Saturday, October 2, 2010

Was the Progressive Era really progressive?



Please try to post your comment/thought within a week of our Saturday session. Hope you enjoyed the first session!

33 comments:

sryan said...

I found it quite interesting listening to the two very energetic, scholarly presenters at today’s TAH controversy. It shed a better light onto the obstacles that arose during the Progressive Era, most frightening being that of the lynchings of African Americans. After participating in today’s controversy, I came away with the feeling that there is no definite answer to the question posed,” Was the progressive Era really progressive?” There were so many different splinter groups all fighting for change and betterment of life: African Americans, the new urban immigrants, rural farmers, and the women suffrage movement. Even many of the ideas sparked from those who called themselves “progressives”, were seeds planted decades prior. Several of the social changes that occurred during the late 1890s through early 1900s, such as child labor laws and compulsory education, also had negative consequences. So, was this era truly progressive? If the historians can’t agree, how can I?

Mrs. Cone said...

As usual, the answer is yes and no. When one examines the ills of the time and the changes that were indeed enacted as a result of those who are dubbed “progressives,” than it is evident that progress was made. Yet, one could argue that the initial ideas of some of the progressive thinkers were co-opted by politicians and somewhat marginalized for political purposes. It often was the educated and the elite who were leading the movements and not the workers themselves. Had the destitute been able to voice their desires, they may have wished for farther reaching radical reforms. In addition, African American males, Chinese immigrants, and others were mostly excluded from the movement. All that aside, there were a range of reforms that came about such as laws to improve working conditions, improve health hazards, regulate big business, grant women’s suffrage, provide for the direct election of senators, and more. Those were progressive changes that benefitted Americans and helped lay the foundation for further reform in the years that followed.

Mr. DeMatteo said...

Yes – I believe it was because change occurred. The Progressives were not a unified entity. Over time a number of special interest groups and charitable organizations saw the wisdom in banding together into the patchwork platform that became known as Progressivism. The Progress that resulted; whether it be of good intentions or political opportunity resulted in a series of Amendments – laws and ordinances that helped shift public perceptions and attitudes of the American social fabric… over time. These changes were reactive to the needs of the country – in some cases –after long periods of agitation:

16th – Income Tax
17th – Popular Election of Senators
18th – prohibition of Alcohol
19th – Women’s suffrage

Ms. Stewart said...

The goals of the Progressive Era were numerous – state-building, reining in the power of monopolies and large corporations, fighting poverty, enhancing democratic participation, promoting social welfare and social justice, and preserving the natural environment and resources. And the Progressives did make progress in these areas, but I think that Rebecca Edwards made a very good case for the Progressive Era not being progressive, particularly because of rising racial discrimination and violence and erosion of democracy. The disfranchisement of women and African Americans cannot be ignored; the fact that African American men had the right to vote in theory but not in practice is of great concern, especially since it was self-proclaimed Progressives who limited their right to vote in an attempt to “elevate the electorate” according to Gilmore. And this was not only in the south as we might expect; the national trend toward literacy requirements and the resulting decline in actual voter participation over time directly contradict the goal of enhancing democratic participation. Further, the failure of the mainstream press to address the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in the months leading up to the 1896 election demonstrates how accepted this institutionalized racism was. Add to this the fact that social spending in the United States as a percentage of GDP was far lower than we see in European nations, and it seems that the goals of the Progressives are not really being met. In general, while I don’t want to downplay the fact that some progress was made at the time, it seems that in terms of meeting the goals of the Progressives, the era was not as progressive as it could have been.

Chauncy said...

The Progressive Era was progressive because it brought about many concrete changes in our social, economic and political systems that were running amok during the late 1890s through the 1920s.

Politically, bosses had dominated the American political scene. One of the major reforms brought about by the Progressives was to wrestle power away from the ruling elite who would continually be reelected though the corrupt voting methods. By pushing for primary elections, through the passage of 17th Amendment which mandates that all U.S. Senators be elected by the people, they were able to give the power back to the people.

Socially, it was the 18th Amendment where the Progressives made one of their most expansive changes. Prohibition was something that was on the rise throughout the country via partial and all out bans on alcohol in many states. The Progressives spread this movement to the national level through the passage of the 18th Amendment. However, this was not the only social reforms made by the Progressives. Minimum wage, maximum hours, and child labor laws were enacted.

