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Figure 21.1 The western states were the first to allow women the right to vote, a freedom that grew out of the lessdeeply entrenched gendered spheres in the region. This illustration, from 1915, shows a suffragist holding a torchover the western states and inviting the beckoning women from the rest of the country to join her.

Chapter Outline

21.1 The Origins of the Progressive Spirit in America

21.2 Progressivism at the Grassroots Level

21.3 New Voices for Women and African Americans

21.4 Progressivism in the White House


Women’s suffrage was one of many causes that emerged in the Progressive Era, as Americans confrontedthe numerous challenges of the late nineteenth century. Starting in the late 1800s, women increasingly wereworking outside the home—a task almost always done for money, not empowerment—as well as pursuinghigher education, both at universities that were beginning to allow women to enroll and at female-onlyschools. Often, it was educated middle-class women with more time and resources that took up causessuch as child labor and family health. As more women led new organizations or institutions, such as thesettlement houses, they grew to have a greater voice on issues of social change. By the turn of the century, astrong movement had formed to advocate for a woman’s right to vote. For three decades, suffragist groupspushed for legislation to give women the right to vote in every state. As the illustration above shows(Figure 21.1), the western states were the first to grant women the right to vote; it would not be until 1920that the nation would extend that right to all women.

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21.1 The Origins of the Progressive Spirit in America

By the end of this section, you will be able to:• Describe the role that muckrakers played in catalyzing the Progressive Era• Explain the main features of Progressivism

The Progressive Era was a time of wide-ranging causes and varied movements, where activists andreformers from diverse backgrounds and with very different agendas pursued their goals of a betterAmerica. These reformers were reacting to the challenges that faced the country at the end of thenineteenth century: rapid urban sprawl, immigration, corruption, industrial working conditions, thegrowth of large corporations, women’s rights, and surging anti-black violence and white supremacy inthe South. Investigative journalists of the day uncovered social inequality and encouraged Americans totake action. The campaigns of the Progressives were often grassroots in their origin. While different causesshared some underlying elements, each movement largely focused on its own goals, be it the right ofwomen to vote, the removal of alcohol from communities, or the desire for a more democratic votingprocess.


A group of journalists and writers collectively known as muckrakers provided an important sparkthat ignited the Progressive movement. Unlike the “yellow journalists” who were interested only insensationalized articles designed to sell newspapers, muckrakers exposed problems in American societyand urged the public to identify solutions. Whether those problems were associated with corrupt machinepolitics, poor working conditions in factories, or the questionable living conditions of the working class(among others), muckrakers shined a light on the problem and provoked outraged responses fromAmericans. President Theodore Roosevelt knew many of these investigative journalists well andconsidered himself a Progressive. Yet, unhappy with the way they forced agendas into national politics,he was the one who first gave them the disparaging nickname “muckrakers,” invoking an ill-spirited

Figure 21.2

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character obsessed with filth from The Pilgrim’s Progress, a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan.

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, these Progressive journalists sought to exposecritical social problems and exhort the public to take action. In his book, How the Other Half Lives (1890),journalist and photographer Jacob Riis used photojournalism to capture the dismal and dangerous livingconditions in working-class tenements in New York City (Figure 21.3). Ida Tarbell, perhaps the mostwell-known female muckraker, wrote a series of articles on the dangers of John D. Rockefeller’s powerfulmonopoly, Standard Oil. Her articles followed Henry Demarest Lloyd’s book, Wealth AgainstCommonwealth, published in 1894, which examined the excesses of Standard Oil. Other writers, like LincolnSteffens, explored corruption in city politics, or, like Ray Standard Baker, researched unsafe workingconditions and low pay in the coal mines.

Figure 21.3 Jacob Riis’s images of New York City slums in the late nineteenth century, such as this 1890photograph of children sleeping in Mulberry Street, exposed Americans all over the country to the living conditions ofthe urban poor.

The work of the muckrakers not only revealed serious problems in American society, but also agitated,often successfully, for change. Their articles, in magazines such as McClure’s, as well as books garneredattention for issues such as child labor, anti-trust, big business break-ups, and health and safety.Progressive activists took up these causes and lobbied for legislation to address some of the ills troublingindustrial America.

To learn more about one of the most influential muckrakers of the late nineteenthcentury, peruse the photographs, writings, and more at the Ida M. Tarbell archives( that are housed at Tarbell’s alma mater,Allegheny College, where she matriculated in 1876 as the only woman in her class.


Muckrakers drew public attention to some of the most glaring inequities and scandals that grew out ofthe social ills of the Gilded Age and the hands-off approach of the federal government since the end

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of Reconstruction. These writers by and large addressed a white, middle-class and elite, native-bornaudience, even though Progressive movements and organizations involved a diverse range of Americans.What united these Progressives beyond their different backgrounds and causes was a set of unitingprinciples, however. Most strove for a perfection of democracy, which required the expansion of suffrageto worthy citizens and the restriction of political participation for those considered “unfit” on account ofhealth, education, or race. Progressives also agreed that democracy had to be balanced with an emphasison efficiency, a reliance on science and technology, and deference to the expertise of professionals. Theyrepudiated party politics but looked to government to regulate the modern market economy. And theysaw themselves as the agents of social justice and reform, as well as the stewards and guides of workersand the urban poor. Often, reformers’ convictions and faith in their own expertise led them to dismiss thevoices of the very people they sought to help.

The expressions of these Progressive principles developed at the grassroots level. It was not until TheodoreRoosevelt unexpectedly became president in 1901 that the federal government would engage inProgressive reforms. Before then, Progressivism was work done by the people, for the people. What knitProgressives together was the feeling that the country was moving at a dangerous pace in a dangerousdirection and required the efforts of everyday Americans to help put it back on track.

21.2 Progressivism at the Grassroots Level

By the end of this section, you will be able to:• Identify specific examples of grassroots Progressivism relating to the spread of

democracy, efficiency in government, and social justice• Describe the more radical movements associated with the Progressive Era

A wide variety of causes fell under the Progressive label. For example, Wisconsin’s Robert M. (“FightingBob”) La Follette, one of the most Progressive politicians of his day, fought hard to curb the power ofspecial interests in politics and reform the democratic process at state and local levels. Others sought outsafer working conditions for factory workers. Different groups prioritized banning the sale of alcohol,which, they believed, was the root of much of the trouble for the working poor. No matter what thecause, Progressive campaigns often started with issues brought to the public’s attention by muckrakingjournalists.


One of the key ideals that Progressives considered vital to the growth and health of the country was theconcept of a perfected democracy. They felt, quite simply, that Americans needed to exert more controlover their government. This shift, they believed, would ultimately lead to a system of government thatwas better able to address the needs of its citizens. Grassroots Progressives pushed forward their agendaof direct democracy through the passage of three state-level reforms.

The first law involved the creation of the direct primary. Prior to this time, the only people who had ahand in selecting candidates for elections were delegates at conventions. Direct primaries allowed partymembers to vote directly for a candidate, with the nomination going to the one with the most votes. Thiswas the beginning of the current system of holding a primary election before a general election. SouthCarolina adopted this system for statewide elections in 1896; in 1901, Florida became the first state to usethe direct primary in nominations for the presidency. It is the method currently used in three-quarters ofU.S. states.

