In order to understand what the progressives were attempting to accomplish, I think it’s very important to understand who they were first. Progressives had formed their own political party in order to take on their plans. Their party didn’t have the wealth that the upper class benefit from, or the large numbers of people who were part of the working class, so the middle class needed support from the other classes, in order for their reforms to succeed. (Keene, pg 537)
Progressives were attempting to accomplish a lot, and they did. “Progressives wanted to turn America into a middle-class paradise where economic security, education, health, and civility flourished.” (Keene, pg 538) Middle-class female Progressive reformers, were convinced that they needed to fight for their right to vote, because without it they couldn’t keep themselves and their families safe. This is when The National Woman’s Suffrage Association went to work, and began getting women the right to vote in states all across America.
Christian charity also played a large role in the in the accomplishments of the Progressives. They confronted problems of the poor at a settlement house in an immigrant neighborhood in Chicago. This is when “Jane Addams and Florence Kelley articulated the middle-class values that would form the cornerstone of the Progressive ethos.” (Kenne, pg 538) Progressives believed that poor living and working environments created a lot of the social issues that had been troubling the nation. Addams and Kelley began improving sanitation and garbage collection, creating playgrounds for children, eliminating saloons, limiting the hours spent at work, reducing workplace accidents. These all proved to be ways in which working-class environments were able to strive.
Another goal that Progressives worked towards was efficiency and expertise in the workplace. This was first shown by Henry Ford, when he showed how to boost profits, while at the same time lowering manufacturing costs. He continued to improve working conditions, when he offered a five dollar a day wage, for a nine hour work day. This was twice the standard wage rate, and reduced worker mistakes and worker turnover, which allowed for a loyal and experienced workforce, says Keene on page 545. Ford also offered benefits, but only to employees who met the certain requirements. The expertise in the workplace was further improved by Frederick Winslow Taylor, by popularizing what was known as scientific management. Establishing a certain amount of time and method for each specific task.
After all this, Progressives still continued to work for many things, such as women and children’s rights in the workplace and towards the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act. When it came to women’s rights in the workplace, it began with the Muller v. Oregon ruling. This upheld maximum hour laws for female workers. “As healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race,” the Supreme Court declared. (Keene, pg 550) After this, many Progressives and middle-class Americans started arguing against child labor. Many had believed that childhood was meant for education and fun, not for working. However, many working-class families believed that their children should work. Therefore, instead of working to ban child labor, they worked to make factories safer for the children. The people went back and forth, from banning child labor, to saying that it was the parents choice and that it was unconstitutional to ban child labor. Eventually, child labor began to decrease as education took a more prominent role. This is when Progressives focus turned then to making sure that there was appropriate funding, books, and teachers, for each student.
The passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act, all began with Upton Sinclair. He wrote a book hoping to persuade Americans that socialism was the only way to go. It turned out, however, that his book caused people to look at the disturbing and unsanitary conditions in which their food was being prepared. “Instead readers focused on his vivid descriptions of rotten meat, workers’ fingers, and rat excrement being tossed into the hopper to produce the sausage that Americans enjoyed each morning for breakfast.” (Keene, pg 556) After this, the public demanded that the government insert regulation to make sure the meat supply was safe. Federal inspectors were then given the right to decide if meat was unfit for consumption, and they were able to set standards for meat meatpacking plants. This eventually carried onto medicine, when reformers decided they wanted medicines to list their ingredients. Finally leading to the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act.
When it comes to government intervention in the lives of the public, there are many different things you must put into perspective. Many people are often afraid that the government is corrupt, and afraid of any involvement whatsoever. This has long been a problem since the Progressive era. Progressives new that government involvement was important, but that to make the people feel safe under the government, they must end all the corruption that they knew took place in all levels of the government. Although the government may never be perfect, we rely a lot on them to keep many of our workplaces and food industries safe. Regulating set hours laws, safety, prohibiting child labor, setting a minimum wage, and instituting other work laws, are all things that help the industries and people stay safe and healthy. Without it, things may lead back to the pre-Progressive era and we could be facing many of those same issues all over again.
As you can see, Progressives aimed to solve many problems of their day. Although they couldn’t always accomplish everything they set out to do, each small improvement helped lead to the bigger goal in mind. Thanks to the work of the Progressives and the people of this day and time, a lot of us are able to benefit from a much safer workplace, better working conditions, work benefits, and much more.
Source: Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Pearson, 2015.