Economically, the Progressives were able to have presidents T. Roosevelt and W. Wilson pass legislation that regulated large corporations. To achieve their goals, the Interstate Commerce Commission and Federal Trade Commission established regulations to rein in monopolies and corporations using unfair trading practices.

So while some may argue that the Progressives were not successful because they only were able to pass limited reforms through their efforts. However, one must understand the powers that they were up against and how the legislation the Progressives did pass laid the groundwork for future progressive reforms by our government.

Mr. Ferrante said...

The book and the session really changed my view of the Progressives. I found them to be less innovative than I originally thought and many of their reforms, like prohibition, go against the popular view of the Progressives. Also, the fact that race did not even enter into the conversation is disturbing as well. Women were given the vote, but not because they were viewed as equals. The picture of the Progressives is very 'murky' for me now. The Progressives now look pretty much like everyone else now - interested in their own issues and trying to preserve their own power. I guess that should not come as a surprise.

Christy said...

The Saturday session was very enjoyable and informative. Although the book was a bit difficult in the beginning, I did find it interesting. Before studying this topic with the grant, I was under the impression that Progressives were just the big name people that we teach our students about. I didn't realize that regular people working toward change could be categorized as Progressives. Aside from middle class men working to secure their political power, there were also white women, African-American women, and immigrants that acted as Progressives. Flanagan writes about the Woman's City Club of Chicago and their efforts to reform education and improve municipal problems. Gilmore writes about African-American women and their role as diplomats to the white community. Seen as less of a threat than their male counterparts, they lobbied to obtain services for their husbands and improve the conditions in their community. Immigrants, while not commonly thought of as Progressives, did play a role in securing better working conditions for themselves, which in a way, could be considered progressive. Stromquist makes his argument using the street car strikes as an example.

The fact that many positive changes were made leads me to believe that the Progressive Era was really progressive. It may not have been a perfect movement, but progress was made through the creation of settlement houses, national parks, food safety laws, laws for workers' rights, and political reforms such as the secret ballot and the direct election of senators.

mnolan7715 said...

I came to the class with a strong opinion that yes, of course the progressive era was progressive. After being assigned the con side however, I began to rethink my initial opinion. While for some it was progressive, there were too many groups excluded, and to label this era "progressive," undermines the plight the various groups such as African Americans whose situation became worse during this time period. The speaker brought up the point that lynching increased during this time period as well as the adage of "separate but equal" became accepted in the South.

In addition, America became less democratic during this time period as African American males were excluded from voting as poll taxes and literacy tests were implemented. Although women may have been granted the right to vote by the end of the period, it was noted that their place in the world of politics became mainly non-existent.

- Weinstein

mgoldberg said...

Our guest speakers on the Progressives were informative, enthusiastic and presented facts that we were able to construct strong arguments for both sides of the controversy. I appreciated that they were engaged in our efforts and understood the nature of our workshop. My group was well prepared for both sides and thought we had good strong points from our research and from our presenters. However, as much as we tried to persuade each other, we were not convinced of both sides. We grabbled at the question that affected our consensus….how do we define “Progressive”? Was Progressive something that created awareness and planted the seeds towards reform for some or perhaps we were searching for a more concrete answer that gave evidence that Progressives helped reform all the ills of society? Why some and not all gave us some insight to why reforms were perhaps prioritized during the period of 1890-1920. Our book reading suggested that Women were ignored during this time even though the 19th amendment passed. African Americans were discriminated with the Plessy v Ferguson decision that reinforced “separate but equal”. It was also suggested that politicians benefitted from some reforms to enhance their political careers and having their own agenda rather than truly supporting reforms for all or some? There were positives outcomes such as Child labor Laws, The Meat Inspection Act, The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passage of the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th amendments, etc…yet others were ignored or excluded. Were they really “progressive” would depend on ones view of what defines “progressive”…

TAH said...

