PROGRESSIVISM, PART I

I. Overview of Progressivism - What is it?

A. For decades the problems of industrialization and urbanization had been mounting & the voices calling for reform had been in the minority or on the “fringes.”

B. Gradually, however, around 1900 a broad reform impulse began to dominate the nation's political life at all levels—local, state, and national.

C. This impulse towards reform was called Progressivism

1. It covered a wide range of political & social activities aimed at solving the problems of industrialization and a wide range of people called for these reforms. This included:

a. political reform: urban liberals, proponents of the social gospel (social gospelites)

b. consumer and environmental protection: women's groups, federal officials

c. regulation of business to stop monopolies and abuses of power: federal officials

d. social justice for the poor and for workers: social gospelites, labor unions

e. social control of morals—drinking, prostitution, movies: social gospelites and feminists

D. the unifying element bound differing groups together was a shared outlook: Progressives held certain common beliefs:

1. they held high principles & ideals; had a great moral fervor for reform

2. they held tremendous confidence in the human capacity to improve

3. they relied on scientific investigation and methods for problem solving

4. they were willing to use government to meet their ends and called for the activist state

E. But to make government work for the people we needed political revitalization

1. Progressives wanted to free government from corruption either tied to big business or to political machines       

2. and also make government more accessible to ordinary people--to take it away from what they saw as the corrupt corporate interests

G) The end result: in doing this Progressives introduced major structural changes in the government:

            1. A centralized bureaucracy

a. to regulate business to protect the "public interests"

             b. to protect consumers & natural resources

            2. Extension of Power of Presidency, part of revitalizing democracy

a. progressive Presidents proposed their own reform agendas--acting in the interests of the people

b. thus, the executive branch takes on a quasi-legislative role not specified in the Constitution

 II. Progressivism: Why it Occurred?

A. Rise of Progressivism was a result of several factors:

            1. The crisis of the 90's--highlighted the problems of industrialization

 a. the depression exacerbated social tensions & class cleavages

b. the crisis frightened middle class w/ the popularity of seeming loony or radical political groups-- i.e. Populists, Socialists, Wobblies, etc.

2. There was a growing realization of the rising power of monopolies and business interests that did not consider worker or consumer interests to be important

a. this idea was popularized by the media--new printing technology led to cheap, mass  circulation magazines and gave rise to the movement known as "muckraking."

b. this showed people across the nation showed that local problems were part of a larger, national pattern—they were not just isolated incidents.

c. if the problems were systemic, and not just the result of personal failings, then the “system” needed fixing.

3. There was also a clamor by growing # of middle-class professionals for better societal organization

a. this period saw rise of graduate schools of social sciences in Universities

i. these programs produced thinkers who effectively disputed Social Darwinism

ii. these programs also contributed to the growing popularity of empirical (scientific) methods to study problems

b. this period also saw more middle-class women graduating from colleges founded for women in the late 19th century--Vassar, 1865 and Wellesley and Smith, 1875

these made up the first generation of social workers to go out into communities and tackle problems

they founded the settlement house movement

c. moreover, some businessmen also called for govt. regulation of business to make it more efficient & to prevent monopolies

d. Christianity was very important to many of these reformers—this was what was called the Social Gospel

PART ONE: Educating, Raising Consciousness, & Direct Action for Reform

 I. Education - begins to really challenge the 19th C status quo and offer critiques of the new industrial order

 A. Leading Proponent of using education to bring about reform was John Dewey at the of U. of Chicago

                     1. where he ran a laboratory school in education

 2. he published The School & Society – 1899 and established the field of Progressive education

           B. Progressive education - means several things

 1. school is the instrument of socialization for good of society

 2. the definition of “the good of society” now meant helping kids learn to adapt to demands of environment

 3. Education should be pragmatic - the social utility of the material taught was what counted: would it improve society?

 4. Society could only be improved if the people themselves were improved via education; merely passing laws was useless

 C. Rise of Graduate Schools of Social Sciences, late 19th early 20th C were part of this trend

 1. background: previous focus of higher education had been on good morals, theology, and philosophy

