Progress is defined as the forward or onward movement toward a destination. Near the turn of the 20th century a reform movement occurred that reflected this and brought a hunger for change. This movement was referred to as Progressivism. The people who aspired toward the societal changes this movement could bring were called the Progressives.
The Progressives were a group of people that were a bit difficult to pin down. It was a very broad group of people, who couldn’t be defined by a certain few characteristics. The Progressives were a diverse group of people composed of muckrakers, middle class, and they were mostly women. This group had a plethora of issues that they were interested in tackling including, but not limited to: women suffrage, child labor, political corruption, prison reform, education, old age security, asylum reform, etc.
One of the reforms that was rather successful was women’s suffrage. The ideas and views on women’s suffrage have changed drastically since this time in history up to our current day and age. The typical view from that era was that a woman’s place was in the home, doing her duties for her husband and family. Taking care of and raising the children, and running the household, while the men took care of all political decisions. A speech from Lyman Wilcox sums up this view perfectly, “Now I ask in all earnestness, will women throw away all their present advantages and remand society back to dissoluteness and anarchy, and themselves to brute force in a mad race after Pandora’s box? Childishly grasping after political power and notoriety in competition with men, which necessitates their absence from the hearthstone, divides their attention and energies from home to politics and to all the coarser realities of life, and engages them in a debasing struggle with men in the arena of the outdoor world?” (Thick, 135). He also went on to say that intelligent women were the ones who didn’t want to vote or leave the house, and that, “An aged spinster becomes disgusted with her life and longs for change. She asks for a ballot when she really wants a husband” (Thick, 136). Wilcox talked in his speech about how the sexes were equal and that sex did not determine intelligence. He states that women are intelligent, yet he then goes on to imply that that is only the case if they are doing exactly what they should be by staying at home and letting the men handle everything.
Today’s views on women’s suffrage and equality in politics may not be perfect. But it is a far cry from Lyman Wilcox’s speech and what it once was. Not only do women (and not just those who own land) have the right to vote, they also run for office, are in the courts, and have even run for president. Women’s role in the world of politics has grown immensely thanks to the help from the Progressives. Women now have the rights that men do, and have the ability to bring change to the world through their increased power in the political world.
Thick, M. R. (2018). The great water a documentary history of Michigan. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.