The word “Progressivism”, simply put, means progress or change. Progressivists believe in the advancements of science, technology, economic growth, and social equality. Beginning as a political party in 1912, the progressive vision changed the lives of working women and children, and has since been a huge benefactor in the economic growth of the American society.
One of the biggest progressive movements of the era was that of women’s suffrage, or right to vote. The National Women Suffrage Association (NWSA) helped women acquire voting rights in the states of Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, and New York, before continuing on to win voting rights for women in every U.S. state with a campaign in 1920. Honorable influences of the movement include Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Carrie Chapman Catt. “Iron Jawed Angels” is a great movie from 2004 that is focused on the hardships these women faced while attempting to achieve political and social equality.
Progressivists believed that government was the solution to almost all of their problems, and that central theme still seems to peek around the corner today. Three of our U.S. presidents ran as Progressives, including Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. Teddy Roosevelt was big on trust-busting, and ran under the idea of turning the government into a “steward of the public welfare.” After the death of president McKinley in 1901, Roosevelt became the youngest president in U.S. history. Roosevelt filed a suit against the Northern Securities and Standard Oil Trusts, mediating the 1902 coal strike.
At the end of Roosevelt’s presidency, he decided to bring his secretary of war William Taft into the spotlight. He tirelessly campaigned for Taft, and secured his spot as the Republican nominee for the 1908 campaign. Taft easily beat William Jennings Bryan, and took office. Roosevelt sided with the Progressives in Congress, while Taft sided with the Republicans. Taft, unlike Roosevelt, was not someone who wanted to add new reforms, and believed the current social institutions were fair. Unhappy with Taft’s decisions, Roosevelt decided to run again for president in 1912 against Taft and the new Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson. Taft was chosen as the Republican candidate over Roosevelt, causing Teddy to run as a Progressive. Due to this split in the Republican party, the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson was able to easily win-over the election, holding 435 electoral votes.
Source: Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Pearson, 2015.