Another series of reforms pushed forward by Progressives that sought to sidestep the power of specialinterests in state legislatures and restore the democratic political process were three election

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innovations—the initiative, referendum, and recall. The first permitted voters to enact legislation bypetitioning to place an idea, or initiative, on the ballot. In 1898, South Dakota became the first state to allowinitiatives to appear on a ballot. By 1920, twenty states had adopted the procedure. The second innovationallowed voters to counteract legislation by holding a referendum—that is, putting an existing law on theballot for voters to either affirm or reject. Currently twenty-four states allow some form of initiative andreferendum. The third element of this direct democracy agenda was the recall. The recall permitted citizensto remove a public official from office through a process of petition and vote, similar to the initiative andreferendum. While this measure was not as widely adopted as the others, Oregon, in 1910, became thefirst state to allow recalls. By 1920, twelve states had adopted this tool. It has only been used successfullya handful of times on the statewide level, for example, to remove the governor of North Dakota in 1921,and, more recently, the governor of California in 2003.

Progressives also pushed for democratic reform that affected the federal government. In an effort toachieve a fairer representation of state constituencies in the U.S. Congress, they lobbied for approval ofthe Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which mandated the direct election of U.S. senators.The Seventeenth Amendment replaced the previous system of having state legislatures choose senators.William Jennings Bryan, the 1896 Democratic presidential candidate who received significant supportfrom the Populist Party, was among the leading Progressives who championed this cause.


In addition to making government more directly accountable to the voters, Progressives also fought to ridpolitics of inefficiency, waste, and corruption. Progressives in large cities were particularly frustrated withthe corruption and favoritism of machine politics, which wasted enormous sums of taxpayer money andultimately stalled the progress of cities for the sake of entrenched politicians, like the notorious DemocraticParty Boss William Tweed in New York’s Tammany Hall. Progressives sought to change this corruptsystem and had success in places like Galveston, Texas, where, in 1901, they pushed the city to adopta commission system. A hurricane the previous year (Figure 21.4) had led to the collapse of the oldcity government, which had proved incapable of leading the city through the natural disaster. The stormclaimed over eight thousand lives—the highest death toll from a natural disaster in the history of thecountry—and afterwards, the community had no faith that the existing government could rebuild. Thecommission system involved the election of a number of commissioners, each responsible for one specificoperation of the city, with titles like water commissioner, fire commissioner, police commissioner, and soon. With no single political “boss” in charge, the prevalence of graft and corruption greatly decreased. Thecommissioner system is widely used in modern cities throughout the United States.

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Figure 21.4 The 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas, claimed more lives than any other natural disaster in Americanhistory. In its wake, fearing that the existing corrupt and inefficient government was not up to the job of rebuilding, theremaining residents of the town adopted the commission system of local government.

Another model of municipal government reform took shape in Staunton, Virginia, in 1908, where thecitizens switched to the city manager form of government. Designed to avoid the corruption inherentin political machines, the city manager system separated the daily operations of the city from both theelectoral process and political parties. In this system, citizens elected city councilors who would pass lawsand handle all legislative issues. However, their first job was to hire a city manager to deal with the dailymanagement operation of the city. This person, unlike the politicians, was an engineer or businessmanwho understood the practical elements of city operations and oversaw city workers. Currently, over thirty-seven hundred cities have adopted the city manager system, including some of the largest cities in thecountry, such as Austin, Dallas, and Phoenix.

At the state level, perhaps the greatest advocate of Progressive government was Robert La Follette (Figure21.5). During his time as governor, from 1901 through 1906, La Follette introduced the Wisconsin Idea,wherein he hired experts to research and advise him in drafting legislation to improve conditions inhis state. “Fighting Bob” supported numerous Progressive ideas while governor: He signed into law thefirst workman’s compensation system, approved a minimum wage law, developed a progressive tax law,adopted the direct election of U.S. senators before the subsequent constitutional amendment made itmandatory, and advocated for women’s suffrage. La Follette subsequently served as a popular U.S. senatorfrom Wisconsin from 1906 through 1925, and ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1924.

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Figure 21.5 An energetic speaker and tireless Progressive, Governor Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette turned thestate of Wisconsin into a flagship for democratic reform.

Read how Robert La Follette’s legacy ( stillinspires progressives in Wisconsin.

Many Progressive reformers were also committed to the principle of efficiency in business as well as ingovernment. The growth of large corporations at the time fostered the emergence of a class of professionalmanagers. Fredrick Winslow Taylor, arguably the first American management consultant, laid out hisargument of increased industrial efficiency through improvements in human productivity in his bookThe Principles of Scientific Management (1911). Through time-motion studies and the principles ofstandardization, Taylor sought to place workers in the most efficient positions of the industrial process.Management, he argued, should determine the work routine, leaving workers to simply execute the taskat hand. The image below (Figure 21.6) shows a machinist in a factory where Taylor had consulted; he isalone and focused solely on his job. Progressive in its emphasis on efficiency, the use of science, and thereliance on experts, Taylorism, as scientific management became known, was not widely popular amongworkers who resented managerial authority and the loss of autonomy over their work. Many workerswent on strikes in response, although some favored Taylor’s methods, since their pay was directly linkedto the productivity increases that his methods achieved and since increased efficiency allowed companiesto charge consumers lower prices.

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Figure 21.6 This machinist works alone in a factory that adopted Taylorism, the scientific time management principlethat sought to bring ultimate efficiency to factories. Many workers found the focus on repetitive tasks to bedehumanizing and unpleasant.


The Progressives’ work towards social justice took many forms. In some cases, it was focused on thosewho suffered due to pervasive inequality, such as African Americans, other ethnic groups, and women.In others, the goal was to help those who were in desperate need due to circumstance, such as poorimmigrants from southern and eastern Europe who often suffered severe discrimination, the workingpoor, and those with ill health. Women were in the vanguard of social justice reform. Jane Addams, LillianWald, and Ellen Gates Starr, for example, led the settlement house movement of the 1880s (discussed ina previous chapter). Their work to provide social services, education, and health care to working-classwomen and their children was among the earliest Progressive grassroots efforts in the country.

Building on the successes of the settlement houses, social justice reformers took on other, relatedchallenges. The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), formed in 1904, urged the passage of laborlegislation to ban child labor in the industrial sector. In 1900, U.S. census records indicated that one out ofevery six children between the ages of five and ten were working, a 50-percent increase over the previousdecade. If the sheer numbers alone were not enough to spur action, the fact that managers paid childworkers noticeably less for their labor gave additional fuel to the NCLC’s efforts to radically curtail childlabor. The committee employed photographer Lewis Hine to engage in a decade-long pictorial campaignto educate Americans on the plight of children working in factories (Figure 21.7).

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Figure 21.7 As part of the National Child Labor Committee’s campaign to raise awareness about the plight of childlaborers, Lewis Hine photographed dozens of children in factories around the country, including Addie Card (a), atwelve-year-old spinner working in a mill in Vermont in 1910, and these young boys working at Bibb Mill No. 1 inMacon, Georgia in 1909 (b). Working ten- to twelve-hour shifts, children often worked large machines where theycould reach into gaps and remove lint and other debris, a practice that caused plenty of injuries. (credit a/b:modification of work by Library of Congress)

Although low-wage industries fiercely opposed any federal restriction on child labor, the NCLC didsucceed in 1912, urging President William Howard Taft to sign into law the creation of the U.S. Children’sBureau. As a branch of the Department of Labor, the bureau worked closely with the NCLC to bringgreater awareness to the issue of child labor. In 1916, the pressure from the NCLC and the general publicresulted in the passage of the Keating-Owen Act, which prohibited the interstate trade of any goodsproduced with child labor. Although the U.S. Supreme Court later declared the law unconstitutional,Keating-Owen reflected a significant shift in the public perception of child labor. Finally, in 1938, thepassage of the Fair Labor Standards Act signaled the victory of supporters of Keating-Owen. This new lawoutlawed the interstate trade of any products produced by children under the age of sixteen.

