The turn of the century was the scene for major social and economical change for America. Workers were forced to work in dangerous conditions for long hours with little pay. Industrialists were protected by the government more times than not and workers paid the price. Women were treated as second class citizens who couldn’t vote and African Americans were legally discriminated against. Children had to work to support their families. America was no longer proving to be the enchanting land of dreams immigrants were expecting, America was turning out to be a bitter and depressing place to call home.
Beginning in the late 1890’s the middle class began to focus on the unfair treatment and injustice that was rampant in industry and began to form groups, unions, and even a political party to fight for office. These “progressives” were attempting to fight for the people’s interest in an era of American history that was dominated by laissez-faire economics and big business. The progressives agenda focused on, among other things, work conditions, economic security, social rights, and health. Additionally the progressives dreamed of a government that would fight to protect the interests of the workers and not the greedy business owners. Much of the progressives goals came to fruit through political action on the part of progressives and their associated politicians.
Of all the progressive politicians, none are as well known as Theodore Roosevelt. Becoming President following the assassination of President McKinley, President Roosevelt would soon begin reining in large businesses and begin to implement changes aimed at aiding the struggling working class and the middle class. Roosevelt would soon file suits against large trusts, mediate the 1902 coal strike, and designate national parks and monuments in order to protect the nations natural resources for future generations. Through more unions, different politicians, and combined efforts, things were changing. Laws were being passed to limit the number of hours in a day, work conditions and safety were improving, children were being kept out of the dangerous factories and put in school longer, and health was becoming a topic of concern.
Work laws have been vital to our country. We have become a better educated society because we have kept kids in school, we are a happier society because of better work conditions, and we are healthier because of better sanitation regulations. Our country is as successful overall as it is because of our increase in rules and regulations during the progressive era. If our country wouldn’t have changed from the laissez-faire economic approach, there is no telling how different our world could be. Rampant pollution? No women’s suffrage? Child labor? All we can truly say is we benefited as a whole from the progressive era.
Keene, Jennifer D., Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward T. Visions of America: A History of the United States. Combined Volume, 3/e. Boston: Pearson.