Professors Edwards and May did an outstanding job delivering dynamic presentations that informed our cooperative debates. The information they provided together with the excellent readings from the book Who Were the Progressives? brought to the fore the point that Progressives came in all shapes, sizes and colors and embarked on their crusades for a variety of reasons. Though their motivations were wildly different, the changes that occurred, though sometimes unintended, were for the most part progressive in the sense that they transformed the role of government in the economic and social sphere and improved life for many Americans. Of course, it should be acknowledged that some reforms such as prohibition were not progressive and that there was no attempt to remedy the injustices African-Americans suffered under Jim Crow. However, the precedents established during the Progressive period led to greater governmental intervention in the areas of social reform and civil rights later in the twentieth century.

An examination of the motivations of the various groups of Progressives causes one to ask if it matters that certain reformers were really just concerned with controlling the masses when we see that child labor laws and compulsory education legislation benefited so many. Yes, as Richard Hofstader states, the Progressives in regard to the immigrant masses “…were somewhat more disposed to discipline their feelings with a sense of obligation to the immigrant and the recognition that his Americanization was a practical problem that must be met with a humane and constructive program.” But it was those reforms that led to upward mobility for many of our very own ancestors. And what was so wrong with some Progressives becoming enthralled with organization and efficiency as Robert H. Wiebe notes? And was it not beneficial to a whole community that white women in Salisbury, North Carolina joined with African Americans to organize a cleanup effort even though the reason “…was to protect themselves from the peril they imagined were due to their poor black neighbors’ lack of sanitary measures” as Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore notes?
That these actions that took place, no matter what the impetus, got Americans used to some very significant concepts. For example, all children deserve an education, knowledgeable experts, not unqualified political cronies should run government agencies and people of all colors should work together to ensure a healthy safe community.

It is hard to imagine that without Progressives of all types taking these first few steps that we would be where we are today. Women became used to the public sphere through “municipal housekeeping”. They would use the skills gained as Progressives to win suffrage. African American women too became acclimated to an active role and became their communities’ advocates, first for quality of life issues and later civil rights. Government at all levels got used to intervening in the economic and social life of the people and with the help of experts was able to deal with the challenges of the Great Depression, World War II and civil rights. So yes, the Progressives despite their shortcomings were progressive.

msmilow said...

Professors Edwards and May did an outstanding job delivering dynamic presentations that informed our cooperative debates. The information they provided together with the excellent readings from the book Who Were the Progressives? brought to the fore the point that Progressives came in all shapes, sizes and colors and embarked on their crusades for a variety of reasons. Though their motivations were wildly different, the changes that occurred, though sometimes unintended, were for the most part progressive in the sense that they transformed the role of government in the economic and social sphere and improved life for many Americans. Of course, it should be acknowledged that some reforms such as prohibition were not progressive and that there was no attempt to remedy the injustices African-Americans suffered under Jim Crow. However, the precedents established during the Progressive period led to greater governmental intervention in the areas of social reform and civil rights later in the twentieth century.
An examination of the motivations of the various groups of Progressives causes one to ask if it matters that certain reformers were really just concerned with controlling the masses when we see that child labor laws and compulsory education legislation benefited so many. Yes, as Richard Hofstader states, the Progressives in regard to the immigrant masses “…were somewhat more disposed to discipline their feelings with a sense of obligation to the immigrant and the recognition that his Americanization was a practical problem that must be met with a humane and constructive program.” But it was those reforms that led to upward mobility for many of our very own ancestors. And what was so wrong with some Progressives becoming enthralled with organization and efficiency as Robert H. Wiebe notes? And was it not beneficial to a whole community that white women in Salisbury, North Carolina joined with African Americans to organize a cleanup effort even though the reason “…was to protect themselves from the peril they imagined were due to their poor black neighbors’ lack of sanitary measures” as Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore notes?
That these actions that took place, no matter what the impetus, got Americans used to some very significant concepts. For example, all children deserve an education, knowledgeable experts, not unqualified political cronies should run government agencies and people of all colors should work together to ensure a healthy safe community.
It is hard to imagine that without Progressives of all types taking these first few steps that we would be where we are today. Women became used to the public sphere through “municipal housekeeping”. They would use the skills gained as Progressives to win suffrage. African American women too became acclimated to an active role and became their communities’ advocates, first for quality of life issues and later civil rights. Government at all levels got used to intervening in the economic and social life of the people and with the help of experts was able to deal with the challenges of the Great Depression, World War II and civil rights. So yes, the Progressives despite their shortcomings were progressive.

bkilkenny said...