Florence Kelley, a Progressive supporter of the NCLC, championed other social justice causes as well. Asthe first general secretary of the National Consumers League, which was founded in 1899 by Jane Addamsand others, Kelley led one of the original battles to try and secure safety in factory working conditions. Sheparticularly opposed sweatshop labor and urged the passage of an eight-hour-workday law in order tospecifically protect women in the workplace. Kelley’s efforts were initially met with strong resistance fromfactory owners who exploited women’s labor and were unwilling to give up the long hours and low wagesthey paid in order to offer the cheapest possible product to consumers. But in 1911, a tragedy turned thetide of public opinion in favor of Kelley’s cause. On March 25 of that year, a fire broke out at the TriangleShirtwaist Company on the eighth floor of the Asch building in New York City, resulting in the deaths of146 garment workers, most of them young, immigrant women (Figure 21.8). Management had previouslyblockaded doors and fire escapes in an effort to control workers and keep out union organizers; in theblaze, many died due to the crush of bodies trying to evacuate the building. Others died when they fell offthe flimsy fire escape or jumped to their deaths to escape the flames. This tragedy provided the NationalConsumers League with the moral argument to convince politicians of the need to pass workplace safetylaws and codes.

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Figure 21.8 On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. Despite theefforts of firefighters, 146 workers died in the fire, mostly because the owners had trapped them on the sweatshopfloors.

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William Shepherd on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory FireThe tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was a painful wake-up call to a country that was largelyignoring issues of poor working conditions and worker health and safety. While this fire was far from theonly instance of worker death, the sheer number of people killed—almost one hundred fifty—and the factthey were all young women, made a strong impression. Furthering the power of this tragedy was thefirst-hand account shared by William Shepherd, a United Press reporter who was on the scene, givinghis eyewitness account over a telephone. His account appeared, just two days later, in the MilwaukeeJournal, and word of the tragedy spread from there. Public outrage over their deaths was enough to givethe National Consumers League the power it needed to push politicians to get involved.

I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound—amore horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living bodyon a stone sidewalk.Thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead.Sixty-two thud-deads. I call them that, becausethe sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant. There wasplenty of chance to watch them as they came down. The height was eighty feet.The first ten thud-deads shocked me. I looked up—saw that there were scores of girls at thewindows. The flames from the floor below were beating in their faces. Somehow I knew thatthey, too, must come down. . . .A policeman later went about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the deadgirls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no. 54 to the wrist of a girlwho wore an engagement ring. A fireman who came downstairs from the building told me thatthere were at least fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh floor. Another fireman told methat more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the building. I went back there, intothe narrow court, and saw a heap of dead girls. . . .The floods of water from the firemen’s hose that ran into the gutter were actually stained redwith blood. I looked upon the heap of dead bodies and I remembered these girls were theshirtwaist makers. I remembered their great strike of last year in which these same girls haddemanded more sanitary conditions and more safety precautions in the shops. These deadbodies were the answer.

What do you think about William Shepherd’s description? What effect do you think it had on newspaperreaders in the Midwest?

Another cause that garnered support from a key group of Progressives was the prohibition of liquor.This crusade, which gained followers through the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) andthe Anti-Saloon League, directly linked Progressivism with morality and Christian reform initiatives, andsaw in alcohol both a moral vice and a practical concern, as workingmen spent their wages on liquorand saloons, often turning violent towards each other or their families at home. The WCTU and Anti-Saloon League moved the efforts to eliminate the sale of alcohol from a bar-to-bar public opinion campaignto one of city-to-city and state-by-state votes (Figure 21.9). Through local option votes and subsequentstatewide initiatives and referendums, the Anti-Saloon League succeeded in urging 40 percent of thenation’s counties to “go dry” by 1906, and a full dozen states to do the same by 1909. Their politicalpressure culminated in the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1919,which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages nationwide.

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Figure 21.9 This John R. Chapin illustration shows the women of the temperance movement holding an open-airprayer meeting outside an Ohio saloon. (credit: Library of Congress)


The Progressive Era also witnessed a wave of radicalism, with leaders who believed that America wasbeyond reform and that only a complete revolution of sorts would bring about the necessary changes.The radicals had early roots in the labor and political movements of the mid-nineteenth century butsoon grew to feel that the more moderate Progressive ideals were inadequate. Conversely, one reasonmainstream why Progressives felt the need to succeed on issues of social inequity was because radicalsoffered remedies that middle-class Americans considered far more dangerous. The two most prominentradical movements to emerge at the beginning of the century were the Socialist Party of America (SPA),founded in 1901, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), founded in 1905, whose emphasis onworker empowerment deviated from the more paternalistic approach of Progressive reformers.

Labor leader Eugene Debs, disenchanted with the failures of the labor movement, was a founding memberand prominent leader of the SPA (Figure 21.10). Advocating for change via the ballot box, the SPA soughtto elect Socialists to positions at the local, state, and federal levels in order to initiate change from within.Between 1901 and 1918, the SPA enjoyed tremendous success, electing over seventy Socialist mayors, overthirty state legislators, and two U.S. congressmen, Victor Berger from Wisconsin and Meyer London fromNew York. Debs himself ran for president as the SPA candidate in five elections between 1900 and 1920,twice earning nearly one million votes.

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Figure 21.10 This image of Eugene Debs speaking to a crowd in Canton, Ohio, in 1918, illustrates the passion andintensity that made him such a compelling figure to the more radical Progressives.

As had been true for the Populist and Progressive movements, the radical movement suffered numerousfissures. Although Debs established a tenuous relationship with Samuel Gompers and the AmericanFederation of Labor, some within the Socialist Party favored a more radical political stance than Debs’scraft union structure. As a result, William “Big Bill” Haywood formed the more radical IWW, or Wobblies,in 1905. Although he remained an active member of the Socialist Party until 1919, Haywood appreciatedthe outcry of the more radical arm of the party that desired an industrial union approach to labororganization. The IWW advocated for direct action and, in particular, the general strike, as the mosteffective revolutionary method to overthrow the capitalist system. By 1912, the Wobblies had played asignificant role in a number of major strikes, including the Paterson Silk Strike, the Lawrence TextileStrike, and the Mesabi Range Iron Strike. The government viewed the Wobblies as a significant threat,and in a response far greater than their actions warranted, targeted them with arrests, tar-and-featherings,shootings, and lynchings.

Both the Socialist Party and the IWW reflected elements of the Progressive desire for democracy and socialjustice. The difference was simply that for this small but vocal minority in the United States, the corruptionof government at all levels meant that the desire for a better life required a different approach. What theysought mirrored the work of all grassroots Progressives, differing only in degree and strategy.

21.3 New Voices for Women and African Americans

By the end of this section, you will be able to:• Understand the origins and growth of the women’s rights movement• Identify the different strands of the early African American civil rights movement

The Progressive drive for a more perfect democracy and social justice also fostered the growth of twonew movements that attacked the oldest and most long-standing betrayals of the American promise ofequal opportunity and citizenship—the disfranchisement of women and civil rights for African Americans.African Americans across the nation identified an agenda for civil rights and economic opportunity duringthe Progressive Era, but they disagreed strongly on how to meet these goals in the face of universaldiscrimination and disfranchisement, segregation, and racial violence in the South. And beginning in the

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late nineteenth century, the women’s movement cultivated a cadre of new leaders, national organizations,and competing rationales for women’s rights—especially the right to vote.


Women like Jane Addams and Florence Kelley were instrumental in the early Progressive settlement housemovement, and female leaders dominated organizations such as the WCTU and the Anti-Saloon League.From these earlier efforts came new leaders who, in their turn, focused their efforts on the key goal of theProgressive Era as it pertained to women: the right to vote.

