The Progressive movement started as a social movement to correct the problems that rapid industrialization had created for America and would later evolve into a political movement. In the beginning Progressives, often called “muckrakers ” felt that the problems that Americans faced in the Gilded Age could be solved by a good education, a safe environment, and a safe workplace.
Professor Walter Nugent in his Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction noted, “Progressivism reflected a growing, if temporary, consensus among Americans that major changes in the late 19th century had produced unwelcome, un-American imbalances in their society. Evidences of this were a new class of ostentatious millionaires, monopolistic and out-of-control corporations, conflict (often violent) between workers and capitalists. Reformers began to believe that some form and degree of government involvement was necessary to correct these problems as they pushed for reforms in many aspects of American life. The issue now became how much government involvement.
In 1872, Anthony decided to test the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment by casting a vote. She argued that because the amendment protected the “privileges and immunities” of all citizens, that it should protect her right to vote. She was arrested, imprisoned, tried, and found guilty of voting. Anthony’s trial gave her a chance to bring her message to a larger audience.
In the 1880s, NWSA merged with another suffrage organization to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Stanton became its first president. In 1892, Anthony became its second president – a post she held for eight years. Anthony died in 1906, fourteen years before the Nineteenth Amendment would secure women’s right to vote. The fight for women’s suffrage was continued by others including Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt.
Later a superintendent and then a newspaper reporter, Catt soon became a lecturer for the woman’s suffrage movement. Working closely with Susan B. Anthony, Catt succeeded Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900. She urged President Woodrow Wilson to support an amendment to the Constitution securing the right to vote for women.
Catt found the group’s efforts disorganized, and introduced a strategy to work for a suffrage amendment. The strategy was known as the “winning plan,” and advocated working for reforms on both the state and federal levels. She opposed the efforts of Alice Paul to boycott Democratic candidates who refused to support women’s suffrage, as well as Paul’s more militant strategies. Catt’s perseverance in working to ensure state reforms giving women the vote were critical to securing adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment. This amendment illustrates the constitutional principle of equality. After its passage, Catt founded the League of Women Voters and advocated child labor laws.
She came back to the United States in 1910 and turned her attention to winning the vote for women in America. She earned her PhD in economics, concentrating on the status of women in Pennsylvania. She wished to build on the efforts of earlier suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Paul organized a large parade to coincide with the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. She published leaflets and held daily pickets in front of the White House. She burned copies of Wilson’s speeches, calling them “meaningless words” about democracy. In 1917 she and many others were arrested for peacefully marching. While in jail, she began a hunger strike and was force-fed by prison authorities.
Paul’s actions alienated some, including National American Woman Suffrage Association President Carrie Chapman Catt, who believed the women’s suffragists were becoming too militant. On the other hand, those who were arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights to speak, publish, peaceably assemble, and petition won the public’s sympathy. Wilson ordered them released from prison. He also soon lent his support to women’s suffrage. Congress approved the Nineteenth Amendment within a year and it was ratified by the states in 1920. Paul continued her campaign for women’s rights, leading a successful campaign to add gender as a protected category to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The work of Paul and other women’s suffragists illustrate the civic values of perseverance, courage, initiative, industry, and civic skills including volunteering.
At home, Roosevelt expanded the federal government’s power of eminent domain. He signed laws establishing five national parks. Explaining his fight for a “square deal” for Americans, he used authority under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to take on consolidated companies that took away consumers’ choices. He worked to protect companies from extreme demands from labor unions. He urged federal lawmakers to enact legislation protecting workers, including child labor laws and a bill providing workmen’s compensation for all federal employees. He proposed laws regulating the nation’s food supply. In response, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, paving the way for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Roosevelt became famous for using the “bully pulpit” to advance his ideas.
Roosevelt had his critics. While the Founders believed that powers not granted to the federal government were forbidden, Roosevelt claimed that powers not forbidden were granted. Many charged that the many regulatory agencies he proposed threatened liberty. President William Howard Taft, who succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as President in 1908, said that Roosevelt’s view of “ascribing an undefined … power to the President” was “an unsafe doctrine” that could do “injustice to private right.” Some later historians have called Roosevelt an activist president, because of the way his actions increased the power of the federal government over states and individuals’ lives.
President Theodore Roosevelt read The Jungle and ordered inspections of the meatpacking industry. Soon after, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drugs Act (1906) and the Meat Inspection Act (1906). Sinclair exercised his right to freedom of the press in order to bring about what he saw as a needed change.
In 1892, Wells lost three close friends to a lynch mob. These gruesome killings made headlines, but no one was arrested or charged. As a journalist and a newspaper owner and editor, Wells courageously wrote about the racism that motivated such murders. The press attacked her as a “black scoundrel” for saying that lynching had nothing to do with justice or honor. A mob ransacked her office and threatened her life, but she continued her crusade.
Wells later moved to Chicago where she published The Red Record, the first documented statistical report on lynching. She became a respected public speaker, and traveled widely, lecturing on anti-lynching activities, speaking out against segregation, and advocating for women’s voting rights. She co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.