The Progressive Era certainly made progress in particular areas of American life. It may not have been a massive shift in socio-economics but it did move the nation in a direction of progress. Groups such as women, workers, consumers, etc who had no voice in the public discussion were given some opportunity to make themselves heard. It was unfortunate, or possibly just a cultural reality of time, that Racism was not confronted. But there was still progress made for certain groups to move toward equality and justice.

Karen V said...

I think that the Progressive Era was no more or less progressive than any other time period in which important issues take center stage. The Civil Rights Movement, Feminist Movement, Gay/Lesbian Rights Movement, etc. in my opinion are all progressive. Why? All movements that attempt to move an agenda forward do so by putting the issue in the public eye, and this lays the groundwork for change.

nmusc said...

I found this session very interesting. I never before gave much thought to the complexity of the era. Looking at the big picure...yes it was progressive, Reforms, such as child labor laws and minimum wage came about because of attention brought about by people involved in the movement. During this time people also found a new way to meet the needs of an urban industrialized nation and they reigned in the power of monopolies and large corportaions. Fighting poverty and promoting social welfare became a main focus too. Democratic participation was enhanced and preserving natural resources became an issue as well. But I learned that you can't just lump the progressives into one big group or category. they were different individuals all fighting for different issues, yet this did not make these people any less progressive.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that the Progressive ERA was progressive.They were a group of people that looked to improve US society for the better. Some ideas were very radical at the time, but needed to take our young country to another level of democracy. If there was one area that was a complete failure to implement change, it was in the area of civil rights towards African Americans.

Cindy said...

I found both presenters to be very interesting. Each gave a different perspective on the topic. Since this time period is known as the Progressive Era, I thought it was clear cut; well that was not the case. There were different spins that can be expressed making it harder to define if it was really progressive. I learned a lot from hearing both sides and found it hard to agree with just one point.

Anonymous said...

The Progressive Era was progressive because improvements and changes in society did happen. Some critics believe it wasn't enough. Many groups in society did not experience the benefits afforded to others. To review the Progressive Era and criticize Americans for not meeting the needs of African Americans, women, or Asians, just to name a few, do not take away from the widespread changes that improved our country. These changes take time. Child labor laws, compulsory education and the spread of democracy are few of those improvements. Change can only happen when the will of the people is ready to accept it. To confine the Progressive Era to a specific period of time is stifling. The United States is a truly progressive nation which continues to offer more and more opportunities to those who deserve it. Yes, at times it can be a very slow process, but progressive nonetheless.

Sahmedani said...

I would have to say that the Progressive Era was progressive, but really for future generations and with limits. The word progress means to move in a positive direction. If you look at it like that, than any change for the better would have been progressive. You could say that the fact that there are progressives, calling themselves progressives, is progressive. It really depends on your perspective. Even so, the passage of different amendments would effect future generations much more than at the time. Women's suffrage, although an important step, didn't actually increase women's participation in government much more than previous years. African Americans were held to a seperate but equal status even with the civil war amendments where they would linger for another 2 generations. I believe that the progessive era was progressive because with change anywhere you must ease in to it slowly... it doesn't make the idea any less progressive.

Mr. said...

I enjoyed this presentation. Both speakers had so much information to offer and took a firm stance on the benefits and faults of the progressive era. I think that after hearing both sides, I am in the middle. There are so many movements within the progressive era especially before and after the definitive time period that we can not clearly answer this question. Many social groups were pushing for change years before the progressive era even came to light. For me personally, there is no definitive progressive era. We are always progressing. There are always changes happening to our society but often take years to actually take hold.

-L. Zederbaum

pcostell said...

Compared to earlier eras, you would have to say the Progressive era was progressive as changes that democratized the US occurred. Was it a monolithic movement? No, diverse groups and individuals worked to change items in their spheres of influence, and at times worked at cross purposes. They had a common idea, that change could be implemented! It is in looking back from the 21st Century that the exclusion of African Americans and other immigrant groups appears to make the Era less Progressive, but these Progressives were a product of thier times!

Daniela McKee said...