Women had first formulated their demand for the right to vote in the Declaration of Sentiments at aconvention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, and saw their first opportunity of securing suffrage duringReconstruction when legislators—driven by racial animosity—sought to enfranchise women to counter thevotes of black men following the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment. By 1900, the western frontierstates of Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming had already responded to women’s movements with theright to vote in state and local elections, regardless of gender. They conceded to the suffragists’ demands,partly in order to attract more women to these male-dominated regions. But women’s lives in the West alsorarely fit with the nineteenth-century ideology of “separate spheres” that had legitimized the exclusion ofwomen from the rough-and-tumble party competitions of public politics. In 1890, the National AmericanWomen’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) organized several hundred state and local chapters to urge thepassage of a federal amendment to guarantee a woman’s right to vote. Its leaders, Elizabeth Cady Stantonand Susan B. Anthony, were veterans of the women’s suffrage movement and had formulated the firstdemand for the right to vote at Seneca Falls in 1848 (Figure 21.11). Under the subsequent leadershipof Carrie Chapman Catt, beginning in 1900, the group decided to make suffrage its first priority. Soon,its membership began to grow. Using modern marketing efforts like celebrity endorsements to attracta younger audience, the NAWSA became a significant political pressure group for the passage of anamendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Figure 21.11 Women suffragists in Ohio sought to educate and convince men that they should support a woman’srights to vote. As the feature below on the backlash against suffragists illustrates, it was a far from simple task.

For some in the NAWSA, however, the pace of change was too slow. Frustrated with the lack of responseby state and national legislators, Alice Paul, who joined the organization in 1912, sought to expand thescope of the organization as well as to adopt more direct protest tactics to draw greater media attention.When others in the group were unwilling to move in her direction, Paul split from the NAWSA tocreate the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, later renamed the National Woman’s Party, in 1913.Known as the Silent Sentinels (Figure 21.12), Paul and her group picketed outside the White Housefor nearly two years, starting in 1917. In the latter stages of their protests, many women, includingPaul, were arrested and thrown in jail, where they staged a hunger strike as self-proclaimed political

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prisoners. Prison guards ultimately force-fed Paul to keep her alive. At a time—during World WarI—when women volunteered as army nurses, worked in vital defense industries, and supported Wilson’scampaign to “make the world safe for democracy,” the scandalous mistreatment of Paul embarrassedPresident Woodrow Wilson. Enlightened to the injustice toward all American women, he changed hisposition in support of a woman’s constitutional right to vote.

Figure 21.12 Alice Paul and her Silent Sentinels picketed outside the White House for almost two years, and, whenarrested, went on hunger strike until they were force-fed in order to save their lives.

While Catt and Paul used different strategies, their combined efforts brought enough pressure to bear forCongress to pass the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited voter discrimination on the basis of sex,during a special session in the summer of 1919. Subsequently, the required thirty-six states approved itsadoption, with Tennessee doing so in August of 1920, in time for that year’s presidential election.

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The Anti-Suffragist MovementThe early suffragists may have believed that the right to vote was a universal one, but they faced waves ofdiscrimination and ridicule from both men and women. The image below (Figure 21.13) shows one of theorganizations pushing back against the suffragist movement, but much of the anti-suffrage campaign wascarried out through ridiculing postcards and signs that showed suffragists as sexually wanton, grasping,irresponsible, or impossibly ugly. Men in anti-suffragist posters were depicted as henpecked, crouchingto clean the floor, while their suffragist wives marched out the door to campaign for the vote. They alsoshowed cartoons of women gambling, drinking, and smoking cigars, that is, taking on men’s vices, oncethey gained voting rights.

Figure 21.13 The anti-suffrage group used ridicule and embarrassment to try and sway the publicaway from supporting a woman’s right to vote.

Other anti-suffragists believed that women could better influence the country from outside the realmof party politics, through their clubs, petitions, and churches. Many women also opposed women’ssuffrage because they thought the dirty world of politics was a morass to which ladies should not beexposed. The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage formed in 1911; around the country,state representatives used the organization’s speakers, funds, and literature to promote the anti-suffragistcause. As the link below illustrates, the suffragists endured much prejudice and backlash in their push forequal rights.

Browse this collection of anti-suffragist cartoons ( to see examples of the stereotypes and fear-mongering that the anti-suffragist campaign promoted.

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Racial mob violence against African Americans permeated much of the “New South”—and, to a lesserextent, the West, where Mexican Americans and other immigrant groups also suffered severediscrimination and violence—by the late nineteenth century. The Ku Klux Klan and a system of Jim Crowlaws governed much of the South (discussed in a previous chapter). White middle-class reformers wereappalled at the violence of race relations in the nation but typically shared the belief in racial characteristicsand the superiority of Anglo-Saxon whites over African Americans, Asians, “ethnic” Europeans, Indians,and Latin American populations. Southern reformers considered segregation a Progressive solution toracial violence; across the nation, educated middle-class Americans enthusiastically followed the work ofeugenicists who identified virtually all human behavior as inheritable traits and issued awards at countyfairs to families and individuals for their “racial fitness.” It was against this tide that African Americanleaders developed their own voice in the Progressive Era, working along diverse paths to improve the livesand conditions of African Americans throughout the country.

Born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, Booker T. Washington became an influential African American leaderat the outset of the Progressive Era. In 1881, he became the first principal for the Tuskegee Normal andIndustrial Institute in Alabama, a position he held until he died in 1915. Tuskegee was an all-black “normalschool”—an old term for a teachers’ college—teaching African Americans a curriculum geared towardspractical skills such as cooking, farming, and housekeeping. Graduates would often then travel throughthe South, teaching new farming and industrial techniques to rural communities. Washington extolledthe school’s graduates to focus on the black community’s self-improvement and prove that they wereproductive members of society even in freedom—something white Americans throughout the nation hadalways doubted.

In a speech delivered at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895, which was meantto promote the economy of a “New South,” Washington proposed what came to be known as the AtlantaCompromise (Figure 21.14). Speaking to a racially mixed audience, Washington called upon AfricanAmericans to work diligently for their own uplift and prosperity rather than preoccupy themselves withpolitical and civil rights. Their success and hard work, he implied, would eventually convince southernwhites to grant these rights. Not surprisingly, most whites liked Washington’s model of race relations,since it placed the burden of change on blacks and required nothing of them. Wealthy industrialistssuch as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller provided funding for many of Washington’s self-helpprograms, as did Sears, Roebuck & Co. co-founder Julius Rosenwald, and Washington was the first AfricanAmerican invited to the White House by President Roosevelt in 1901. At the same time, his message alsoappealed to many in the black community, and some attribute this widespread popularity to his consistentmessage that social and economic growth, even within a segregated society, would do more for AfricanAmericans than an all-out agitation for equal rights on all fronts.

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Figure 21.14 In Booker T. Washington’s speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, heurged his audience to “cast down your bucket where you are” and make friends with the people around them.

Visit George Mason University’s History Matters website for the text and audio ofBooker T. Washington’s famous Atlanta Compromise ( speech.

