Who Were “the Progressives?”

     During the turn of the 19th century, various reforms were occurring throughout the blossoming United States. Behind the green curtain of change was a group of trailblazers labeled “the Progressives.” Without the laws and regulations put in place by the progressive movement, the world in which we live today would be very different. Perhaps the best known progressive leader would be Theodore Roosevelt (the 26th president of the United States). Roosevelt was widely known as the “trust-buster” for regulating the practices of corporations, as well as his involvement in the National Parks System.


 Thomas Nast’s depiction of infamous William “Boss” Tweed  

       A common practice of progressives was “muckraking,” or a more investigative style of journalism. Many aspects of American life were uncovered and exploited. For example, Ida Tarbell when she exposed the corruption associated with Standard Oil Co., Upton Sinclair with the publication of The Jungle, and Jacob Riis when he wrote How the Other Half Lives. Although these rabble-rousers are generally labeled as “progressives,” they are all fighting for a specific cause within the main issue; The United States needs reform and regulation. The vast majority of Americans felt this way,  yet progressives were often middle or upper class citizens. This is largely due to the fact that they had more time and resources to go up against big business than the average factory worker would.


Ida Tarbell (1857-1944)

“Like many Progressives Roosevelt believed that the country stood at a crossroads – either reform or face the end of democracy.”(Visions of America 539).


     The idea of monopolies such as Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co. go against the principles in which this country was founded, which is exactly why progressives sought out to not only exterminate trusts, but to also enact more labor laws to protect the workers rather than the corporation. Big businesses relied on laissez-faire (little government intervention with business), and the government relied heavily on corporations to increase GDP and strengthen the United States’ economy. The only way our nation was going to flourish was through change. Change was inevitable without sacrificing the freedoms that we have as Americans. Without the enactment of child labor laws, hours laws, and minimum wages, we would be kowtowing to a corporate monarchy. That being said, the Progressive Era brought about endless social and economic justices for the average urban family, therefore allowing the American dream to finally begin.



Keene, Jennifer D, et al. Visions of America A History of the United States Books Edition.           Pearson, 2016.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Jacob Riis.” Encyclopædia Britannica,                        Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Jan. 2018, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Jacob-Riis.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Muckraker.” Encyclopædia Britannica,                      Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 June 2017, http://www.britannica.com/topic/muckraker.

7 thoughts on “Who Were “the Progressives?”

  1. Hi Shannon. I thought your blog post was very informative and interesting. I found it interesting that the progressives were mainly middle and upper class, when the changes they wanted would benefit the lower class more than themselves. Why do you think that they would care about the lower class’ wants and needs? Did these changes affect the middle and upper classes at all?

    1. Thanks for the reply! I believe that even though most of these citizens were well off and didn’t have to deal with the consequences of urban squalor directly, they knew that ethically it was wrong. I tend to live by the belief that humans are inherently good beings (although this could be argued), which would be a good explanation as to why they were willing to spend time and resources in order to help the less fortunate. As for the effects on the upper and middle class citizens, I believe that the Progressive Movement was a great platform to work off of for the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which ended up being beneficial for women of all walks of life.

  2. Hey Shannon, your blog was very helpful and gave a lot of examples of the progressive era. I found it very informing. I liked how you added the “trust-buster” into the article/blog! I also found out that in muckraking is very interesting! if you have ever seen “The Help” that’s what the Muckrakers remind me of.
    Kate Mikulak

  3. Hi Shannon, your blog post was very interesting and taught me more about the progressives. I thought that it was interesting to know that the progressives were in the upper class. I also liked how they did their own type of journalism to inform the public about the “bad” people in the community or employers to watch out for.

  4. This is a great blog post. The pictures are a great addition, but what do they have to do with the article? There was no mention of Ida Turbell with the picture and yet she was a good part of this era from what I recall. And the cartoon at the top. Who was Thomas Nast? What was his importance to the movement?
    This article was very well written, you should talk about the picture too though! You have a great voice through the written word.

  5. Love this post, by far my favorite up to this date in this class. I love the use of famous people such as Roosevelt and Tarbell, which helped to bring progressive reforms before the face of the American people. However, the Rockefeller problem that occurred during this time also helped promote more ideas of how American workers wanted to be treated int eh modern America.

    -Nick Sheridan

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