIVE ERA THE FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION?." Administrative Theory & Praxis (Administrative Theory & Praxis) 24, no. 3 (September 2002): 439. Business Source Complete.

The Progressive Era is considered the period of social activism and political reform in the United States that took place from the 1890s to the 1920s. They fought to eliminate corruption in the government by exposing the political machines and their bosses. They were working toward a more direct democracy. They fought big business and sought to make sure that corporations were regulated and could not create monopolistic trust. They wanted fair competition in businesses which would benefit all consumers.


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