Yet, many African Americans disagreed with Washington’s approach. Much in the same manner thatAlice Paul felt the pace of the struggle for women’s rights was moving too slowly under the NAWSA,some within the African American community felt that immediate agitation for the rights guaranteedunder the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, established during the immediate aftermathof the Civil War, was necessary. In 1905, a group of prominent civil rights leaders, led by W. E. B. DuBois, met in a small hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls—where segregation laws did not barthem from hotel accommodations—to discuss what immediate steps were needed for equal rights (Figure21.15). Du Bois, a professor at the all-black Atlanta University and the first African American with adoctorate from Harvard, emerged as the prominent spokesperson for what would later be dubbed theNiagara Movement. By 1905, he had grown wary of Booker T. Washington’s calls for African Americansto accommodate white racism and focus solely on self-improvement. Du Bois, and others alongside him,wished to carve a more direct path towards equality that drew on the political leadership and litigationskills of the black, educated elite, which he termed the “talented tenth.”

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Figure 21.15 This photo of the Niagara Movement shows W. E. B. Du Bois seated in the second row, center, in thewhite hat. The proud and self-confident postures of this group stood in marked contrast to the humility that Booker T.Washington urged of blacks.

At the meeting, Du Bois led the others in drafting the “Declaration of Principles,” which called forimmediate political, economic, and social equality for African Americans. These rights included universalsuffrage, compulsory education, and the elimination of the convict lease system in which tens of thousandsof blacks had endured slavery-like conditions in southern road construction, mines, prisons, and penalfarms since the end of Reconstruction. Within a year, Niagara chapters had sprung up in twenty-one statesacross the country. By 1908, internal fights over the role of women in the fight for African American equalrights lessened the interest in the Niagara Movement. But the movement laid the groundwork for thecreation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909.Du Bois served as the influential director of publications for the NAACP from its inception until 1933. Asthe editor of the journal The Crisis, Du Bois had a platform to express his views on a variety of issues facingAfrican Americans in the later Progressive Era, as well as during World War I and its aftermath.

In both Washington and Du Bois, African Americans found leaders to push forward the fight for theirplace in the new century, each with a very different strategy. Both men cultivated ground for a newgeneration of African American spokespeople and leaders who would then pave the road to the moderncivil rights movement after World War II.

21.4 Progressivism in the White House

By the end of this section, you will be able to:• Explain the key features of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal”• Explain the key features of William Howard Taft’s Progressive agenda• Identify the main pieces of legislation that Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom” agenda


Progressive groups made tremendous strides on issues involving democracy, efficiency, and social justice.But they found that their grassroots approach was ill-equipped to push back against the most powerfulbeneficiaries of growing inequality, economic concentration, and corruption—big business. In their fightagainst the trusts, Progressives needed the leadership of the federal government, and they found it in

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Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, through an accident of history.

In 1900, a sound economic recovery, a unifying victory in the Spanish-American War, and the annexationof the Philippines had helped President William McKinley secure his reelection with the first solid popularmajority since 1872. His new vice president was former New York Governor and Assistant Secretary ofthe Navy, Theodore Roosevelt. But when an assassin shot and killed President McKinley in 1901 (Figure21.16) at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, Theodore Roosevelt unexpectedly becamethe youngest president in the nation’s history. More importantly, it ushered in a new era of progressivenational politics and changed the role of the presidency for the twentieth century.

Figure 21.16 President William McKinley’s assassination (a) at the hands of an anarchist made Theodore Roosevelt(b) the country’s youngest president.


Roosevelt’s early career showed him to be a dynamic leader with a Progressive agenda. Many RepublicanParty leaders disliked Roosevelt’s Progressive ideas and popular appeal and hoped to end his career witha nomination to the vice presidency—long considered a dead end in politics. When an assassin’s bullettoppled this scheme, Mark Hanna, a prominent Republican senator and party leader, lamented, “Nowlook! That damned cowboy is now president!”

As the new president, however, Roosevelt moved cautiously with his agenda while he finished outMcKinley’s term. Roosevelt kept much of McKinley’s cabinet intact, and his initial message to Congressgave only one overriding Progressive goal for his presidency: to eliminate business trusts. In the threeyears prior to Roosevelt’s presidency, the nation had witnessed a wave of mergers and the creation ofmega-corporations. To counter this trend, Roosevelt created the Department of Commerce and Labor in1903, which included the Bureau of Corporations, whose job it was to investigate trusts. He also askedthe Department of Justice to resume prosecutions under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Intended toempower federal prosecutors to ban monopolies as conspiracies against interstate trade, the law had runafoul of a conservative Supreme Court.

In 1902, Roosevelt launched his administration’s first antitrust suit against the Northern Securities TrustCompany, which included powerful businessmen, like John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, andcontrolled many of the large midwestern railroads. The suit wound through the judicial system, all theway to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1904, the highest court in the land ultimately affirmed the rulingto break up the trust in a narrow five-to-four vote. For Roosevelt, that was enough of a mandate;he immediately moved against other corporations as well, including the American Tobacco Companyand—most significantly—Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company.

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Although Roosevelt enjoyed the nickname “the Trustbuster,” he did not consider all trusts dangerousto the public welfare. The “good trusts,” Roosevelt reasoned, used their power in the marketplace andeconomies of scale to deliver goods and services to customers more cheaply. For example, he allowedMorgan’s U.S. Steel Corporation to continue its operations and let it take over smaller steel companies. Atthe same time, Roosevelt used the presidency as a “bully pulpit” to publicly denounce “bad trusts”—thosecorporations that exploited their market positions for short-term gains—before he ordered prosecutions bythe Justice Department. In total, Roosevelt initiated over two dozen successful anti-trust suits, more thanany president before him.

Roosevelt also showed in other contexts that he dared to face the power of corporations. When ananthracite coal strike gripped the nation for much of the year in 1902, Roosevelt directly intervened in thedispute and invited both sides to the White House to negotiate a deal that included minor wage increasesand a slight improvement in working hours. For Roosevelt, his intervention in the matter symbolizedhis belief that the federal government should adopt a more proactive role and serve as a steward of allAmericans (Figure 21.17). This stood in contrast to his predecessors, who had time and again bolsteredindustrialists in their fight against workers’ rights with the deployment of federal troops.

Figure 21.17 This cartoon shows President Roosevelt disciplining coal barons like J. P. Morgan, threatening to beatthem with a stick labeled “Federal Authority.” It illustrates Roosevelt’s new approach to business.


Roosevelt won his second term in 1904 with an overwhelming 57 percent of the popular vote. After theelection, he moved quickly to enact his own brand of Progressivism, which he called a Square Deal forthe American people. Early in his second term, Roosevelt read muckraker Upton Sinclair’s 1905 novel andexposé on the meatpacking industry, The Jungle. Although Roosevelt initially questioned the book dueto Sinclair’s professed Socialist leanings, a subsequent presidential commission investigated the industryand corroborated the deplorable conditions under which Chicago’s meatpackers processed meats forAmerican consumers. Alarmed by the results and under pressure from an outraged public disgusted withthe revelations, Roosevelt moved quickly to protect public health. He urged the passage of two laws todo so. The first, the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, established a system of government inspection for meatproducts, including grading the meat based on its quality. This standard was also used for importedmeats. The second was the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which required labels on all food anddrug products that clearly stated the materials in the product. The law also prohibited any “adulterated”

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products, a measure aimed at some specific, unhealthy food preservatives. For Sinclair, this outcomewas a disappointment nonetheless, since he had sought to draw attention to the plight of workers in theslaughterhouses, not the poor quality of the meat products. “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accidentI hit it in the stomach,” he concluded with frustration.

