THE PROGRESSIVE ERA 1900—1917
THE FERMENT OF REFORM
A. The Context of Reform: Industrial and Urban Tension
The origins of progressivism lay in the crises of the new urban-industrial order that
emerged in the late nineteenth century.
Big business, which had disrupted traditional economic relationships in the late
nineteenth century, suddenly became bigger in a series of mergers between 1897 and
1903, resulting in huge new business combinations. The formation in 1901 if the United
States Steel Corporation, the world’s largest firm, symbolized this development.
Working conditions were difficult and often dangerous. Most workers still toiled nine to
ten hours a day; steelworkers and textile employees usually worked 12-hour shifts.
Wages were minimal.
Family survival often required women and children to work, often in the lowest paid,
most exploited positions.
Crowding into urban slums, immigrants overwhelmed municipal sanitation, education,
and fire protection services.
B. Church and Campus
Reform-minded Protestant ministers were especially influential, creating the
, which sought to introduce religious ethics into industrial relations
and appealed to churches to meet their social responsibilities.
Washington Gladden, a Congregational minister in Columbus, Ohio was one of the
earliest Social Gospelers.
In Walter Rauschenbusch’s book
Christianity and the Social Crisis
(1907), he argued that
Christians should support social reform to alleviate poverty, slums, and labor
Charles Sheldon, a Kansas minister, whose book
In His Steps
sold 23 million copies and
called on Americans to act in their daily lives as they believed Jesus Christ would in the
The Social Gospel movement flowered mainly among Episcopalians, Congregationalists,
and Methodists. It climaxed in 1908 in the formation of the Federal Council of Churches
of Christ in American. The council adopted a program that endorsed welfare and
regulatory legislation to achieve social justice.
(1906), Lester Ward called for social progress through rational
planning and government intervention rather than through unrestrained and unpredictable
Journalists also spread reform ideas by developing a new form of investigative reporting
. Technological innovations that sharply reduced production costs
had recently made possible the mass circulation of magazines, and editors competed to
attract and expanding urban readership.
Lincoln Steffens detailed the corrupt links between respectable businessmen and crooked
urban politicians in a series of articles called “The Shame of the Cities.” Ira Tarbell