 2. A new focus was very different: seek practical & scientific knowledge

 3. use empiricism--discover truths through observation via testable procedures & science

 4. there was a new emphasis on using science to solve social problems

           D. The New Social Sciences were scientific but they were not anti-religion

 1. most social scientists had backgrounds in evangelical Protestantism

 a. their desire to create a new moral social order was often based on religious beliefs

 b. this Christian focus made them seem safer to the public; also they denounced radicals

II. The leading Progressive thinkers took on the popular ideas of Laissez Faire and Social Darwinism

 A. Economics: Richard Ely-- Founder of American Economic Assoc, 1885

1. he challenged Smith's view of inevitable natural laws in economy

 2. Instead, he argued, the economy is a human institution run by human beings capable of moral decisions

 3. economic problems are moral problems - need moral, human solutions

4. These solutions required united efforts of Church, state, & science

5. He combined traditional Christian morality w/ belief in science and empiricism into the study of economics

 B. Philosophy: Francis Bowen, Professor of Philosophy at Harvard, offered a rather racist challenge of Social Darwinism

 1. The “lower” classes had greater reproductive success--"bred" more--the "higher" soc families are imperiled in the struggle not the lower;

2. Thus the theory is inaccurate & should be tossed

3. Further - Social Darwinism has terrible consequences for human, relationships & appeals  to all that was base in mankind

         C. Most vocal American critic of Social Darwinism was Lester Frank Ward, who taught @ Brown University

 1. He was also called the father of sociology--wrote Dynamic Sociology (1883)

2. Accepted the Social Darwinist model that life is "red in tooth & claw" and that there is a struggle for survival in the natural world

 3. But he nonetheless argued against the tyranny of natural law; humans were moral beings & can transcend natural law with morality 

 4. Just as a scientist can triumph over bacteria with medicine, humans can triumph over natural law with humanitarian legislation & collectivism; by that he meant government regulation for interests of society as a collective whole

III. Muckraking (MR): the role of the press in sparking reform

 A. There was an important dimension of moral fervor found in Progressivism. This was often sparked by:

1. the discovery of corruption in system - moral outrage over business corruption of politics and over the suffering it caused

2. the fear that the problems of industrialization represented a genuine threat to America--if we did not deal with these then the results could be disastrous

 B. This new moral fervor in part was due to new exposure of social issues covered in national magazines known as Muckraking Magazines 

 1. in 1903 the editor of a popular magazine, S.S. McClure, noticed that the January issue of McClure's Magazine contained three articles on corruption in American life:

Lincoln Steffens expose on Graft in Minneapolis; Ray Stannard Baker's article on crime in organized labor and  Ida M. Tarbell's disparaging history of Standard Oil - exposing the practice of rebates

2. The interest in corruption expressed in McClure's was echoed in magazines thru out the country--1903 -1913 was the era of Muckraking Magazines

 a. they were cheap and very widely read - 3- 5 million issues per month

 b. they told great human-interest stories, bringing real life issues to light using powerful writing and photographs

 3. The Magazines focused on a number of things but generally concentrated on 4 areas:

 a. government reform - clean up corrupt political bossism & get people involved in government--power to the people!

b. government regulation of big business especially Railraods, utilities, & insurance companies

c. social issues, such as child labor; low wages, long hours & poor working conditions; workman's compensation

d. consumer protection: Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle, published in 1906 was an example

4. Muckrakers saw that efforts to address these ills had to be national in scope since local attempts (such as Granger Laws) had failed

 a. Muckraking press was giving a popular national view to what had previously been viewed as a purely local problem

b. Suddenly local problems are seen not just as the product of a few bad men--because of the scale of the problems, it is clearly an outcome of identifiable economic & political forces