Another key element of Roosevelt’s Progressivism was the protection of public land (Figure 21.18).Roosevelt was a longtime outdoorsman, with an interest that went back to his childhood and collegedays, as well as his time cattle ranching in the West, and he chose to appoint his good friend GiffordPinchot as the country’s first chief of the newly created U.S. Forestry Service. Under Pinchot’s supervision,the department carved out several nature habitats on federal land in order to preserve the nation’senvironmental beauty and protect it from development or commercial use. Apart from national parks likeOregon’s Crater Lake or Colorado’s Mesa Verde, and monuments designed for preservation, Rooseveltconserved public land for regulated use for future generations. To this day, the 150 national forests createdunder Roosevelt’s stewardship carry the slogan “land of many uses.” In all, Roosevelt established eighteennational monuments, fifty-one federal bird preserves, five national parks, and over one hundred fiftynational forests, which amounted to about 230 million acres of public land.

Figure 21.18 Theodore Roosevelt’s interest in the protection of public lands was encouraged by conservationistssuch as John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, with whom he toured Yosemite National Park in California, ca. 1906.

In his second term in office, Roosevelt signed legislation on Progressive issues such as factory inspections,child labor, and business regulation. He urged the passage of the Elkins Act of 1903 and the HepburnAct of 1906, both of which strengthened the position of the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulaterailroad prices. These laws also extended the Commission’s authority to regulate interstate transportationon bridges, ferries, and even oil pipelines.

As the 1908 election approached, Roosevelt was at the height of popularity among the American public,if not among the big businesses and conservative leaders of his own Republican Party. Nonetheless, hepromised on the night of his reelection in 1904 that he would not seek a third term. Roosevelt steppedaside as the election approached, but he did hand-pick a successor—Secretary of War and former GovernorGeneral of the Philippines William Howard Taft of Ohio—a personal friend who, he assured the Americanpublic, would continue the path of the “Square Deal” (Figure 21.19). With such a ringing endorsement,Taft easily won the 1908 presidential election, defeating three-time Democratic presidential nomineeWilliam Jennings Bryan, whose ideas on taxes and corporate regulations reminded voters of the more far-reaching Populist platforms of Bryan’s past candidacies.

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Figure 21.19 This photograph (a) of Theodore Roosevelt (left) and his hand-picked successor William Howard Taft(right) just before Taft’s inauguration in 1909, was echoed in a Puck magazine cartoon (b) where “cowboy” Roosevelthands off his “Policies” baby to “nurse-maid” Taft. Taft was seen, initially at least, as being a president who wouldcontinue Roosevelt’s same policies.

Explore the Theodore Roosevelt Center ( at Dickinson State University for a wealth of information onTheodore Roosevelt, including details of his early life before the presidency andtranscripts from several of his speeches.


Although six feet tall and nearly 340 pounds, as Roosevelt’s successor, Taft had big shoes to fill. The publicexpected much from Roosevelt’s hand-picked replacement, as did Roosevelt himself, who kept a watchfuleye over Taft’s presidency.

The new president’s background suggested he would be a strong administrator. He had previously servedas the governor of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War, had a distinguished judicialcareer, and served as Roosevelt’s Secretary of War from 1904 to 1908. Republican leaders, however, wereanxious to reestablish tighter control over the party after Roosevelt’s departure, and they left Taft littleroom to maneuver. He stayed the course of his predecessor by signing the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910,which extended the authority of the Interstate Commerce Commission over telephones and telegraphs.Additionally, during his tenure, Congress proposed constitutional amendments to authorize a federalincome tax and mandate the direct election of U.S. senators. But even though Taft initiated twice as manyantitrust suits against big business as Roosevelt, he lacked the political negotiating skills and focus on thepublic good of his predecessor, who felt betrayed when Taft took J.P. Morgan’s U.S. Steel Corporation tocourt over an acquisition that Roosevelt had promised Morgan would not result in a prosecution.

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Political infighting within his own party exposed the limitations of Taft’s presidential authority, especiallyon the issue of protective tariffs. When House Republicans passed a measure to significantly reduce tariffson several imported goods, Taft endorsed the Senate version, later known as the Payne-Aldrich Act of1909, which raised tariff rates on over eight hundred products in the original bill. Taft also angeredProgressives in his own party when he created the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1912, viewed by many asan attempt to offset the growing influence of the labor union movement at the time. The rift between Taftand his party’s Progressives widened when the president supported conservative party candidates for the1910 House and Senate elections.

Taft’s biggest political blunder came in the area of land conservation. In 1909, Taft’s Secretary of theInterior, Richard Ballinger, approved the sale of millions of acres of federal land to a company for whichhe had previously worked over Gifford Pinchot’s objections. Pinchot publicly criticized the secretary forviolating the principle of conservation and for his conflict of interest—a charge that in the public debatealso reflected on the president. Taft fired Pinchot, a move that widened the gap between him and theformer president. Upon his return from Africa, Roosevelt appeared primed to attack. He referred to thesitting president as a “fathead” and a “puzzlewit,” and announced his intention to “throw my hat in thering for the 1912 presidential election.”


Although not as flamboyant or outwardly progressive as Roosevelt, Taft’s organizational skills andgenerally solid performance as president aligned with the party leadership’s concerns over anotherRoosevelt presidency and secured for him the Republican Party’s nomination. Angry over this snub, in1912, Roosevelt and the other Progressive Republicans bolted from the Republican Party and formed theProgressive Party. His popularity had him hoping to win the presidential race as a third-party candidate.When he survived an assassination attempt in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in October 1912—the assassin’sbullet hit his eyeglass case and only injured him superficially—he turned the near-death experience intoa political opportunity. Insisting upon delivering the speech before seeking medical attention, he told thecrowd, “It takes more than a bullet to kill a bull moose!” The moniker stuck, and Roosevelt’s ProgressiveParty would be known as the Bull Moose Party for the remainder of the campaign (Figure 21.20).

Figure 21.20 Theodore Roosevelt, now running as the Progressive Party, or Bull Moose Party, candidate, createdan unprecedented moment in the country’s history, where a former president was running against both an incumbentpresident and a future president.

The Democrats realized that a split Republican Party gave them a good chance of regaining the WhiteHouse for the first time since 1896. They found their candidate in the Progressive governor of New

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Jersey, Woodrow Wilson. A former history professor and president at Princeton University, Wilson had anacademic demeanor that appealed to many Progressive reformers. Many Democrats also viewed Wilsonas a Washington outsider who had made far fewer political enemies than Roosevelt and Taft.

Taft never truly campaigned for the post, did not deliver a single speech, and did not seem like aserious contender. In their campaigns, Roosevelt and Wilson formulated competing Progressive platforms.Wilson described his more moderate approach as one of New Freedom, which stood for a smaller federalgovernment to protect public interests from the evils associated with big businesses and banks. Rooseveltcampaigned on the promise of New Nationalism, a charge that he said required a vigorous and powerfulfederal government to protect public interests. He sought to capitalize on the stewardship approach thathe had made famous during his previous administration.

Wilson won the 1912 election with over six million votes, with four million votes going to Roosevelt andthree and one-half million for Taft. The internal split among Republicans not only cost them the WhiteHouse but control of the Senate as well—and Democrats had already won a House majority in 1910.Wilson won the presidency with just 42 percent of the popular vote, which meant that he would have tosway a large number of voters should he have any aspirations for a second term.

