How Successful the Progressive Movement Was
The tail end of the 19th century and the early 20th century marks an important period in the history of the United States due to the important transformations that took place in US institutions such as economic, cultural, political, and social. The Progressive-era led to major developments in American society due to widespread political reforms and social activism, as the progressives were advocating for the rights of workers, minority groups, immigrants, and anti-imperialism and democracy in all societies. The progressive movement was primarily targeting problems in society because of political corruption, urbanization, industrialization, and immigration. These people argue that the progressive movement was a success, where the achievements of the progressives are still visible even in modern times.
Even though industrialization in the US led to the elevation of standards of living for many, it also had a dark side, which led to the perception of corporate bosses as robber barons due to their pursuit for unethical and unfair business practices gearing toward the elimination of competition to increase profits (Khan Academy). Some of the strategies that corporate bosses were using to increase profits include the use of child labor, payment of low wages, and measures to gain monopoly power. Factory workers, including those that were recent immigrants were confronting perilous and brutal living and working conditions (Khan Academy). Political corruption was also enriching politicians at the expense of working-class and lower class who were struggling to make ends meet. The rise of the progressive reformers was a necessary response to improve the society and protect the plight of workers and consumers through a call for regulation of private businesses and exposure of corruption in big businesses and the government (Khan Academy).
The progressive movement led to child labor reform. Before the progressive movement, child labor was rife in American industries due to its cheap accessibility. The National Child Labor Committee advocated for the enactment of tougher federal and state laws that would address and bar industries from abusing child labor (Hansan). Lewis Hine was one of the greatest publicists of the National Child Labor Committee, where he left his teaching profession to deliver full-time services as the committee’s investigator where he would not only prepare reports for the committee, but he also accompanies the reports with photographic images of the historical events such as children working in canneries (Hansan). Hine traversed through the southern and eastern states while capturing images that revealed the nature of the heartless mistreatment children were confronting while working as laborers. The tireless efforts of the progressives began to pay off in 1916, where President Woodrow Wilson passed the Keating-Owen Act that banned the sale of articles produced by child labor (Hansan). The reformers continued with their pursuit despite facing legal hiccups, where the Supreme Court declared a federal child labor law as unconstitutional. However, the efforts of the reformers were fruitful during the Great Depression due to changes in the political attitudes relating to child labor. The New Deal employed the Public Contracts Act of 1936, which set the minimum age for boys working on industries at 16 years while girls would work after attaining the age of 18 (Hansan). The breakthrough in child labor reforms was in 1938, where Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act that outlawed children below 16 years from engaging in industrial work. Today, child labor is also non-existent in the US (Schuman).
The passing of the Food and Drug Act in 1906 is attributable to the efforts of the progressive movement. Congress had unsuccessfully tabled nearly 100 bills to regulate food and drugs from 1879 (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). Progressives such as Samuel Hopkins Adams and other muckraking journalists brought to public attention the health hazards that consumers were confronting from consumption of food items in the marketplace the extent of prompting Wiley to stamp for a law that would protect consumers from harmful food and drug items. The Act banned the transportation of and sale of adulterated food items, including the meat products of deceased animals, food products that are of decomposed vegetable matter, or food items with harmful additives. The Act also prevented traders from misrepresenting medicine or drugs through proper labeling (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
The efforts of the progressive movement were supportive of environmental protection and conservation. The industrial revolution led to heavy exploitation of natural resources as forests while mining companies were employing wasteful and improper mining practices with the assumption that natural resources were inexhaustible (Library of Congress). The exploitation of natural resources for private gain was disgusting to conservationists who took the initiative to call for the intervention of the federal government to supervise and help in the preservation of the nation’s resources for future generations. In particular, this led to the enactment of the 1902 Newlands Act to help in the conservation of rivers, forests, and soil through the funding of irrigation projects (Library of Congress). The National Parks Service and the U.S. Forest Service came into existence during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, who also signed the National Monuments Act (American-historama.org). The efforts of the conservationists and the support of Roosevelt towards environmental protection are still meaningful in the modern world that requires similar measures to avoid the threat of climate change.
The progressive movement is also responsible for the benefits that workers enjoy from the federal minimum wage. Progressives borrowed the idea of minimum wage from countries such as New Zealand and Australia, and their pressure was fruitful in 1912 when Massachusetts introduced the minimum wage laws to boost the earnings of women (ProCon.org). The federal minimum wage is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (UC Davis Center for Poverty Research).
The progressive movement led by the National Woman’s Party (NWP) and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) took radical actions to convince the Congress and President Wilson to ratify the woman suffrage amendment. The ratification of the amendment in 1920 led to the extension of the democratic right to vote to women (National Women’s History Museum).
In conclusion, the progressive movement was able to identify and respond to grave injustices facing American society. The progressives were successful in handling issues such as poverty and minimum wage, environmental degradation, and gender equality. The progressives’ success emanates from the support of politicians such as President Roosevelt and their resilience in the push for reforms that would later yield fruits many years after the Progressive era and still make sense in modern society.
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