 5. Mostly the magazines pointed out problems & called the people to fix it through participation in government

 a. the magazines themselves did not serve as political party "organs" w/ specific platforms for change

 b. rather, they felt that their role was to raise middle-class consciousness & let people figure out where to go from there

 6. The timing of these national exposes was also significant:

a. by the turn of the century, there many blocks of discontented people upset with the effects of industrialization for a variety of reasons

 b. they simply needed a focus for their discontent, and the magazines provided it

 IV.  Direct Social Activism: the Social Gospel & Settlement Houses

 A.  The Social Gospel was a form of perfectionist theology—the idea that humans can perfect the world

 1. It stood the Social Darwinist Gospel on it's head: sin is not the cause of poverty; poverty is the cause of sin; slums and poor upbringing cause sin, vice & crime

a. this argued that one’s environment was as important as individual effort in determining what one would become

 b. if people were to be saved, they must have decent living & working conditions—this would bring about moral regeneration

c. local problems were moral propositions demanding engagement by Christians

 2. The Social Gospel argued that the Church should help improve people's environment so that individuals could then improve themselves

 3. To bring about this change, Social Gospelites advocated that the Church link up with the power of the state and bring morality to government; morality was interpreted as promoting economic and social justice

 4. They stressed optimism, the perfectibility of society, & the brotherhood of humankind; remember, for some this means converting immigrants to Waspism as means of perfecting & uniting mankind and bringing the 2nd coming

 5. The Social Gospel became very popular--by 1910, its message was part of every major denomination

 a. One of the earliest and most popular preachers was Washington Gladden, who wrote a book called Applied Christianity, 1886

 b. in this book, he never questioned the basic values of capitalism, but he argued that it should be made more humane because we are a Christian nation

c. he called for: factory & housing regulation, cleaning up political corruption, and utilities regulation

 d. Gladden was one of the most influential preachers among Protestant clergy

 B. Settlement houses were also important in Progressive America. These were based on London's Toynbee Hall founded in early 1880's; the most famous in America were Jane Addam's "Hull House" in Chicago (1889) & Lillian Wald's "Henry Street" in NYC (1893)

For a picture of hull house click here: http://www.american-architecture.info/USA/CHICAGO/CHIC-LS/CHIC-LS-041.htm

 1. Settlement houses were founded by educated, middle-class women. The houses were community service centers in poor neighborhoods founded to foster "a higher civic & social life" among the poor immigrants

 2. They provided many services: day care center & kindergarten; gym & boy's club; coffee house; ethnic crafts; museum & cultural center; a night school; bathrooms & showers & other services.

3. They also provided jobs for women and this meant challenging gender roles--let's look at Jane Addams 

C. Jane Addams was an example of something called the “new social feminism”: a movement that expanded the traditional feminist concerns for voting rights

 1. Since 1st women’s rights convention of Seneca Falls NY in 1848, much of the women's movement focused on suffrage. Yet by 1900 only had vote in 4 states (Wyo, Colo, Idaho, Utah).

2. While women like Carrie Chapman Catt (the National American Woman Suffrage Association) and Alice Paul (National Women's Party) continued the struggle for the vote,  other women sought a new focus for women’s reform energies in social work and reform organizations; 

this was due, in part, to the women's increased access to higher education

 3. The late 19th C saw the establishment of women's colleges: Vassar (1865) Wellesley,  & Smith (1875) - these were the Big Three women's colleges.

a. yet the job opportunities for graduates of these institutions were severely limited -the only career easily open to them was teaching

b. many women were frustrated w/ lack of jobs, so they created their own opportunities, using the needs they saw around them

c. Nonetheless, for many of these women, their establishment of settlement houses & reform organizations was grounded in their traditional roles—civic reform was regarded as an extension of women’s role in home as nurturers

 d. this movement was found mostly among middle-class or well - to - do women who felt that their role as guardians of morality was very important & who had leisure time to do this, 

e. but working -class, African-American, and immigrant women soon got involved in "social housekeeping" as well:

4. One major campaign of middle-class female reformers was the improvement of the lives of working women; Example: the NY Consumers League, founded by Mrs. Josephine Shaw Lowell of NYC in 1890

a. her goal was to improve wages & working conditions of female clerks in the New York City stores; the League put pressure on NYC stores by letters & by making visits to inspect working conditions

 

b. then they published a "White List"  of those stores that met their standards; stores made it a goal to get on that list, because they knew these women and their friends would help them

 

c.  the NY Consumers League helped to organize working women into the National Women's Trade Union

 

--a union of working women financed by wealthy women--and this organization trained union leaders, led organizing drives, and brought working-class women into the suffrage struggle

 5. The NY Consumers League expanded into the National Consumers League in 1899 under leadership of Florence Kelly, who was formerly the chief factory inspector in Illinois; Kelly lived with Jane Addams--probably as her lover

 

Her organization, the National Consumers League, became a powerful lobby for protective legislation for women & children, especially in the work force

 6. Their most important accomplishment the famous Supreme Court case: Muller V Oregon (1908)

 

a. League had pushed through a 10-hour day for women laundry workers in Oregon; employers challenged it

 

b. The challenge made it to the Supreme Court, and the League successfully defended it using the "People's Lawyer" Louis Brandeis, author of the famous Brandeis Brief

 

This brief used biological evidence to demonstrate that it was physically harmful to children & women to work more  than 10 hrs a work day to due their bone structure

 

The significance of this: scientific evidence can affect the law—this is classic Progressivism

D. Progressivism as Social Control: regulation of vice

 

1. the "Redemption" of Leisure:

 

a. the late 19th century saw vaudeville and burlesque theaters, dance halls, and motion pictures—silent films, of course

 

b. the current movie industry began in NYC and in Fort Lee, New Jersey—it moved to Hollywood in 1910

 

c. by 1908, movies were the most popular form of entertainment—11,500 movies theaters in the U.S. had about 5 million patrons each day

 

d. these theaters were originally in working-class neighborhoods—these were 5 cent theaters called "nickelodeons"

 

e. Progressives feared these cheap movie houses were undermining American morals—they warned of "nickel madness" and called for censorship

 

local communities had censorship boards to decide if moves could be shown in their communities

in Chicago, for example, the decision whether to allow a movie to run or not was up to the police chief

 f.  after 1909, the censorship movement got help from the National Board of Censorship (NBC)—formed in NYC to review movies to be censored

 

they put out a weekly bulletin so that local censorship committees could decide what to ban in their towns

 

movies such as the 1914 movie A Fool There Was, in which star Theda Bara said, “Kiss me, my fool” were banned in many venues

2. Prohibition: in 1895 temperance advocates in the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) shifted their approach from shaming folks into voluntarily abstaining from drinking

 

a. the WCTU formed the Anti-saloon League formed to lobby for making liquor illegal nation-wide

 

b. they eventually won passage of the 18th amendment banning alcohol in 1918; this was sold to the nation, in some part, as a way to conserve grain for the war effort (WWI)  

3. Progressives also aimed at prostitution: between 1908-1915 vice commissions combed red-light districts for statistics on the trade

 

a. they published sensationalized accounts about the white slave traffic, blaming foreigners for the trade—especially the Jews

 

b. this led to nation-wide crackdowns on houses of prostitution and many cities closed down their red-light districts

 

c. ironically, this drove the prostitutes out into the streets where they became more vulnerable to harassment and danger

 

Summary: An outpouring of social activism swept the nation’s landscape in the early 2oth century. Awakened to the widespread nature of social and economic problems by the muckraking press, and motivated to bring about a better world by Christianity and education, Americans sought answers to the problems of industrialization in a partnership between the government and "the people". This partnership acted to bring about what people thought were the best solutions--those that were based on scientific evidence and research.

  Part Two will focus on the rise of the modern state: Progressivism & the Creation of the Activist Government