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The Unprecedented Election of 1912In his 2002 article on the 1912 election, historian Sidney M. Milkis writes,

The Progressive Party’s “compromise” with public opinion in the United States points to itslegacy for American politics and government. Arguably, the failure of the 1912 experiment andthe Progressive Party’s demise underscore the incoherence of the Progressive movement.Nevertheless, it was neither the Democrats, nor the Republicans, nor the Socialists who setthe tone of the 1912 campaign. It was the Progressives. Beyond the 1912 election, theirprogram of political and social reform has been an enduring feature of American politicaldiscourse and electoral struggle. The Progressive Party forged a path of reform that left bothsocial democracy and conservatism—Taft’s constitutional sobriety—behind. Similarly, T.R.’scelebrity, and the popularity of the Progressive doctrine of the people’s right to rule, tendedto subordinate the more populist to the more plebiscitary schemes in the platform, such asthe initiative, the referendum, and the direct primary, which exalted not the “grass roots”but mass opinion. Indeed, in the wake of the excitement aroused by the Progressive Party,Wilson, whose New Freedom campaign was far more sympathetic to the decentralized stateof courts and parties than T.R.’s, felt compelled, as president, to govern as a New NationalistProgressive.

It is interesting to think of how this most unusual election—one with three major candidates that pitted aformer president against an incumbent and a major party contender—related to the larger Progressivemovement. The cartoon below is only one of many cartoons of that era that sought to point out thedifferences between the candidates (Figure 21.21). While Roosevelt and the Progressive Party ultimatelylost the election, they required the dialogue of the campaign to remain on the goals of Progressivism,particularly around more direct democracy and business regulation. The American public responded withfervor to Roosevelt’s campaign, partly because of his immense popularity, but partly also because heespoused a kind of direct democracy that gave people a voice in federal politics. Although Wilson and hisNew Freedom platform won the election, his presidency undertook a more activist role than his campaignsuggested. The American public had made clear that, no matter who sat in the White House, they wereseeking a more progressive America.

Figure 21.21 This cartoon, from the 1912 election, parodies how the voters might perceive the threemajor candidates. As can be seen, Taft was never a serious contender.


When Wilson took office in March 1913, he immediately met with Congress to outline his New Freedom

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agenda for how progressive interests could be best preserved. His plan was simple: regulate the banksand big businesses, and lower tariff rates to increase international trade, increasing competition in theinterest of consumers. Wilson took the unusual step of calling a special session of Congress in April 1913 totackle the tariff question, which resulted in the Revenue Act of 1913, also known as the Underwood TariffAct. This legislation lowered tariff rates across the board by approximately 15 percent and completelyeliminated tariffs on several imports, including steel, iron ore, woolen products, and farm tools. To offsetthe potential loss of federal revenue, this new law reinstituted the federal income tax, which followed theratification of the Sixteenth Amendment. This first income tax required married couples who earned $4000or more, and single people who earned $3000 or more, to pay a 1-percent, graduated income tax, with thetax rate getting progressively higher for those who earned more.

Late in 1913, Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act to regulate the banking industry and establish afederal banking system (Figure 21.22). Designed to remove power over interest rates from the hands ofprivate bankers, the new system created twelve privately owned regional reserve banks regulated by apresidentially appointed Federal Reserve Board. The Board, known informally as the Fed, regulated theinterest rate at which reserve banks loaned or distributed money to other banks around the country. Thus,when economic times were challenging, such as during a recession, the Fed could lower this “discountrate” and encourage more borrowing, which put more currency in circulation for people to spend orinvest. Conversely, the Fed could curb inflationary trends with interest hikes that discouraged borrowing.This system is still the basis for the country’s modern banking model.

Figure 21.22 With the creation of the Federal Reserve Board, President Wilson set the stage for the modernbanking system (a). This restructuring of the American financial system, which included the authorization of a federalincome tax, was supported in large part by an influential Republican senator from Rhode Island, Nelson Aldrich (b),co-author of the Payne-Aldrich Act of 1909.

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The history of the Federal Reserve Act ( explored in The Washington Post, reflecting back on the act one hundred years later.

In early 1914, Wilson completed his New Freedom agenda with the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act.This law expanded the power of the original Sherman Antitrust Act in order to allow the investigationand dismantling of more monopolies. The new act also took on the “interlocking directorates”—competingcompanies that still operated together in a form of oligopoly or conspiracy to restrain trade. His NewFreedom agenda complete, Wilson turned his attention to foreign affairs, as war was quicklyencompassing Europe.


As the 1916 election approached, Wilson’s focus on foreign affairs, as well as the natural effect of hissmall government agenda, left the 60 percent of the American public who had not voted for him the firsttime disinclined to change their minds and keep him in office. Realizing this, Wilson began a flurry ofnew Progressive reforms that impressed the voting public and ultimately proved to be the last wave ofthe Progressive Era. Some of the important measures that Wilson undertook to pass included the FederalFarm Act, which provided oversight of low-interest loans to millions of farmers in need of debt relief;the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act, which, although later deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. SupremeCourt, prohibited the interstate distribution of products by child workers under the age of fourteen;and the Adamson Act, which put in place the first federally mandated eight-hour workday for railroadworkers.

Wilson also gained significant support from Jewish voters with his 1916 appointment of the first JewishU.S. Supreme Court justice, Louis D. Brandeis. Popular among social justice Progressives, Brandeis wenton to become one of the most renowned justices on the court for his defense of freedom of speech andright to privacy issues. Finally, Wilson gained the support of many working-class voters with his defenseof labor and union rights during a violent coal strike in Ludlow, Colorado, as well as his actions to forestalla potential railroad strike with the passage of the aforementioned Adamson Act.

Wilson’s actions in 1916 proved enough, but barely. In a close presidential election, he secured a secondterm by defeating former New York governor Charles Evans Hughes by a scant twenty-three electoralvotes, and less than 600,000 popular votes. Influential states like Minnesota and New Hampshire weredecided by less than four hundred votes.

Despite the fact that he ran for reelection with the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of the War,” Wilson could notavoid the reach of World War I much longer. For Wilson and the American public, the Progressive Erawas rapidly winding down. Although a few Progressive achievements were still to come in the areas ofwomen’s suffrage and prohibition, the country would soon be gripped by the war that Wilson had tried toavoid during his first term in office. When he took the oath for his second term, on March 4, 1917, Wilsonwas barely five weeks away from leading the United States in declaring war on Germany, a move thatwould put an end to the Progressive Era.

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Atlanta Compromise

direct primary




New Freedom

New Nationalism

Niagara Movement

Progressive Party




Silent Sentinels

Square Deal


Wisconsin Idea

Key Terms

Booker T. Washington’s speech, given at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, where heurged African Americans to work hard and get along with others in their white

communities, so as to earn the goodwill of the country

a political reform that allowed for the nomination of candidates through a direct vote byparty members, rather than by the choice of delegates at conventions; in the South, this

strengthened all-white solidarity within the Democratic Party

a proposed law, or initiative, placed on the ballot by public petition

investigative journalists and authors who wrote about social ills, from child labor to thecorrupt business practices of big businesses, and urged the public to take action

the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights organizationformed in 1909 by an interracial coalition including W. E. B. Du Bois and Florence Kelley

Woodrow Wilson’s campaign platform for the 1912 election that called for a small federalgovernment to protect public interests from the evils associated with bad businesses

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 campaign platform, which called for a powerful federalgovernment to protect the American public

a campaign led by W. E. B. Du Bois and other prominent African Americanreformers that departed from Booker T. Washington's model of accommodation and

advocated for a “Declaration of Principles” that called for immediate political, social, and economicequality for African Americans

a political party started by Roosevelt and other Progressive Republicans who wereunhappy with Taft and wanted Roosevelt to run for a nonconsecutive third term in


a broad movement between 1896 and 1916 led by white, middle-class professionals forlegal, scientific, managerial, and institutional solutions to the ills of urbanization,

industrialization, and corruption

to remove a public official from office by virtue of a petition and vote process

a process that allows voters to counteract legislation by putting an existing law on the ballotfor voters to either affirm or reject

women protesters who picketed the White House for years to protest for women’s rightto vote; they went on a hunger strike after their arrest, and their force-feeding became a

national scandal

Theodore Roosevelt’s name for the kind of involved, hands-on government he felt thecountry needed

a system named for Fredrick Winslow Taylor, aimed at improving factory efficiency ratesthrough the principle of standardization; Taylor’s model limited workers to repetitive tasks,

reducing human contact and opportunities to think or collaborate

a political system created by Robert La Follette, governor of Wisconsin, that embodiedmany progressive ideals; La Follette hired experts to advise him on improving

