What did the Progressives want? 

While specific concepts and opinions varied widely among the entire group of people identified as Progressives, they shared several core desires and values. What stands out to me about Progressives is that they want to live in a world where they can thrive. They wanted safe neighborhoods with proper sanitation, playgrounds that allowed kids to be kids, and streets that were free of drinking and prostitution. For their children, they wanted access to more education and safer working conditions (or an end to child labor all together- once again, it varied). They valued putting social good above the self-interest of the individual, which manifested itself in the creation of settlement houses and the Social Gospel. But one of the most commonly shared desires of the Progressives was their desire for a strong, involved, active government that protected its people and would intervene on their behalf.

In what ways were they successful?

Progressives faced many victories over their era, including the presidencies of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson. All three men supported Progressive ideals, although they did so at different levels. For example, while Roosevelt simply disliked “bad” trusts, or when consolidation threatened the public interest, Taft disliked all trusts. This led to the creation of the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914.

As far as the workplace, progressives faced a large victory when employer-funded worker compensation programs were put into place. Since employers now had to compensate employees for injuries that were due to poor working conditions, they now paid much more attention to ensuring that these conditions were safer.

During this time frame, large strides were made in the area of environmental protection, including Yosemite’s establishment as a national park, and the creation of the environmental preservation group, the Sierra Club. While environmental protection wasn’t a key Progressive goal, it did fit nicely with their desire to make the world a more livable place.

Another success made by Progressives was in the food industry. With the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, the government put in place many regulations that insured safer, consumable food.

Where did they fail?

Not every Progressive attempt was met with success. In the US Supreme Court case, Lochner vs New York, Progressives sought to establish 8-hour work days across the board. They did not receive it, with reasoning being that if 9 or 10 hour work days posed no threat, they had no right to negotiate work hours on behalf of employers and employees.

The pros and cons…

There are many pros and cons to the ideals of Progressivism. The largest pro that I can see is that government action results in change. If the government intervenes and puts forth rules and regulations, employers can no longer take advantage of their employees. A perfect example of this is the strikes that constantly took place. Employers would, all too often, completely ignore the pleas of their workers. It wasn’t until the government stepped in that action would take place.

However, not everybody agreed with a Progressive approach. Many claimed that government interference infringed on their individual rights, whether they were employer or employee. One example discussed in our text was one parent when was no longer allowed to let his child work, due to mandated education. This, he argued, robbed him of his ability and his right to parent his own child, and put his family– who depended highly on this child’s income– at risk.

How I see it…

I believe that the Progressive movement was an incredibly positive and important movement in American history. If this movement hadn’t taken place, who’s to say that people of all ages- children included- wouldn’t still be working 10-hour days in dangerous conditions, receiving ridiculously low pay? While I do think that government intervention exists on a spectrum and we need to be careful on how much we allow, I think the Progressivists were really onto something. I also was a big fan of how many Progressivists were women– Girl power, anyone? I loved seeing them standing up for what they believed in, whether that be making sure their children had safe places to play, or working in settlement houses to help immigrants adjust to American life.