I enjoyed the reading for this class. I do think that the progressive era allowed for many changes that impacted future generations in a very positive way. While there were many different groups fighting for positive change and not all groups were successful, I think seeds were planted for future civil rights movements and progressive changes as well.

vbronzino said...

The answer to this question is yes and no. The Progressives were humanitarians who sought to better the lives of ordinary people. Through their diligent effort, they were able to make advancements in the areas of business, society, government and the economy. Although it did not utterly change the socio-economics of the time, progress was made that enabled the country to move in the right direction. Groups such as workers, consumers, women, etc. who had no say in public forums were given some opportunity to make themselves heard. It was unfortunate, or possibly just a cultural reality of time, that Racism was not confronted. However, I do believe that a foundation was set for a future generation to tackle the issue of civil rights. All in all, there was still progress made for certain groups to move toward equality and justice. In addition, by diminishing the powers of big business, improving conditions for the consumer, and reforming the political parties our nation was re-shaped for the better. We progressed rather than regressed.

Greg said...

I actually agree with Ferrante. WOW! I just don't think that the Progressives were as great as they are portrayed in text books. They were looking after their own interests and tended to be just as corrupt, bigoted, and selfish as other politicians of the day. Did they change the game? As some of my colleagues have stated, yes, they did help spark some changes that have benefitted our nation. However, they have hurt our nation more by establishing a culture of government entitlements, vilifying corporate growth and individual wealth, and the idea that government is the provider of a citizen's rights, not our creator! This socialist attitude has continued to penetrate the fabric of America and will eventually lead to its demise. I don't think Ferrante will agree with my last few sentences! HA!

kevallo said...

I believe for the time period that the Progressives were truly progressive. In my opinion they were not progressive in the fact that they came up with a lot of the ideas that they were able to push onto society and government because in reality they weren’t if you look at it that way. For instance, they accomplished what the early women’s rights movements couldn’t, the early temperance movement, as well as the Populists. However, the legacy of the progressives has to lie in the Progress that they make. They are able to push through legislation that changes America in the ways that those other groups couldn’t. This could have all been timing, however the progress that they made has carried us in the direction that our country is going today in which people are still willing to fight against the wrongs of Industrial society for what they believe is right, even if it takes time.

Robin J said...

The Progressive Era was progressive for some gropus of people and not for others. Women benefited directly by gaining the right to vote with the 19th Amendment after the long suffrage battle. Jacob Riis' expose on tenements shed light on these conditions and after many years, working, housing and educatonal opportunities increased for th eworking poor. Unfortunately, the plight of African Americans would not achieve very many gains in this time period, and lynchings of African American men increased at the beginning of the 20th century. The plight of immigrant groups also did not improve, especially immigrants who did not fit the mold of previous Waspish type group who had come earlier. The Irish, Italians, and the Chinese all had a hard time with finding jobs and aid to make their transition to a new homeland that much smoother. In conclusion, while the Progressive Era could be considered progressive some groups greatly benefited more than others.

Thone said...

The Progressive Era was as progressive as it could be in the beginning of the 20th century. Women received the right to vote, an amendment requiring the direct election of senators was ratified and major legislation protecting consumers and outlawing child labor should all be considered progressive for this time period. Unfortunately, Progressives were not unified in their goals and civil rights were ignored during this era. Regardless of this, political reform still occurred and American society did improve significantly during this period.

HSEMINTY said...

Progressives did change America. Specificaly, the role of American government was altered forever. Now the federal, state, and local governments would be responsible for solving social ills for society. The idea that government would not be a power to be feared, but a power to be used for good, began to gain traction. This idea took off during the Progressive era, and woudl reach its pinicle during the New Deal. Progressive amendments like the 16th, 17th and 19th allowed for a larger Federal government and a more expansive democracy. However I think the progressives themselves were not so progressive. The movement was really an attempt by elements of the white middle class to keep control of a rapidly changing society. Progressives either ignored or participated in the disenfranchisement of African Americans and women to 'elevate the electorate' Lynching increased during the time period and there was a Progressive focus on women's domestic nature. However, I think the Progressive did lay the seeds for future changes in american that truely were progressive, like the Civil Rights Movement and the New Deal

stapes1976 said...