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conditions in his state

a nickname for the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical Progressive group that grew outof the earlier labor movement and desired an industrial union model of labor organization

Summary21.1 The Origins of the Progressive Spirit in AmericaIn its first decade, the Progressive Era was a grassroots effort that ushered in reforms at state andlocal levels. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, Progressive endeavors captured theattention of the federal government. The challenges of the late nineteenth century were manifold: fast-growing cities that were ill-equipped to house the working poor, hands-off politicians shackled intoimpotence by their system of political favors, and rural Americans struggling to keep their farms afloat.The muckraking journalists of the era published books and articles highlighting the social inequities ofthe day and extolling everyday Americans to help find solutions. Educated, middle-class, Anglo-SaxonProtestants dominated the movement, but Progressives were not a homogenous group: The movementcounted African Americans, both women and men, and urban as well as rural dwellers among its ranks.Progressive causes ranged from anti-liquor campaigns to fair pay. Together, Progressives sought toadvance the spread of democracy, improve efficiency in government and industry, and promote socialjustice.

21.2 Progressivism at the Grassroots LevelProgressive campaigns stretched from the hurricane-ruined townships of Texas to the slums of New York,from the factory floor to the saloon door. But what tied together these disparate causes and groups was thebelief that the country was in dire need of reform, and that answers were to be found within the activismand expertise of predominantly middle-class Americans on behalf of troubled communities. Some efforts,such as the National Child Labor Committee, pushed for federal legislation; however, most Progressiveinitiatives took place at the state and local levels, as Progressives sought to harness public support to placepressure on politicians.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a more radical, revolutionary breed of Progressivism began toevolve. While these radical Progressives generally shared the goals of their more mainstream counterparts,their strategies differed significantly. Mainstream Progressives and many middle-class Americans fearedgroups such as the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, which emphasizedworkers’ empowerment and direct action.

21.3 New Voices for Women and African AmericansThe Progressive commitment to promoting democracy and social justice created an environment withinwhich the movements for women’s and African American rights grew and flourished. Emergent leaderssuch as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Alice Paul spread thecause of woman suffrage, drawing in other activists and making the case for a constitutional amendmentensuring a woman’s right to vote. African Americans—guided by leaders such as Booker T. Washingtonand W. E. B. Du Bois—strove for civil rights and economic opportunity, although their philosophiesand strategies differed significantly. In the women’s and civil rights movements alike, activists bothadvanced their own causes and paved the way for later efforts aimed at expanding equal opportunity andcitizenship.

21.4 Progressivism in the White HouseTheodore Roosevelt became president only by historical accident, but his activism in the executive branch

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spoke to the Progressive spirit in the nation and transformed the president’s office for the twentiethcentury. The courage he displayed in his confrontation of big business and willingness to side withworkers in capital-labor disputes, as well as his commitment to the preservation of federal lands, set anagenda his successors had to match. Like Roosevelt, William Howard Taft pushed antitrust rulings andexpanded federal oversight of interstate commerce. But estrangement from his predecessor and mentorleft Taft in a difficult position for reelection. Roosevelt’s third-party challenge as a Progressive split theRepublican vote and handed Woodrow Wilson the presidency in 1912.

A Progressive like his predecessors, Wilson was also a political creature who understood the need to domore in order to ensure his reelection. He, too, sought to limit the power of big businesses and stabilize theeconomy, and he ushered in a wave of Progressive legislation that grassroots Progressives had long calledfor. The nation’s entanglement in World War I, however, soon shunted the Progressive goals of democracy,efficiency, regulation, and social justice to the back burner. The nation’s new priorities included nationalsecurity and making the world “safe for democracy.”

Review Questions1. Ida Tarbell wrote publicly about

A. the need for better housing in ruralAmerica

B. the sinister business practices of StandardOil

C. the need for a national temperancemovement

D. the women’s suffrage cause in theAmerican West

2. Which of the following was not a key area offocus for the Progressives?

A. land reformB. democracyC. business regulationD. social justice

3. How did muckrakers help initiate theProgressive Era?

4. What system did the direct primary replace?A. candidate selection by secret ballotsB. candidate selection by machine bossesC. candidate selection by convention delegatesD. an indirect primary

5. Which of the following is not an example ofsocial justice Progressivism?

A. anti-liquor campaignsB. referendumsC. workplace safety initiativesD. improvements in education

6. Which of the following was not a feature ofBooker T. Washington’s strategy to improve thelives of African Americans?

A. self-helpB. accommodating/tolerating white racismC. immediate protests for equal rightsD. learning new trades/skills

7. Who were the “Silent Sentinels”?A. a group of progressive African Americans

who drafted the Declaration of PrinciplesB. anti-suffrage womenC. an offshoot of the Industrial Workers of the

WorldD. suffragists who protested outside the White


8. Describe the philosophy and strategies of theNiagara Movement. How did it differ fromWashington’s way of thinking?

9. How did Roosevelt intercede in the AnthraciteCoal Strike of 1902?

A. He invited strikers and workers to theWhite House.

B. He urged the owners to negotiate a deal.C. He threatened to send in the army to work

the mines.D. He ordered the National Guard to protect

the strikers.

Chapter 21 | Leading the Way: The Progressive Movement, 1890-1920 631

10. Which of the following was a key Progressiveitem passed by Taft?

A. the Pure Food and Drug ActB. the U.S. Forestry ServiceC. the Mann-Elkins ActD. the Payne-Aldrich Act

11. Which of the following was not an outcome ofthe Underwood Tariff Act?

A. It reduced tariffs 15 percent across allimports.

B. It eliminated tariffs for steel.C. It eliminated tariffs for iron ore.D. It established a federal banking system to

oversee tariffs.

12. Explain the fundamental differences betweenRoosevelt’s “New Nationalism” and Wilson’s“New Freedom.”

13. Why did Wilson’s “New Freedom” agendacome in two distinct phases (1913 and 1916)?

Critical Thinking Questions14. Which of the primary features of grassroots Progressivism was the most essential to the continuedgrowth and success of the reformist movement? Why?

15. Describe the multiple groups and leaders that emerged in the fight for the Progressive agenda,including women’s rights, African American rights, and workers’ rights. How were the philosophies,agendas, strategies, and approaches of these leaders and organizations similar and different? What madeit difficult for all Progressive activists to present a united front?

16. How did President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” epitomize the notion that the federalgovernment should serve as a steward protecting the public’s interests?

17. How did the goals and reform agenda of the Progressive Era manifest themselves during thepresidential administrations of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson?

18. What vestiges of Progressivism can we see in our modern lives—politically, economically, andsocially? Which of our present-day political processes, laws, institutions, and attitudes have roots in thisera? Why have they had such staying power?

632 Chapter 21 | Leading the Way: The Progressive Movement, 1890-1920

This OpenStax book is available for free at

  • Chapter 21. Leading the Way: The Progressive Movement, 1890-1920
    • 21.1. The Origins of the Progressive Spirit in America*
    • 21.2. Progressivism at the Grassroots Level*
    • 21.3. New Voices for Women and African Americans*
    • 21.4. Progressivism in the White House*
    • Glossary

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