The Progressives were wanted to better the lives of ordinary people. They were able to make advancements in the areas of business, society, government and the economy. Progress was made that enabled the country to move in the right direction. Groups such as workers, consumers, women, etc. who had no say in public forums were given some opportunity to make themselves heard. I do believe that this put the wheels in motion to deal with the issue of civil rights.

Mr. Toth said...

Of course the Progressive Era was progressive. I think the question at hand is how progressive was the progressive era. This can be discussed in greater detail. Personally I think whether we look at the social, political or economic changes that happened during this era we see progress. Was the progress as drastic as one might hope, no, but this era did get the ball rolling. Due to this I would argue that yes, the progressive era was indeed progressive due to the fact that it started many movements. Major changes were made in the health field as well as education.. Had it not been for the people of this time, the changes that took place may not have been seen for decades later. Muckrakers such as Riis, Sinclair and Steffens helped lead the charge through there writings. Other movements made strides from women and African Americans. This movements no matter how large helped future generations live in a better America.

Mr. Karmin said...

This is another example of a question that cannot be looked at as an all or nothing question. There is a middle ground that must be considered. With this in mind, I believe that it is clear that the Progressive Era was progressive in terms of the changes that took place in society. Many groups like women and workers received rights that they had not had before this time period. The changes that took place in society were certainly progressive, especially for that time period. These movements inspired other movements as well. While it is true that some groups did not directly benefit from the progressive movements of the era, I don't think it is fair to question progressiveness of the entire movement.

Joan said...

After reading Gilmore's book and listening to the "pro" and "con" sides of the focus question by our guest scholars, it became evident that the Progressive Era was not entirely progressive. Many positive changes took place, but the interests of all groups did not improve during this time period. During this era, there were many groups who had their own agendas and considered themselves to be progressive. Many acted because they felt their way of life or position in society was being threatened while others sought social welfare and social justice. They consisted of the middle class white man, white and African-American women, and immigrants.
Many factors that influenced this time period include industrialization and urbanization, the wave of immigration, the rise of big business, working conditions, poverty, suffrage, and health initiatives. Progress was made in the areas of controlling big business, preserving the environment and natural resources, labor laws, food safety laws, education, and political reform. However, it cannot be ignored that the plight of African-Americans during this time may have improved in theory but not in practice. It was pointed out during the workshop that there were more lynching during this time than any other and it was widely accepted in the South during the time Jim Crow laws. The Reconstruction Era was better for African-Americans than this time period. Although their rights were not on the agenda of the Democratic or Republican parties until 1948 and the Civil Rights Act was not signed until 1964, during the Progressive Era African-American women were able to work as community advocates and make conditions better because they were not considered a threat as were African-American men.
The Progressive Era was a time in which several positive changes took place, but many improvements occurred before and after as well, such as FDR’s New Deal programs--many had already been formed and used previously. The door was opened because the roots for progress were there already, but it is important to note who was left behind during this time period.

Mr. Cummings said...

This is a good question because of course it is difficult to answer.
the word progressive means: favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor. So at face value the answer to this question would be, abolutely tes. But... throughout the eras of history, with a few exceptions (i.e.- the Dark Ages),isn't progress made in some way, shape, or form. Whether progress is made at the expense of others, or for ulterior motives, is where the debate can be made. Was progress made for the sake of change & improving society? Is this the reason an era can be labeled "progressive?" Or is the sheer fact that progress was made in many facets of society enough to label the era "progressive?"
It could certainly be argued that the era was not progressive enough, but the groundwork was also laid to create more progress in the future.
It seems that I've answered (or not) the question with several other questions.

CTator said...

For the majority the Progressive Era was progressive, but no doubt it left groups like women and blacks out of the picture. The Progressive Era would prove to be a time of repairing the damage that the industrialization has spawned. The fight against trusts, unequal treatment, religious intolerance and consumer neglect were just some of battles in the progressive cross hairs. This topic seemed to be cut and dry for me, we entered the progressive period with a movement to protect and to serve the citizens, to make a better United States as a whole and I think it was indeed a worthy cause. We left the Progressive Era with the development of the meat inspection act, FDA, child labor laws, alcohol legislation, revitalization of women's rights, compulsory education, charity groups, social programs and not ot mention the progressive amendments. Seems pretty progressive to me.